How To Use The 10 Healthiest Cooking Oils

Choosing the healthiest cooking oil for your dish isn't always as simple as it appears. Despite the popularity of olive oil, there are a variety of other nutrient-rich cooking oils that are worth keeping in your pantry.

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How to Use the 10 Healthiest Cooking Oils

Choosing the healthiest cooking oil for your dish isn’t always as simple as it seems. Despite the popularity of olive oil, there are many other nutrient-rich cooking oils worth storing in your pantry.

While most cooking oils have similar calorie and fat content, their flavor, odor, and cooking properties vary greatly. So the best healthy cooking oil depends on what you’re cooking. A cooking oil has everything you need, whether you’re baking, frying, or making a vinaigrette. Read on to learn more about what makes an oil healthy, how to choose the right oil for your recipe, and our favorites.

“Healthy cooking oils” are as follows.

Oils are a good source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E, according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines. (They also make food taste better and keep you fuller longer.) Oils are also high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, the “healthy fats” we’re advised to eat more of (in place of saturated fat). Unsaturated fats are good for cholesterol and blood pressure, and can help prevent heart disease and strokes.

Oils, like all dietary fats, contain some saturated fat (“unhealthy fats”), which has been linked to negative effects on cholesterol and heart health. (Human-made trans fats are also unhealthy, but they are banned in the US due to their link to heart disease.)

The more poly-and monounsaturated fats an oil has, the healthier it is considered, and the more saturated fats it has, the less healthy it is considered. UC Berkeley Athletics’ assistant director of performance nutrition, Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.

At the same time, categorizing foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” is tricky. Nutrition is a complex science, and all foods can be included in a varied and balanced diet. Street Smart Nutrition’s Cara Harbstreet says other factors, like cost and availability, should be factored in as well. For example, “canola and vegetable oil are widely available and relatively inexpensive compared to other oils,” Harbstreet explains. Canola and vegetable oils are rich in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats, but not as impressive as olive oil.

photo: ThomasVogel/Getty Images
photo: ThomasVogel/Getty Images

Here’s how to pick the healthiest cooking oils for your recipe.

The smoke point is the single most important factor in choosing a healthy cooking oil. Oils that smoke or get too hot taste burnt or bitter. Heating an oil past its smoke point can damage or degrade the molecular structure of fatty acids, Harbstreet adds. In general, the more refined an oil is, the higher its smoke point and the hotter it can get without degrading. Virgin or unrefined oils have more flavor, but are more volatile and less heat resistant.

If you’re looking for a smoking point,

For frying, choose an oil with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (usually above 375°F). Canola, refined olive, avocado, vegetable, safflower, and peanut oils have high smoke points.

Baking: Use a neutral-flavored oil like canola or vegetable oil that won’t overpower the flavors you’re working with. (Olive oil cakes, for example, are baked to highlight the flavor of a delicious oil. It all depends on your needs.)

Sautéing and searing: Use a flavorful, low-smoke oil. Canola, extra virgin olive, safflower, peanut, and sesame oils are good choices.

Dressing: The most flavorful stuff is best here, and the smoke point doesn’t matter—use your most expensive extra-virgin olive oil.

So, let’s take a closer look at some common healthy cooking oils, and how to best utilize their unique properties.

1. Canola oil

According to Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., RDN, CPT, an adjunct professor of nutrition at Bastyr University, canola oil gets a bad rap because it is often associated with fried foods (deep-fried Oreos, anyone?). Canola oil’s 400°F smoke point and neutral flavor make it ideal for frying, but it can also be used for roasting, frying, and baking. Cooks don’t recommend using it for sautéing because it has a neutral flavor and doesn’t add much flavor to food.

Uses: Frying, roasting, and baking

Not for: sautéing or salad dressings

2. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Extra-virgin olive oil is a favorite of many of us, including NYU Steinhardt nutritionist Lisa Sasson. A quality bottle of cold-pressed, heart-healthy monounsaturated fat can truly take your taste buds on a journey. One caveat with extra-virgin (or “first press”) olive oil: It has a low smoke point (325 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit). High heat can alter the flavor and nutritional value of EVOO, so save it for drizzling and finishing dishes. (See how to choose the best olive oil.)

