July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Living

Olive oil has lots of healthy competition

Ditch the tongs and dress salad with clean hands you won't bruise delicate leaves, and you'll evenly coat them using less oil. Also, try strong-flavored oils a little goes a long way. ) (Yasu + Junko)

The benefits of olive oil are tried and true, but its not the only healthy cooking oil on the market.

Not long ago, you could find olive, canola and maybe safflower oil at the grocery store. These days, cooking oils often take up an entire aisle. Once-exotic varieties, such as coconut and walnut oils, line the shelves of most markets. So how do you navigate your way around these newcomers? First, you should pay attention to function and select an oil thats appropriate for the cooking youre doing, whether youre pan-frying or finishing raw vegetables, says Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian at Foodtrainers in New York City. Then consider flavor: Neutral oils let a dishs ingredients shine, while stronger oils add flavor. And of course, think about the health benefits. Some have cholesterol-lowering or anti-inflammatory properties.

Rest assured, too, that this new crop of oils is healthy: Some are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, like rice-bran and avocado oils; others, in polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, like pumpkinseed and grapeseed oils, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic: Both MUFAs and PUFAs are great options and healthier than fats like butter or lard.

The American Heart Association agrees, recommending that daily fat calories come from a mix of MUFAs and PUFAs. That said, a tablespoon of even the healthiest oil contains roughly 120 calories and 14 grams of fat, so moderation is still key. For information about and tips for using different cooking oils, read on:

Oil primer

With guidance from dietitians and Martha Stewart Livings test kitchen, weve created this list to introduce some of the newer oils at the grocery store.

You can decide their best applications based on cooking temperature (smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and smoke), flavor and health perks.

Avocado oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 520 degrees F (high heat)

Excellent for high-heat sauteing and in dressings and dips.

Flavor: Delicate avocado taste. A pretty finishing oil for grilled veggies.

Health benefits: May boost absorption of carotenoids (powerful antioxidants) and lower blood pressure.

Rice-bran oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 490 F (high heat)

Great for high-heat sauteing and pan-frying.

Flavor: Mild flavor lets other flavors stand out. Excellent for wok-cooking shrimp and vegetables.

Health benefits: Studies suggest it lowers cholesterol and has potential as an anticancer agent.

Grapeseed oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 425 F (medium-high heat)

Nice everyday oil; works well for baking and high-heat sauteing.

Flavor: Very neutral. Lets ingredients in pasta sauces, soups and salad dressings shine.

Health benefits: High in vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acids, which may help with eczema and osteoporosis.

Macadamia-nut oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 400 to 450 F (medium-high heat)

Good for stir-frying and using in vinaigrettes.

Flavor: Subtle macadamia taste adds flavor to dishes, such as pan-fried fish. Nice in Asian dishes.

Health benefits: Has more oleic acid (a good fatty acid) than olive oil. Anti-inflammatory properties may help with memory and asthma.

Sesame oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 350 F (medium heat)

Great for medium-heat sauteing, for baking and in marinades.

Flavor: Sweet, nutty taste more understated than the toasted variety. Delicious in a soy vinaigrette.

Health benefits: Helps keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and lower blood-sugar levels.

Virgin coconut oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 325 F (medium heat)

Creamy and buttery, its great for baking, but also nice melted and used for light sauteing.

Flavor: Distinct coconut flavor. Add a spoonful to oatmeal; great in banana bread and muffins.

Health benefits: Its lauric acid may increase good-cholesterol levels. Has antiviral and antibacterial benefits; may help fight Alzheimers.

Walnut oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 320 F (medium heat)

Good for drizzling over cooked vegetables and salads.

Flavor: Savory, with a slight walnut taste. Nice oil to finish summer soups like gazpacho.

Health benefits: Rich in melatonin, a sleep-regulating hormone, levels of which diminish with age. Aids in decreasing risk of heart disease.

Roasted pumpkinseed oil

Smoke point and suggested use: 250 F (low heat)

Best as a finishing oil for meats and vegetables. Works well in salad dressings.

Flavor: Smoky, earthy flavor. Tasty over grilled corn on the cob and excellent over asparagus.

Health benefits: Excellent source of heart-healthy essential fatty acids. Studies suggest it eases symptoms of an enlarged prostate.

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