Which is the Healthiest Oil? And Recipe of the Week: Baba Ghanoush by Lynn Field, BNutD, AN, APD

When it comes to fats and oils, the health message for Australians used to be fairly simple. Replace saturated fat with unsaturated oils, which in practical terms meant replacing butter with margarine.  Since the 1960s, the message has been refined and margarines have improved. The Heart Foundation now recommends substituting saturated fats for monounsaturated  and polyunsaturated oils, with the evidence for lowering blood cholesterol being stronger for polyunsaturated oils. The evidence is so convincing, that in a recent review of The Australian Dietary Guidelines it was decided to include a daily allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils and nuts or seeds.  So…which type of oil is the healthiest choice? Well they all have benefits, so it comes down to how you are going to use them.

 Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is no such thing as a 100% unsaturated oil. 

All fats and oils contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat. The type of fat that occurs in the greatest proportion determines the classification. For example butter contains more than 50% saturated fat, so it is classified as saturated. Margarine contains approximately 20% saturated fat and depending on the type of oil used, may be classified as polyunsaturated (safflower, sunflower, soya bean) or monounsaturated (olive, avocado, canola).  

 Choosing an oil for cooking will depend on price and what you cook most often.  Canola is a good, inexpensive, all-purpose oil, low in saturated fats with a good balance of monounsaturates and polyunsaturates. A good flavoursome extra-virgin olive oil can make all the difference to a salad, however it may be unsuitable for cooking methods that require high temperatures such as stir-frying, as the oil will start to smoke at a lower temperature, compromising flavour.  Peanut oil has a high smoke point and is great for Asian stir-fries.

 The thing to remember, is that all oils are healthy choices, with the exception of palm and coconut oil, which contain high levels of saturated fat. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of oils that don’t specify the type of oil contained, such as blended vegetable oil. The other thing to take into consideration is how much oil to use.  Oil contains the same amount of kilojoules as fat (29 kJ per gram) and is easy to over consume, so use it in moderation. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends 1-2 tablespoons a day from all sources for Australian adults.

 Baba Ghanoush is a middle-eastern dip similar to hummus, just replace the chickpeas with eggplant. Eggplants are in season over summer and autumn so this is a great way to incorporate some healthy oils into your day.  Look for medium sized eggplants, as larger ones can be bitter and remember to use a good quality olive oil.

Baba Ghanoush (makes 2 cups) – Lynn Field, BNutD, AN, APD

 Preparation and cooking time: 45 minutes (includes standing time). Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container


  • Cooking spray
  • 2-3 medium-sized eggplants (1kg)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¼ cup (60ml) lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika


  1. Preheat grill. Spray oven tray
  2. Pierce eggplants all over with a fork or skewer; place on prepared tray
  3. Grill for about 30 minutes or until skin blackens and eggplant is soft, turning occasionally. Set aside to cool (about 15 minutes)
  4. Peel eggplants (discarding the skin) and place in a colander to drain for 10 minutes.
  5. Blend or process eggplant flesh with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Serve with vegetable sticks, pita bread or wholegrain crackers.

Other ways to get healthy fats in to your day:

  • Spread avocado or hommus on bread or crackers
  • Incorporate tahini (sesame seed paste) in dips
  • Choose bread made with seeds (sunflower, linseed, soy)
  • Add nuts or seeds to salads and stir fries
  • Sprinkle nuts or seeds on breakfast cereal or add to yoghurt


 Heart Foundation, Fats: Butter vs Margarine,  viewed 7 May, 2013 <http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/fats/Pages/butter-margarine.aspx>

 Heart Foundation 2009, Summary of evidence: Dietary fats and dietary cholesterol for cardiovascular health, viewed 7 May 2013 <http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Dietary-fats-summary->evidence.pdf

 National Health and Medical Research Council  2013, Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.

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