How to Cook with Healthy Fats

Olive oil

Olive oil

Olive oil and olive branch on the wooden table outside

Photo by: Dusan Zidar ©Dusan Zidar

Dusan Zidar, Dusan Zidar

Olive oil and olive branch on the wooden table outside

For years we were under the impression that fat was bad. But things aren’t always so black-and-white. There are different types of fat, some better for us than others. Here’s the lowdown on the better-for-you fats — olive oil, safflower oil, almond butter and more — and ways to incorporate them into your favorite dishes.

“Good” Versus “Bad” Fat

“Good” fat is primarily composed of healthier unsaturated fat and can be found in foods like canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil and avocados. The healthier unsaturated fats can further be divided into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.

“Bad” fat is mostly composed of artery-clogging saturated fat and can be found in foods such as butter, ice cream and eggs. In everyday cooking, focus on adding those healthier fats, while moderating the less-healthy ones.

Hello, Good Fats!

Any type of food containing fat will have a good number of calories. For example, a tablespoon of any oil contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. So no matter which type of fat you choose (from oil, avocado or nuts), portions still matter in order to keep calories under control.

Olive Oil

This oil is extracted from a fruit (yes, olives are a fruit!). Olive oil varies in color and flavor depending on the variety of the tree, ripeness of the olives, type of soil and climate. This monounsaturated fat has a low smoke point and is good for low- to medium-heat cooking and for enhancing flavor in dishes after they have been cooked (like in dressings).

Recipe to try: Cowboy Beans

Food beauty of popcorn and pumpkin seeds, as seen on Food Network’s The Kitchen, Season 4.

Photo by: Todd Plitt ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Todd Plitt, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Food beauty of popcorn and pumpkin seeds, as seen on Food Network’s The Kitchen, Season 4.

Sunflower Oil

This polyunsaturated oil is pressed from sunflower seeds. It has a pale yellow color and a very mild flavor. It also supplies more of the antioxidant vitamin E than any other vegetable oil. It has a relatively high smoke point, which makes it versatile for cooking at higher temperatures or drizzling over ready-to-eat foods (like salad or popcorn).

Recipe to try: Chile Lime Popcorn

Safflower Oil

This golden-hued polyunsaturated fat is made from a plant that resembles a feather. It has a relatively high smoke point and can be used for high-heat cooking, like stir-frying.

Recipe to try: Parsnip Salad

Almond Butter

A 2-tablespoon serving of almond butter has around 200 calories, 18 grams of fat (mostly unsaturated) and 4 grams of protein. It’s an excellent source of vitamin E, magnesium and manganese. It’s also chock-full of nutrients like fiber, calcium, iron, B vitamins, potassium and zinc. When buying almond butter, read the ingredient list and avoid varieties with added sugar, salt or hydrogenated oils.

Recipe to try: Mini Almond Butter and Strawberry Muffins

Peanut Oil

This pale yellow monounsaturated oil has a subtle peanut flavor and scent. It’s traditionally used in Asian dishes to help bring out the flavor. It has a high smoke point, which is good for searing and stir-frying.

Recipe to try: Spicy Beef Stir-Fry

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.


This fruit is brimming with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and is free of cholesterol and sodium. It also contains the antioxidant lutein, which can help keep eyes in tip-top shape. A serving of avocado is 1/5 of the fruit, which contains over 20 vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (talk about packed with nutrition!).

Recipe to try: Broccoli and Cheddar-Stuffed Potato Skins with Avocado Cream

Grapeseed Oil

This aromatic oil is light yellow in color and is a byproduct of wine making. Because of its clean and mild flavor, it can be used in a variety of dishes. It also has a high smoke point, making it perfect for high-heat cooking methods like stir-frying, baking, sauteing and frying. Each tablespoon of grapeseed oil contains 25 percent of the daily recommended amount of the antioxidant vitamin E, and it also contains oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which add to its antioxidant powers.

Recipe to try: Homemade Mayonnaise (enjoy in moderation)

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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