Just what is “vegetable oil”?
Vegetable oil: it’s a common ingredient in everyday cooking and baking recipes, and most of us have a bottle on hand for just these purposes. At first glance, vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature (meaning it contains primarily unsaturated fats), it is sourced from plants and contains no cholesterol. All good qualities, right?
Take a closer look though, and you’ll see most “vegetable oils” are soybean oil — highly refined soybean oil. From a nutritional perspective, highly refined oils are generally lower quality oils. During the extensive processing process, soybean oil is exposed to harsh solvents that some research suggests may (or may not) linger at harmful levels in the final product. Solvents aside, all of this refinement also leaves it lower in nutrients like vitamin E, compared with minimally processed oils.
Healthier Alternatives to Vegetable Oil
As it turns out, some “fruit” oils are a better alternative to vegetable oil. This is because soybeans, the primary source of vegetable oil, require more work for extraction than most fruit oils. Avocado, grapeseed, and extra virgin olive oil are three moderate- to high-heat oils ideal for cooking and baking that will give you greater nutritional bang for your buck.
Shopping Tip: Processing plays a big part in cooking oil nutritional quality. Look for cold- or expeller-pressed varieties as these are made without harsh chemical solvents.
- Avocado oil has the most neutral taste, can handle high heat cooking, and is undetectable when used in place of vegetable oil. Its health benefits are primarily related to its content of antioxidants and healthy fats.
- Grapeseed oil is another high-heat, neutral-flavored oil that can makes a great vegetable oil substitute when baking and frying. Though it is made from the seeds of wine grapes, several brands offer cold- or expeller-pressed grapeseed oil as opposed to those made with chemical solvents. Grapeseed oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats that can have a positive impact on cholesterol.
- Extra virgin olive oil can add delicious flavor to savory, lower-heat cooking (think: sautéed veggies) and salad dressings all while providing healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Want an easy way to enhance the nutrient density of your meals? Use a variety of these less-refined oils in cooking and baking. It doesn’t get simpler than this healthy swap!