Uses: Sautéing and drizzling

Not for: Frying or roasting above 375°F

3. Pure olive oil

If you enjoy frying in olive oil (and who doesn’t?) Instead of EVOO, use pure olive oil, refined olive oil, or light olive oil. It has a smoke point of 465°F, so it can withstand the heat. Sadly, some of its flavor has been filtered out, but that’s the price of heavy-duty cooking.

Uses: Frying

Not for: Salad dressings

4. Avo-oil

“Avocado oil is the new kid on the block,” says Sasson. It has almost as many monounsaturated fats as olive oil, a high smoke point (375-400°F), and a neutral flavor. It is pricey compared to canola and vegetable oils, but if you want a high smoke point and don’t mind the splurge, this is a great option.

Uses: Frying

Not for: Budget cooking

5.Veggie oil

Vegetable oil is a cousin of canola oil. (It’s often a blend of plant oils like soybeans and canola.) And it’s also cheap, versatile, and has a high smoke point (400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit). These qualities make it suitable for high-heat cooking.

Uses: Frying, roasting, and baking

Not for: sautéing or salad dressings

6. Saffield oil

Safflower oil is a lesser-known but fantastic oil. It has a neutral flavor, a high smoke point, and is high in monounsaturated fats. It has the highest smoke point of all the oils listed, at 510°F. Like olive oil, safflower oil is available both chemically processed and cold-pressed, with the same high smoke point.

Uses: frying and sautéing

Not for: Salad dressings

7. Peanut oil

Peanut oil has a pleasant nutty scent and taste. Sasson suggests using it in peanut butter cookies or stir-fries. It also has a high smoke point (450°F), making it suitable for frying foods like tempura. This oil is low in saturated fat and is processed like vegetable and canola oils.

Uses: frying and sautéing

Not for: Foods that shouldn’t taste like peanuts

8. Sesame oil

Sasson recommends using sesame oil, which has a strong flavor. “Sesame oil adds so much to a dish,” she says. It’s used a lot in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. It’s also a great substitute for peanut oil if you’re allergic to nuts (or don’t like the taste). It’s cold-pressed, like extra-virgin olive oil, not chemically processed. While it may not have the highest smoke point (350-410 degrees Fahrenheit), it is a flavorful and unrefined option.

Uses: Sautéing

Not for: Foods that shouldn’t taste like sesame

9. Linseed oil

This oil has a few unique features: It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, so if you don’t eat a lot of omega-3-rich foods like fish, you might want to use it more often. But it’s not for cooking because it’s heat sensitive and oxidizes quickly, she says. Instead, use it in salad dressings and hummus dips. Buy small bottles to use quickly and store them in a cool, dark place.

Uses: Drizzling and salad dressings

Not for: Cooking

10. Coconut oil

Despite its reputation as a miracle cream, some experts doubt coconut oil’s health benefits. (Actually, many people consider it a skin and hair miracle cream.) However, it is lower in healthy unsaturated fats than all the other oils on this list, and can be more expensive and harder to find, according to Harbstreet. Because coconut oil is high in saturated fat and solid (or semisolid) at room temperature, the Dietary Guidelines consider it a solid fat (like butter).

The nutritional value of coconut oil (Cooking oils) compared to other solid fats like butter or lard is also debated. Some research suggests it is less harmful to cholesterol and could be a good replacement. In any case, coconut oil is a healthy fat. Ansari advises relying on other oils with proven health benefits due to the lack of clarity in the research.

Coconut oil’s creamy semisolid quality makes it a great vegan butter substitute for baked goods. That coconut flavor can be lovely in baked goods like a coconut cake. If you want to use coconut oil for sautéing or roasting, keep in mind that it has a low smoke point of 350°F.

Uses: Baking

Not for: Frying