8 Healthy Cooking Oils that Will Power Up Your Meals
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
Last month, I dove into “facts about fats” and why they are essential to overall health. Now that we understand the basics of healthy fat, let’s examine a major source of dietary fat in our diets: cooking oils. Choosing the right oil can be a challenging task for many of my current clients, so I am here to explain today which cooking oil is best to use and why.
Why is cooking oil important?
We use cooking oils to:
- Add different flavors to food
- Absorb nutrients that are used to create heat-conducting lubricants so that we can cook food without it sticking to the pan
Each type of oil has a different mix of saturated, monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids. The healthiest oils are those that are high in MUFA and PUFA, because they naturally help lower your risk of heart disease and strokes when used in place of saturated or trans fats.
What is the smoke point of cooking oil?
When using oils, it’s important to know that some can tolerate the heat better than others. A smoke point is the temperature at which oil will start to break down. At this point, oils lose some of their nutrients and can can create an unpleasant taste.
Oils with low smoke points are best used for salad dressings and dips, while oils with high smoke points are good for frying or high-heat stir-frying.
Which cooking oils are the healthiest?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO is the best quality oil because it is not processed. This means the “unrefined” oil has the highest MUFA among cooking oils. MUFA helps reduce the risk of heart disease, has antioxidants from Vitamin E, and even has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- Smoke point: Medium – High, 325-375℉
- Use: EVOO is versatile, lending a great flavor to any food. It has more fruity, tangy, and bold flavors and aromas compared to the refined versions of olive oil. Due to the lower smoke point, it is best used for salad dressings, dips, low-temperature recipes, or light sautéing.
Pure or Light Olive Oil
This oil is refined and processed to neutralize the flavor, increase the shelf life, and raise the smoke point to about 465℉. This oil is high in MUFA.
- Smoke point: High, 465℉
- Use: Refined olive oil has a mild flavor and is lighter in color, making it better for all-purpose cooking. It is best used in high heat, because this oil won’t break down as quickly as EVOO. It can, however, be used in vinaigrettes to add more flavor; simply finish off the vinaigrette with a splash of EVOO.
This neutral-flavored oil comes from a plant called the rapeseed. It is high in MUFA and PUFA, including omega-3’s.
- Smoke point: Medium-High, 300-400℉
- Use: Canola oil has a light flavor that makes it a versatile ingredient. Another perk is that this oil is less expensive, so you can easily use it to replace solid fats when cooking or baking. It works great for sautéing and frying, and can used to coat pots, pans, and even the grill to prevent sticking.
Extracted from the avocado fruit, this oil is rich in MUFA, second only to EVOO. It also contains a small amount of PUFA.
- Smoke point: High, 400-500℉
- Use: Although it tends to be more expensive than other oils, it has a great buttery and nutty flavor. With its higher smoke point, avocado oil is ideal for frying, sautéing, and roasting. It’s also a good choice for a flavorful base in salad dressing.
This oil is made from the fruit of the coconut palm tree, and is a white solid at room temperature.
- Smoke point: Medium, 350℉
- Use: Coconut oil has a sweet flavor, and with a consistency like butter/shortening, it can be a great substitute in baking. When melted, it gives off a tropical flavor to vegetables, curry dishes, and fish.
Over 90% of coconut oil is saturated fat, which in the past has been associated with higher cholesterol levels. It also contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which is known to raise both HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Due to these two things, there is a lot of controversy about using this oil in your diet. The 2017 advisory report from the American Heart Association did not recommend the use of coconut oil in your diet. The panel concluded that coconut oil “increases LDL cholesterol, a known cause of heart disease, and has no known offsetting favorable effects. I would recommend using coconut oil sparingly if your cholesterol levels are high or you are at a higher risk for heart disease.”
This oil has one of the highest concentrations of PUFA (69%) among cooking oils. It also contains some MUFA (20%) and is low in saturated fat (11%), making it an overall heart-healthy option. You will also find “high-oleric” versions which have been modified to be richer in oleric acid (boosts MUFA levels).
- Smoke point: High, 450℉
- Use: Sunflower oil is a good all-purpose oil because it can withstand high cooking temperatures. Great for searing and sautéing.
Sesame oil is derived from sesame seeds. It has been found to decrease blood pressure and weight in hypertensive patients, and increase levels of vitamins C and E.
- Smoke point: High, 410℉
- Use: Sesame oil has a strong flavor and is best used for frying, sautéing, and in sauces. It is a customary oil in many Asian and Indian dishes.
This oil is high in PUFA and contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which helps protect your heart. Walnuts and their oils are rich in antioxidants that help diminish the effects of free radicals, which can cause cell damage and accelerate the aging process.
- Smoke point: Very low
- Use: Walnut oil is best eaten cold to add an incredible nutty flavor to your foods as a dressing. It is great on salads and pastas. Due to its low smoke point, it should not be used for cooking, as it will oxidize and give off a bitter taste.
Still have questions?
I hope that this has helped clear up some of the confusion with picking the best oils to use, but if you have any questions, I would be happy to work with you one-on-one through our custom weight loss program. To learn more, head over to our program page or fill out an online consultation form to get started.
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