Switch up the healthy fats in your dressings, baked goods, and more to boost flavor and nutrition

By Matthew Kadey, R.D.
May 22, 2013

If you already pan-roast your chicken in canola oil and adorn your salad greens with Italian olive oil, way to go. But just like your workout routine, when it comes to culinary oils, you should shoot for variety. By using an assortment of oils in your kitchen, you'll be exposed to a wider range of healthy fats and disease-fighting nutrients and antioxidants.

It's not as simple as drizzling a new bottle into the pan the next time you stir-fry, though. Certain oils are better for sautéing or baking, while others should be used exclusively for dressings and dips. Here's the lowdown on what to add to your kitchen (store them in a cool, dark place such as a pantry cupboard away from the oven to prolong shelf life) and how to use each to keep your body a well-oiled machine.

Avocado Oil


Buttery avocado oil is chockablock in monounsaturated fat, the kind considered to be heart-healthy because of its powers to improve cholesterol numbers. This über fruit oil also supplies lutein, an antioxidant that improves eye health, and the white coats at Ohio State University determined that the oil can goose salad's potency by improving the absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants such as beta-carotene present in vegetables.

Best uses: With what is considered to be highest smoke point of any plant oil-about 520 degrees-ultra-versatile avocado oil can be used for all your high-heat cooking needs such as grilling and pan-roasting. It's also stellar when added to salad dressings, as a garnish for soups like gazpacho, or drizzled over homemade pizza, crusty bread, or even slices of watermelon.

Try: Olivado Extra Virgin Avocado Oil (olivado.com)

Hemp Oil


Greener than Al Gore, this earthy-tasting oil pressed from hemp seeds abounds in essential fatty acids such as omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, which may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to studies. Hemp oil also delivers gamma linolenic acid, an omega 6 that emerging research says can improve skin health by reducing conditions like roughness and dryness. Though hemp may bring to mind peace, love, and tie-dyes, the variety of hemp grown for food production contains virtually none of the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

Best uses: Hemp oil is too delicate to be heated, so save it for dips, pestos, and dressings-anywhere you would use extra-virgin olive oil.

Try: Manitoba Harvest Certified Organic Hemp Oil (manitobaharvest.com)

Hazelnut Oil


Toasty, richly flavored, aromatic hazelnut oil provides vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that appears to keep your mind and hearing sharp. What's more, nearly 80 percent of the fat in hazelnut oil is the ticker-boosting monounsaturated kind. As with hemp oil, delicate nut oils like hazelnut should be stored in the refrigerator once opened to preserve freshness. Buy only the amount you'll use within three to six months for peak flavor.

Best uses: Skip the frying pan and use hazelnut oil to gussy-up cooked rice, quinoa, or oatmeal. Whisked with lemon juice, it's delicious strewn over pasta, roasted vegetables, and steamed greens. Or work it into your chocolate sauces and slip a few drops into your morning cup of joe or bowl of ice cream.

Try: La Tourangelle Roasted Hazelnut Oil (latourangelle.com)

Grapeseed Oil


This byproduct of winemaking has a clean, light flavor and is a good source of both vitamin E and oleic acid, a fat that may help slash stroke risk by up to 73 percent, according to a recent study in the journal Neurology. Further, scientists at the University of California found oleic acid may curb hunger pangs by being converted into an appetite-quelling hormone. Look for expeller-pressed grapeseed oil, meaning it was extracted by crushing the seeds in a mechanical press without the use of harsh chemicals such as hexane.

Best uses: A neutral flavor makes grapeseed oil a jack-of-all-cooking-trades and is especially good if you don't want to taste the oil in your recipe, such as when preparing kale chips, sautéing onions, or baking sweet potato fries. It emulsifies very well, so use it for making mayonnaise and creamy dressings that won't separate when chilled. Grapeseed oil can also substitute butter or shortening in most baked good recipes.

Try: Sadaf Pure Grapeseed Oil (sadaf.com)

Almond Oil


Made by pressing the oil out of ground almond paste, almond oil has a mild nutty flavor and pale yellow hue. It's plush in monounsaturated fat (like olive and avocado oil), vitamin E, and phytosterols, plant compounds shown to improve cholesterol numbers. Doing double-duty as vanity fare, it's also lauded as a topical skin moisturizer. Buy all your fruit or nut oils packaged in dark containers to help stymie deterioration from light sources.

Best uses: Add subtle almond nuances to a range of baked goods, including cookies, quick breads, and muffins. Homemade granola goes gourmet when made with almond oil, or whirl up your own nut butter by blending together whole almonds with almond oil in a food processor. Roasted almond oil has a more robust nut flavor, so it can add rich taste to salad dressings, pasta dishes, and soups.

Try: La Tourangelle Roasted Almond Oil (latourangelle.com)

Tea Seed Oil


This up-and-comer hails from China and is made by pressing the seeds of the Camellia sinensis plant-the same one that brings forth your green tea and Earl Grey, but instead of the astringency the drink can sometimes have, tea seed oil has a subtle lemony flavor. While it's a bit scarce, it's worth seeking out, as research shows it's abundant in cholesterol-reducing sterols and unsaturated fatty acids that make your heart happy, and has strong antioxidant activity.

Best uses: Tea seed oil performs great at high temperatures, so use it when preparing Asian-inspired dishes (here's looking at you, stir-fry) with less worry of smoking yourself out of the kitchen. Its light and smooth flavor won't cover your food's taste, so also try it in marinades and dips, or with roasted vegetables.

Try: Republic of Tea Stir Fry Tea Oil (republicoftea.com)

Red Palm Oil


Poised to give its popular tropical cousin coconut oil a run for its money, this brightly colored oil is laced with antioxidants, including vitamin E and carotenoids such as beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. In the body, beta-carotene can be converted to vitamin A, which is used to promote eye, bone, and immune health. Higher intakes of alpha-carotene, on the other hand, may be protective against mortality from heart disease, according to research out of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Look for brands that source their red palm oil sustainably, such as taking steps to avoid destroying animal-friendly rainforest for palm plantations.

Best uses: Palm oil is heat-stable, so it's a good choice for your frying pan or as a replacement for butter when baking. Its buttery flavor works well in curries, rice and fish dishes, sauces, and spreads, as well as in smoothies or drizzled over popcorn and roasted potatoes.

Try: Nutiva Organic Red Palm Oil (nutiva.com)

California Extra-Virgin Olive Oil


Believe it or not, Italy doesn't own an olive oil patent. In fact, strict production regulations including outlawing chemical extraction and allowing a very low content of free fatty acids-an indicator of freshness-means extra-virgin olive oils bearing the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal have a leg up on many of their European counterparts despite the less-painful sticker price, so it's never been a better time to practice some gastronomic patriotism.

A big part of the ultra-healthy Mediterranean Diet, EVOO offers a payload of beneficial monounsaturated fat and polyphenol antioxidants to help stamp out disease-provoking free radicals. It's also one of the few dietary oils to contain vitamin K, which is necessary for proper blood clotting. As if that weren't enough, a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet bolstered with virgin olive oil for two years experienced an increase in osteocalcin, a protein that's a marker of bone growth. Check out these 5 Mediterranean Diet recipes for tasty and healthy ways to use EVOO.

Best uses: Sliced local tomatoes taste even better dressed with peppery or fruity California olive oil, which can also be rubbed on corn on the cob in place of butter.

Try: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil (californiaoliveranch.com)