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Confused about cooking oils? A quick guide

According to some claims, coconut oil can cure bad breath, leave your hair shiny, your skin soft, help you lose weight and even heal a wound. Some fans even suggest tossing out your olive oil and use coconut oil exclusively. But, is coconut oil really that good?

It depends. While coconut oil has many good things going for it, so do lesser-known oils like avocado, peanut and sesame.

Coconut oil is best known for its antimicrobial properties. It contains about the same amount of calories and fat as other cooking oils, but coconut oil is higher in saturated fat. Coconut oil contains medium chain saturated fats that are likely healthier than the longer chain saturated fats found in many animal fats. It is a solid that turns to liquid at about 75 degrees. It has a high smoke point and works well for baking or cooking at high heat. The oil has little coconut flavor for those who don't like the taste of flake coconut.

Avocado oil is full of antioxidants and healthy fats such as oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. It also has high amounts of lutein, an antioxidant that promotes healthy eyesight. Avocado oil can be used as a dressing for salad or used for grilling, baking and sautéing. Studies show that avocado oil may help lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. 

Peanut oil is high in vitamin E and antioxidants, like resveratrol and phytosterols. It can also help boost your HDL cholesterol—or good cholesterol. According to OrganicFacts.net, studies have shown that consuming more resveratrol in your diet may decrease your risk of cancer, boost your immune system and prevent cognitive disorders like dementia. Plus, the high levels of vitamin E in peanut oil make it a good choice for healthy skin.

Sesame oil is best known for high vitamin E and antioxidants. While this oil may improve hair and skin health, stimulate bone growth, reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, maintain good heart health, manage anxiety and depression and lower inflammation, according to OrganicFacts.net, it also has higher levels of polyunsaturated fats than some other choices. So, use sesame oil in moderation for the flavor it can bring to your special recipe.  

Grapeseed oil is one oil to avoid. It contains none of the healthful benefits of grapes and is high in polyunsaturated fats, containing up to 70 percent of the bad omega-6 fatty acids. Too many of these omega-6 fatty acids may lead to inflammation and weight gain.

Finally, oils can come in a number of varieties: refined, unrefined, roasted and cold-pressed. Each variety has small differences in taste, nutrients and health benefits. I recommend trying a few to find the ones that you prefer. Remember that oils are high in calories regardless of their health benefits and should be used in moderation as part of a well-balanced eating plan.

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