When you're trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle, finding alternatives to certain oils, butter and other solid fats are important. Yet using oil to prepare meals is often necessary and can even provide health benefits. Made from the canola plant, canola oil is one of the healthier options when it comes to cooking oils. It contains little saturated fat yet is high in monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy. There are other alternatives to using canola oil -- each with their own benefits.
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Using Vegetable Oils
Canola falls under the category of vegetable oils used for cooking. Many of these oils have a high smoke point, which is an important consideration when choosing an appropriate substitute -- especially if you're going to be using the oil for frying. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature it reaches when it begins to smoke. Canola oil's smoke point is 468 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center. Cooking with an oil past its smoke point not only makes the kitchen unpleasant, it also can ruin the flavor of your food.
Sunflower oil is one alternative to canola oil. It has a neutral flavor and also has the same smoke point as canola oil, making it an ideal choice if you're using the oil for pan frying. Sunflower oil is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats. Diets containing these fats are associated with better cholesterol levels and may even be beneficial in preventing type 2 diabetes.
Another oil with a high smoke point is safflower oil. This type of oil is colorless and also has a neutral flavor, which allows it to be suitable not only for frying but also baking. Safflower oil also offers health benefits that add to its appeal. Ohio State University researchers released a study in March 2011 that found a daily dose of safflower oil led to improvement in blood sugar, cholesterol and inflammation in obese postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes. These findings indicate that safflower oil may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
While canola oil and its alternatives offer some health benefits, they also offer plenty of calories. Just 1 tbsp. of these oils contains 120 calories, according to the American Dietetic Association, which isn't ideal if you're a health-conscious cook. Applesauce, however, can be a good alternative for canola oil when baking up sweets like cakes and brownies. While some cooks claim that you can substitute applesauce for all of the oil, you may find the texture to be compromised. Substituting for 1/2 to 2/3 of the oil in your recipe will yield the best results -- and significantly slash calories. Choose unsweetened applesauce to avoid making your baked goods come out too sweet.