Plant oils are fats taken from plants — usually from plants’ seeds.
Like most food fats, plant oils help improve the palatability of foods and serve as a medium for cooking. The variety of plant oils has expanded in the past few decades.
For example, you can probably find most of the following at a well-stocked supermarket and/or health food shop:
avocado seed oil
flax seed oil
palm kernel oil
pumpkin seed oil
rice bran oil
safflower seed oil
sesame seed oil
sunflower seed oil
However, you’re more likely to find refined, processed plant oils than to find cold-pressed, fresh ones. For example, you’ll probably find corn or soybean oil-based margarine, and many hydrogenated or refined oils in prepared foods. You might also find things like orange oil in cleaning products, or shea butter in cosmetics.
So which plant oils are better for you?
Plant oils aren’t all equally healthy just because they come from plants. To understand which plant oils are healthier and why, you need to know a few things.
Attaining most of our fats from whole food sources (e.g., the whole olive and coconut) rather than from isolated oils (e.g., olive oil and coconut oil) seems to be the best option for health and body composition.
When we begin to extract fats from whole food sources and use them in appreciable amounts, we lose nutrients and health problems may result.
When plant oils are used, the best options include organic, unrefined, virgin or extra-virgin.
Choose those in dark glass if possible. Heat, light, and oxygen are enemies of unrefined oil, promoting oxidation and rancidity. Store them in a dark, cool place — but not necessarily the fridge.
Removing oils repeatedly from the fridge can result in condensation (and oxidation).
Avoid keeping oils above stoves (due to higher temperatures).
Oils are extremely energy dense. While there may be “healthier” oils, using high amounts of any oil will likely lead to extra body fat and disease promotion. Plant oils are best used in limited amounts for cooking, salad dressings and/or baking.