What are oils?

October 16, 2014

For the last MyPlate installment, we’re talking oils. While they aren’t considered a food group like grains or dairy, the USDA provides guidelines on oil consumption because certain oils supply essential nutrients and vitamin E for heart health.

First, let’s understand what falls under the oils category. One of the first ways to define oil is consistency – oils are liquid! Second, oils come from a variety of sources such as plants, fish, and nuts. If you think about what’s in your kitchen cabinet, you’re probably most familiar with canola oil, olive oil, and vegetable oil. But…did you know there is a whole other world of oils out there? Examples include corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil just to name a few.

With a focus on liquids, you can probably guess that solids (e.g., butter, margarine, and shortening) are excluded from the oils category. The reason being is the following – oils contain monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated (PUFAs) which help reduce “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Solid fats, on the other hand, usually are derived from animals and contain saturated or trans fats which work against us by increasing “bad” cholesterol and our risk for heart disease.

Now that we know what oils are, how much should your child consume? Chances are they probably meet the recommended intake amounts. Similar to sodium, oils are one of those categories where we have to watch our intake for tendency to over consume. Daily recommended intakes for kids aged 2 to 18 years old are listed below.


  • 2 to 3 yo: 3 tsp
  • 4 to 8 yo: 4 tsp


  • 9 to 18 yo: 5 tsp


  • 9 to 13 yo: 5 tsp
  • 14 to 18 yo: 6 tsp

As with food group recommendations, intake varies by age, gender, and activity level. The above amounts are for kids who get around 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. In terms of measuring, amounts are in teaspoons (tsp). For oils, 1 tablespoon (Tbsp) is the serving size on the nutrition facts label and is equivalent to 3 tsp.

Now it’s time to put that knowledge to use! The next time your recipe calls for butter or margarine, try substituting with oil. There are plenty of suggested substitutions available online such as 1 tsp butter = ¾ tsp of oil. And to round out your MyPlate knowledge, remember to check out the other MyPlate articles in our library to read up on dairy, fruits, grains, protein, and vegetables.

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