Dress Up Your Meals with Healthy Oils

Whether whisked into a dressing for mixed greens, used in a healthy stir-fry or sauté, or drizzled over steamed or grilled vegetables, healthy mono- and polyunsaturated oils are permissible on all phases of the South Beach Diet. Whichever oils you choose, be sure to store them away from heat and light and check often for rancidity.

While our South Beach Diet recipes are typically made with monounsaturated extra-virgin olive oil because of its high concentration of polyphenols, omega-3s, and other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, we also use canola oil, which is made from the tiny seeds of the canola (rapeseed) plant. Canola oil is ideal for stir-frying and sautéing since it has a high smoke point. And its neutral flavor means it won’t overwhelm the foods that you are cooking.

Once in a while, however, it can be fun to sample various other healthy oils. But remember, all oils, even the good ones, are calorie dense, so limit your intake to 2 tablespoons maximum daily as part of your fats/oils allowance.

Here are some popular oils you might want to try from time to time:

Avocado oil: Made from the flesh of pressed avocados, this oil is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Light-tasting and delicious, it’s nice drizzled over roasted broccoli or Brussels sprouts. For a refreshing salad dressing, combine equal parts avocado oil and fresh lime juice. Toss with mixed greens, sliced avocado, very thin strips of peeled jicama, and crumbled reduced-fat goat cheese. You can also use avocado oil, like you would olive oil, in moderation, for dipping a whole-wheat pita, or drizzle a little over a bowl of vegetable soup.

Grapeseed oil: This is a very light-tasting oil, so it works really well in a salad dressing made with strongly flavored ingredients. Mix it with red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice for an arugula, red grape, and sunflower seed salad, or try it in a salad of quinoa, spinach, and grape tomatoes. Because grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, it’s good for sautéing fish or lean boneless chicken breast.

Pumpkin seed oil: With an intense nutty flavor and green color, this oil is a delicious salad dressing ingredient (try pairing it with cider vinegar). If you use it on a green salad, sprinkle the salad with a few roasted pumpkin seeds before serving. On Phase 2, you also can drizzle pumpkin seed oil over roasted sweet potatoes, or use it in moderation as a dip for a slice of whole-grain bread.

Sesame oil: You’ll find two types of sesame oil in most supermarkets: The nutty-flavored, lighter-colored variety, which is made from raw sesame seeds, makes a delicious salad dressing ingredient. The darker oil, sometimes labeled dark sesame oil, Asian sesame oil, or toasted sesame oil, is made from the toasted seeds. Sprinkle just a teaspoon of this flavorful dark oil over steamed or broiled fish. Or mix it with some rice vinegar and drizzle it over a salad made with cooked, diced, boneless chicken breast, water chestnuts, and snow peas.

Walnut oil: This oil, which really tastes like walnuts, is best used in salads or for drizzling over already cooked vegetables, since too much heat can diminish its flavor. Mix it with champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar, and drizzle over a kale, reduced-fat gorgonzola, diced pear, and toasted almond salad. It’s also delicious used sparingly on roasted Brussels sprouts. Since walnut oil, like all nut oils, is highly perishable, be sure to store it in the refrigerator.

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