Oils have a bad connotation associated with them. They are almost pure fat, and they can increase the risk of health issues later in life. However, several oils are actually beneficial for your health. (Find out why omega-3s are important.)
Healthy oil can be an excellent source of omega-3 fats, which can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol. Omega-3's also reduce inflammation and may promote weight loss.
The most popular healthy oil is extra virgin olive oil, or as Rachel Ray calls it, EVOO. This is a must-have for any kitchen. But other oils are available that can serve as replacements for unhealthy options such as butter, creamy dressing and mayo-based condiments.
Here are some of the healthiest oils:
Grapeseed oil is derived from grapes (who knew grapes had oil?), and has antioxidant properties similar to red wine without the alcohol content.
Sesame oil is high in antioxidants and filled with magnesium, copper, iron and calcium. It is a great source of vitamin E and the perfect complement to Chinese-inspired dishes.
Avocado oil is harder to come by, but extremely high in vitamin E and chlorophyll, which boosts energy levels. (Learn more about avocado.) It has a high smoke point, making cooking much easier.
Safflower oil is high in monounsaturated fats and also has a high smoke point. The taste is similar to olive oil, so it is a neutral cooking ingredient.
Coconut oil provides a deeper flavor to foods. It has a saturated fat called lauric acid, which increases good HDL cholesterol. Since it's higher in saturated fats, I do not recommend replacing other oils with coconut oil. (See also why you should eat coconut oil.)
Canola oil has the next highest amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, after olive oil and safflower oil.
Flaxseed oil is popular among vegetarians looking to increase their omega-3 fats. It is most commonly mixed into smoothies or sprinkled on oatmeal.
Sunflower oil is used for cooking, but can also be applied directly to the skin to heal wounds, psoriasis and other skin injuries. It also can relieve constipation and lower bad cholesterol.