Each month, NFM's secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee's answer—and our expert's evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store's customer service.
The question: Can you recommend a healthy all-purpose cooking oil for my family?
STORE: Small, independent natural foods market in the South
Store: Well, olive oil's always good, and they're saying canola oil is still good for cooking. I heard on the Dr. Oz show recently that canola oil is fine to cook with. But olive oil is the best.
NFM: Does it matter which kind of olive oil?
Store: Yes, you want to get the cold-pressed, extra-virgin type.
NFM: And whether you're baking, frying, sautéing ... does that matter?
Store: If you're baking, you want to use canola oil because olive oil has a stronger taste to it, and it might come through when you bake it, but for everything else it's fine.
Comment: Gloria Tsang, RD, editor-in-chief for online nutrition network HealthCastle.com
Recommending a liquid vegetable oil is a step in the right direction. These oils typically have fewer saturated fats than other options like palm oil, butter and lard. Liquid vegetable oil also contains more beneficial fatty acids that are good for the heart.
Canola and nut oils contain omega-3s, while olive oil has more monounsaturated fat. Both omega-3s and monounsaturated fats are fine to consume regularly.
The employee should also mention smoke point. Peanut and canola oils, for example, have a higher smoke point, which means they can be heated to a higher temperature. Oils like these are well suited for frying or sautéing. Oils with a lower smoke point are better for lower-heat cooking such as baking. The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil is only 350 degrees Fahrenheit, while extra-light olive oil has a higher smoke point. In general, retailers should know how the customer will use the oil before making a recommendation.