Food pyramids of days past warned people against adding too many oils to their meals. However, the healthiest cooking oils may increase the likelihood of other nutrients getting absorbed.
Certain oils, in the right amounts, can even have a heart-protective effect. Find out the best cooking oils to use for health benefits right ahead!
Best Cooking Oils: What to Look For
When picking a good cooking oil, it’s important to consider a few factors. Healthy fats combined with healthy cooking methods ensure a heart-healthy meal.
First, understanding what types of fats to look for can help you choose the right ones for your lifestyle. Not all fats are created equal, and foods higher in saturated fat have been linked to negative health outcomes. On the other hand, oils higher in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (like omega-3 fatty acids) are associated with many potential health benefits.
According to the American Heart Association, it’s generally best to choose an oil with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Additionally, steer clear of any hydrogenated oils or trans fats.
Remember, just because an oil comes from a plant doesn’t make it “healthy.” For example, coconut oil is often thought of as “healthy”, but 91% of the fat it contains is saturated fat. While coconut oils can be healthy to consume occasionally, it’s wise to choose them less often.
Understanding Smoke Point
The way in which oil reacts with heat is another aspect to consider. While some oils are suitable for high-heat cooking, others can only withstand low heat (or shouldn’t be exposed to heat at all). An oil’s smoke point, or the point at which it begins to smoke, is the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, lose its nutritional value, and cause an unpleasant taste.
When it comes to smoke points, flavor isn’t the only factor to consider. Heating oils excessively or repeatedly heating the same oil to use over and over can create compounds in the oil that are dangerous to consume. These hazardous compounds have been linked to negative health outcomes, including:
• Cardiovascular disease
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased total cholesterol
• The formation of carcinogens (substances capable of causing cancer)
In short, if an oil has a high smoke point, it can be heated to high temperatures. Typically, if an oil has been refined it has a higher smoke point.
Oils high in polyunsaturated fats also tend towards lower smoke points (225℉ or less), while oils higher in monounsaturated fats have medium smoke points. Oils that are higher in saturated fats usually have higher smoke points (400℉ or higher), but are worse for health reasons.
Method Matters, Too
Healthy cooking oils with higher smoke points are great methods such as searing or browning. Oils with a moderate smoke point are well-suited for medium-heat cooking methods, such as sautéing, stir-frying, or baking. Low-smoke point oils are best utilized in salad dressings, dips, sauces, and marinades.
Keep in mind that methods like frying and deep frying can cause food to lose nutrients. Instead, medium or low heat methods can help retain nutrients while enhancing flavor. Some of these better-for-you methods include:
Along with the plethora of plant and vegetable oils available today, you can also select cold-pressed. Instead of being heated and mixed with other substances, cold-pressed oils are considered unrefined. Also referred to as expeller-pressed, cold-pressed oils are extracted using a heatless process—like pressing, grinding, or crushing.
Obtaining the oil in this way preserves some of the nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The following oils may be available in their cold-pressed form at a store or natural grocers near you:
• Avocado oil
• Canola oil
• Coconut oil
• Flaxseed oil
• Olive oil
• Peanut oil
• Sesame oil
• Sunflower oil
One perk of cold-pressed oils is that their flavor is maintained. Since no heat is used in the extraction process, using cold-pressed oils in cooking can heighten the desired taste or aroma.
8 Healthiest Cooking Oils
With so many oils to choose from, you’re probably wondering which ones are healthiest. The following eight oils rank at the top for health and flavor.
1. Flaxseed Oil
Also known as linseed oil, flaxseed oil has been used as medicine since ancient times. Flaxseed and its healing properties were even mentioned by Hippocrates. In modern times, flaxseed oil has been marveled at for contributing to better heart and blood vessel health.
Since flaxseed has a low smoke point, it’s best used as a delicious addition to salad dressings or drizzled on top of a meal. Having a low smoke point doesn’t take away from its versatility, however. Flaxseed oil also tastes great in foods like baked goods and casseroles.
2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil contains many monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, with only 15% saturated fat. In fact, studies show that olive oil is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular events, meaning it’s often considered “heart healthy”.
One specific kind of olive oil, called extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), is thought to have added health benefits. EVOO is unrefined and often cold-pressed, so it retains more flavor and nutrients than regular olive oil. Plus, it has a moderate smoke point, making it perfect for sautéing and other medium-heat methods of cooking.
3. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil has a moderate smoke point, making it great for low-heat cooking methods as well as temperatures up to 400℉. For example, it tastes excellent when sautéed over medium heat.
Turns out, avocado oil may have superpowers beyond its great taste and versatility. A recent study suggests that avocado oil may relieve some effects of chronic stress on the body. In other words, adding a tablespoon or two to your meals could assist your body in its healing process.
4. Canola Oil
Canola oil often gets a bad rap, but the truth is it’s one of the healthiest oils out there. It’s a vegetable oil that comes from the canola plant, specifically from crushed canola seeds. It’s also referred to as rapeseed oil.
With only 7% saturated fat and mostly monounsaturated fats, canola oil is considered one of the most affordable and versatile oils available. It has a medium smoke point, making it suitable for many methods of cooking. Plus, using canola oil regularly may decrease total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol) levels.
5. Safflower Oil
Another oil with low levels of saturated fat is safflower oil. In fact, safflower oil has been linked with lowering blood pressure levels, improving insulin resistance, and reducing abdominal obesity.
Since it has a low smoke point, unrefined or semi-refined safflower oil is best utilized in recipes like sauces and marinades. Refined safflower oil has a higher smoke point but may have a reduced nutritional value.
6. Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil is abundant in unsaturated fatty acids, or “healthy” fats. It’s well-liked for its taste, which has been compared to sunflower seeds. The flavor is even richer in its cold-pressed or unrefined forms, which also preserves many of its nutrients.
Unrefined sunflower oil has a low smoke point, making it great for low-heat cooking. Adding a tablespoon or two to salad dressing makes for a delicious meal. Sunflower oil is used in many types of cuisine around the world, making it a versatile addition to your kitchen.
7. Sesame Oil
Popular in Asian cooking and culinary settings, sesame oil has a unique flavor and relatively high smoke point (even when unrefined). Similar to sesame seeds, sesame oil lends a nutty flavor to dishes like stir-fry. It’s best in small doses since a little bit of sesame oil adds a lot of flavor.
Sesame oil is also available in toasted varieties, but keep in mind that this means the flavor is amplified and some nutritional value may be altered. Toasted sesame oil is best used as a finishing oil, and is meant for drizzling in small amounts on top of a meal rather than used in the cooking process.
In terms of health benefits, sesame oil is only 10% saturated fat. Used anciently in Asia for disease prevention, sesame oil is considered heart-healthy. It’s also associated with the following properties:
8. Walnut Oil
Walnuts have long been heralded as a top food for brain health and cognition. Along with walnuts, walnut oil has been the focus of recent research for its benefits to the brain. Along with its neuroprotective properties, walnut oil contains nutrients linked to regulating other body systems, such as the immune system.
For those concerned with chronic diseases, walnut oil may have added benefits. It’s considered anti-inflammatory, contains antioxidants, and is associated with antitumor and antidiabetic activity in the body. It’s also considered cardioprotective, making it another heart-healthy oil to add to your list.
Since it has a low to medium smoke point, it’s a delicious addition to recipes using low to medium levels of heat. With its nutty flavor, walnut oil tastes great in salad dressings or veggie-based sautes.
Recapping Healthy Cooking Oils
With flavors from nutty to neutral, there’s an oil for everything! Oils low in saturated fats are considered heart-healthy, along with providing other health benefits (like antioxidant properties). Understanding smoke point and cooking methods can help you to select the best oil to use in order to enhance your next meal.
Related Questions: Best Cooking Oils
What is the healthiest oil to cook with?
The healthiest cooking oils contain lower levels of saturated fats. With only 7% saturated fat, canola oil is considered the healthiest of common cooking oils. It’s also affordable and versatile, with a medium smoke point suited for many styles of cooking.
What is the best oil for cooking?
Oils with medium to high smoke points are considered best for standard cooking practices like stir-frying or sauteing. Olive oil is considered the best “go-to” due to both health benefits and versatility. Its medium to high smoke point makes it a great pick for your pantry, along with being affordable.
Which cooking oil is good for health?
When cooking with wellness in mind, selecting oils low in saturated fats is key. Affordable oils that also contribute health benefits include olive oil and canola oil.
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