In the past years, there are many conflicting claims when it comes to the best and worst cooking oils for health. Some oils are better with specific types of foods and other oils are only better at right temperatures. Fat is not necessarily harmful to the body. You need healthy fats in your diet and they actually perform incredible tasks like protecting your organs, boosting energy levels, assisting cell growth, keeping your body warm, and helping in nutrient absorption.
Cooking oils vary in taste and use. Some are not meant to be consumed right away and need to be cooked. Some oils cannot withstand the heat and may produce harmful compounds when cooked over high temperature.
Oils can be a good source of healthy fats, but selecting the right oils is important to prevent weight gain, obesity, heart ailments, and other serious health conditions.
The Composition of Cooking Oils
All oils contain a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Cooking oils are high in fat and some fats should not be eliminated from your diet as they play an important role in various basic functions in your body. The key is to choose cooking oils that contain a healthy balance of the three fats.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats fall under the category of unsaturated fats. Both can help in reducing bad cholesterol levels in the blood which can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
You can find monounsaturated fats in almonds, pumpkin seeds, avocados, hazelnuts, pecans, and in oils like canola, peanut, and olive. Polyunsaturated fats are present in sunflower, soybean, corn, and flaxseed oils.
Saturated fats increase the level of cholesterol in the blood and may increase the risk of stroke and other heart diseases (1). They are typically solid at room temperature and the recommended amount of consumption is 13 grams a day. It is important to keep trans fats as low as possible.
While there are many recent studies claiming that saturated fats are totally harmless, it is still best to keep the consumption low.
Smoking Points of Cooking Oils
Every cooking fat, be it lard, butter, or oil, has a smoke point. It is a temperature at which the oil stops simmering and it sends out smoke signals. Keep in mind that many unrefined oils contain enzymes, minerals, and other compounds that do not go along well with heat. These oils are best for dressings, drizzles, and low temperature cooking.
When you see the smoke, the oil is already breaking down fats and produces compounds that can be harmful to your health. If your oil starts to produce smoke, do not panic. Simply remove it from eat and give it a taste once it has cooled down. If it started to develop foul-tasting flavor, just replace your oil with a new batch and lower the temperature. Here’s the trick: if your oil produces smoke, it means that it is not meant to be used at high temperature.
Best Cooking Oils for Health
These oils are considered to be the healthiest oils for health.
1. Olive Oil
Olive oil is often advertised for its numerous health benefits but it is not the best for cooking. It is one of the main ingredients behind health benefits of most Mediterranean cuisines. This oil can help in lowering the amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol and raising good (HDL) cholesterol in your blood. It contains 14% saturated, 75% monounsaturated and 11% polyunsaturated fats.
While this oil is not for cooking over high temperature, it can be used in dips, salad dressings and simmering sauces. You can get more antioxidants and nutrients by choosing extra virgin coconut oil.
2. Avocado Oil
Thanks to its high amounts of monounsaturated fats, avocado oil is heart healthy. It promotes healthy cholesterol levels and improves nutrient absorption (2).
The composition of this oil is similar to olive oil, with some polyunsaturated and saturated fats mixed it. However, avocado surpasses olive when it comes to cooking. It has a higher smoking point, making it ideal not only for simmering sauces, salad dressings, and dips but also for high heat cooking processes. You can use it for sautéing, stir-frying, and searing.
3. Flaxseed Oil
One of the best cooking oils for health, flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce inflammation. It may also help in lowering the chances of developing cancer and may reduce the symptoms of arthritis (3).
Many people include flaxseed oil in their diet to supplement with omega-3 fatty acids. Like olive oil, it should not be heated and is best to use in salads or smoothies.
4. Macadamia Nut Oil
One of the best cooking oils that you may want to consider is macadamia nut oil. It is composed of 60% oleic acid, significant amount of palmitoleic acid and small amounts of linoleic acid. This oil boasts a high content of beneficial fatty acids, making it a better choice than many other oils.
Macadamia nut oil has the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This oil is relatively low in both polyunsaturated and saturated fats. It also contains a high level of antioxidants that can have a powerful effect on your overall health. Another great thing about it is that it has a higher smoke point than other vegetable oils.
5. Almond Oil
Almond oil is one of the healthiest oils available in the market. It is packed with monounsaturated fatty acids that can boost cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart ailments. It also contains potassium, vitamin E, folic acids, protein, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals. Regular consumption of this oil can make your body stronger and it helps in fighting common infections.
They always say that eating five almonds a day can enhance your memory. Including almond oil in your diet is even better. It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that is known to enhance the nervous system.
6. Sesame Oil
Derived from sesame seeds, sesame oil is one of the healthiest alternatives to normal oil options. It is commonly used in Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian dishes. Like most vegetable oils, this oil is not only delicious but also good for the heart because of its fatty acid content.
There are many essential minerals present in sesame oil, such as calcium, zinc, and copper. These minerals play important roles in bone growth and development. As a person gets older, this oil can prevent osteoporosis and other age-related bone problems.
Sesame oil also contains high quantities of tyrosine, an amino acid that is associated with the serotonin activity. This can help in elevating the mood, making a person feel happy.
7. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil contains over 90% of saturated fats, making it very resistant to high heat. The moderate consumption of this oil provides numerous health benefits. From your digestive tract, it goes straight to the liver so the body can use it as a quick energy source. It can also turn into ketones, which provide therapeutic effects on brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. Coconut oil also helps the body in killing pathogens like viruses, bacteria and fungi.
The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil helps in increasing the amount of calories burned. One study shown 15-30 grams of MCT per day can increase 24-hour energy expenditure by 5% (4). It is best to consume this oil in moderation.
Cooking Oils to Use With Caution
The fat percentages in some oils are unhealthy and it is important to use them with caution. You need to consume foods containing omega-3 and omega-6 fats as these fats are not produced by the body. However, you want to reduce your consumption of oils that contain high levels of omega-6, such as:
- Corn oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Walnut oil
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
- Sallflower oil
It is also important to limit the consumption of oils labeled as “partially hydrogenated.” These are trans fats that has been shown to increase the risk for heart diseases.
How to Take Care of Cooking Oils
To prevent your cooking oils from going bad, there are some things to keep in mind. Do not purchase large batches at a time. It is best to get smaller ones so you can use them before they go rancid. Make sure that you store your cooking oils properly and if you have noticed an unpleasant odor or smell, toss it and get a new one.
Olive oil can be stored in the shelf for less than six months. Unless you use it in large quantities, it is best to purchase this oil in small sizes.
To ensure the freshness of avocado oil, you can keep it in a dark container or in the fridge. You can also prevent flaxseed oil from turning bad by keeping it in the fridge. If you see that some of the oils are getting cloudy when you place them in the refrigerator, this is only a sign that the oil is getting slightly thicker due to cold temperature.
1. Geng Zong, Yanping Li, Anne J Wanders and colleagues. Intake of individual saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: two prospective longitudinal cohort studies. Viewed at: http://www.bmj.com/content/355/bmj.i5796
2. Mark Dreher and Adrienne Davenport. Avocado consumption helps support cardiovascular health. Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3664913/
3. Inflammation and cancer: Why your diet is important. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Viewed at: https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/may-2014/inflamation-cancer-diet.html
4. Dulloo AG, Fathi M, Mensi N, Girardier L. Twenty-four-hour energy expensidture and urinary catecholamines of humans consuming low-to-moderate amounts of medium-chain triglycerides: a dose-response study in human respiratory chamber. Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8654328