What Is the Healthiest Cooking Oil?
There are dozens of options for cooking oils in the grocery store, and every single label touts the benefit of the oil. So which one is the healthiest cooking oil? In this guide, we explain what to look for when shopping for a healthy cooking oil and which oils are more healthy relative to the others.
What to Consider When Choosing Healthy Cooking Oils
When deciding which cooking oils you should stock in your pantry, you need to weigh several different factors. The first is smoke point, which varies from oil to oil and also depends on how the oil is harvested and refined. Heating an oil beyond its smoke point can cause a lot of the healthy compounds in it to break down, reducing the healthy benefits of the oil (not to mention, overheating the oil leads to an unpleasant burnt, bitter taste that will detract from your food).
Usually, the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point it will have — but this also means that it will have less antioxidants, polyphenols and other healthy compounds, as these are often removed during the refining process. The higher quality the oil is, the higher the smoke point usually is as well. For instance, high-quality California extra virgin olive oil actually has a relatively high smoke point of around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it has not been refined. This is plenty hot enough for most home cooking needs, including frying with olive oil, though it may not be hot enough for restaurant-level fryers which get much hotter.
Fat content is also very important to the healthiness of oils. You want to look for oils that are low in saturated fats and high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Saturated fats increase heart disease risk and can lead to weight gain as well. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol, improve blood glucose levels and benefit the heart. You also want to look for oils that have high amounts of other beneficial compounds such as antioxidants. All these factors together will help you choose the healthiest cooking oil.
What Is the Healthiest Cooking Oil?
It is hard to name a single healthiest cooking oil because each of them is unique. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils you can choose. It is high in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and full of antioxidants as well. Make sure to choose extra virgin olive oil and not pure or light olive oil or another kind. These other oils have been refined, which can cause them to lose some of their antioxidants.
Avocado oil is another healthy choice that contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E. However, it does tend to be a bit more expensive, and may not be as widely available as some other oils. Both sesame oil and peanut oil are also healthy, but they have very strong tastes that may not work in certain dishes (they are great choices for stir-frying, though). Walnut oil and flaxseed oil have very low smoke points, so they are not really suitable for cooking, but they can be used in dressings and other no-heat situations as a healthy condiment.
On the less healthy end of the spectrum, we have canola oil as well as vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is actually a catch-all term for a bunch of different, highly refined oils, including corn and soybean oil. This allows the manufacturer to use whichever oil is most plentiful and cheap without having to change the label. These oils are highly processed and thus do not have many beneficial compounds such as antioxidants in them.
Another less healthy pick is coconut oil. While wellness marketing has made coconut oil seem like a cure-all, the oil is actually pretty high in saturated fats, which is why it is semi-solid at room temperature. While using a tiny bit is okay, and it is a good substitute for butter in vegan baking recipes, if you are cooking, you will be better off choosing a more healthful oil such as olive oil.
When choosing an extra virgin olive oil, you need to make sure that you are getting it from a trusted brand because not every bottle sold under an “extra virgin” label is actually extra virgin olive oil. Smaller domestic companies such as Brightland can provide more oversight over the harvesting and manufacturing process and ensure that their extra virgin olive oil meets the quality standards. Browse our healthy olive oils online today, including flavored olive oils.