Good Fats, Bad Fats: Four Healthy Oils You Need To Be Cooking With Right Now

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Mweia Elias is a registered dietitian/nutritionist, certified health coach, and certified fitness professional, with years of experience in weight management, health promotion, and functional medical nutrition therapy. She is the managing director of Empower Nutrition Ltd, an integrative nutrition consulting company that provides services to private as well as corporate clients. Mweia received her Masters in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, and her certification in Functional Nutrition form the Institute of Functional Medicine. She also holds a Master’s degree in Pharmacology from Duke University. She specializes in nutrition therapy for diabetes, overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease, as well as women’s health/fitness and sports nutrition. 

In India, it’s clarified butter; in China it’s sesame oil; in the Mediterranean region it’s olive oil; and in the Caribbean, it’s soybean oil. Whatever your origin, every country and home has a distinct oil preference that lends itself to the taste, texture, and nutritional value of its culinary make up.

More often than not, the oil that we now use is the one our mothers and grandmothers used. Unfortunately – especially if you’re from the Caribbean – the generational pick, rooted in tradition, might not necessarily be the healthiest available option.

Take soybean oil as an example. A mainstay of Trinidad and Tobago and other surrounding Caribbean nations, the soybean oil we use is chemically refined to increase its shelf life, a process that in turn increases the amount of trans fats in the oil. Not only do trans fats raise your cholesterol levels, studies show that consuming a diet rich in trans fats also increases your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. We’re sure our mothers didn’t have that in mind when they were passing down their recipes!

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, eat cleaner, or just cook healthier meals for your family, the first step is to pick the right cooking oil, and then, to use it in moderation. Groceries stores today are packed with healthy seed, animal, and fruit fats that can add a savory flavor and texture to your menu, while still keeping your health in check. To help you make sense of the multitude of options in the market, we asked nutritionist Mweia Elias of Empower Nutrition to give us a practical introduction to healthier fats.


A staple in Indian and among Indian communities all over the world, ghee was wrongfully accused of being detrimental to your health by the fat-phobic movement of the 90s. New research into ghee however, has reinstated it as a healthy fat, and as a better alternative to hydrogenated oils and other popular seed and vegetables oils, all of which are high in toxic trans fats.

Rich, silken, and creamy, ghee is clarified butter i.e. butter with all the milk solids taken out. A small amount goes a long way, so use it sparingly to flavor proteins, legumes, or any other dishes. An added benefit of ghee over butter is that the absence of milk solids and sugars prevents ghee from burning and browning at high temperatures.

Coconut Oil

The nom du jour, coconut oil is a fan favorite these days, touted as the cure-all for everything from frizzy hair to bad breath. But is the hype really worth it? Though the oil, indigenous to areas like Sri Lanka, has gotten a bad rap in the past for its exceedingly high levels of saturated fats (90%), it turns out that it is an healthy alternative after all.

“The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid that appears to have a more neutral effect on heart health when compared to longer-chain saturated fats found in meats and dairy products,” says Wendy Bazilian, R.D., author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet.

Medium-chain fats like auric acid are also more easily metabolized into energy by the liver, and hence less likely to be stored as fat. Pick virgin coconut oils over refined iterations to add as much of its natural value and nutty coconut flavor. Easy to spot, virgin coconut oil is white and solid at room temperature, and doesn’t have any chemical additives or preservatives. It’s a great additional to any baking recipe, and has a high smoke point perfect for flash frying and sautéing.

Avocado Oil

Made from Omega-3-rich and heart healthy avocados, avocado oil is a newer, yet more nutrient-rich addition to the market. Abounding in monounsaturated fat – considered to be heart-healthy because of its ability to improve cholesterol levels – avocado oil is an excellent high-heat oil with a buttery, nutty flavor.

Its interesting flavor profile aside, avocado oil is also rich in lutein, an antioxidant that improves eye health. North America’s answer to the mighty olive oils of Italy and the Mediterranean, avocado oil can also increase the potency of salads by improving the absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants such as beta-carotene present in vegetables, according to researchers at Ohio State University. As with all oils, use avocado oil is moderation for all your high-heat cooking needs, or as a garnish to salads, soups, and meats.

Sesame Oil

One of the most distinctly flavored oils of our healthy picks today, sesame oil is synonymous with the exotic flavors of East Asian cuisine. Available in both light dark varieties, it adds a subtle nutty kick to even the most boring of recipes.

While the lighter variety has a most subtle taste, and is perfect for frying, the darker version, made from toasted sesame seeds, is a great accompaniment to a fried rice or Asian-inspired chicken or mixed vegetable dish. It offers a great profile of healthy fats – almost 50% monounsaturated fat, 50% polyunsaturated fat, and a negligible percentage of saturated fats.

If you live in a country where soybean oil is prevalent, double check your sesame oil to make sure that it is indeed organic or unrefined sesame oil, and not sesame-flavored soybean oil in disguise instead!


Empower Nutrition | 8 Austin Street, Saint Augustine, Tunapuna-Piarco, Trinidad and Tobago | +1 868 795 9311

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