Vegetable oils long have been used as a basic cooking ingredient throughout the world. Today, a vast array of different types of vegetable oils can be found on supermarket shelves. Are these vegetable oils all the same or are certain types more healthful than others? Should a particular vegetable oil be used when preparing a specific food? To help answer these questions, here's a look at what some of the different oils have to offer.
All vegetable oils are 100 percent fat. They consist of three types of fatty acids - monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated.
Vegetable oils are classified by the predominant type of fatty acids they contain. For example, canola oil is considered monounsaturated oil because 61 percent of its fatty acids are monounsaturated. In contrast, safflower oil is labeled polyunsaturated oil because 71 percent of its fatty acids are polyunsaturated.
Over the past several years, olive oil has received a great deal of media attention in part due to its potential health benefits. Both olive oil and canola oil consist predominately of the monounsaturated fats that appear to be useful in helping lower total blood cholesterol. They also may help reduce factors that contribute to the development of heart disease. These oils help reduce the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which contributes to the hardening of the arteries, and they may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar. Canola oil, along with certain polyunsaturated oils such as walnut, soybean and flaxseed oil provide an omega-3 fatty acid similar to the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and, thus, may help reduce the risk of heart attacks. Polyunsaturated oils, in general, have been found to help lower total blood cholesterol.