Best Healthy Options for Cooking Oils
The choices for cooking oils have grown exponentially in recent years, from well-known healthy staples like olive oil to far more obscure options. But the type of oil you should use depends on a number of factors, from what you’re cooking, to what specific health benefits you care about most.
One of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a cooking oil is smoke point – the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and burn – and depending on what kind of cooking you’re doing, you’ll need to be aware of what temperature this is for your chosen oil. Heating oil past this point can negatively affect the flavor it imparts to food, leaving an unpleasant, acrid aftertaste, and can also degrade the nutritious compounds in the oil.
Here’s our rundown of the five best healthy cooking oils for most of your home-cooking needs.
Olive oil. Olive oil remains the best known and one of the most versatile options for healthy cooking. Look especially for “extra virgin” olive oil, which means the oil is unrefined, and of high quality. Olive oil contains high amounts of heart-healthy monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and is great for baking, or as a dressing. It does have a comparatively low smoke point, so avoid using it for high-heat frying.
Avocado oil. Much like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil is unrefined, helping it maintain many of its natural nutrients (it’s high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as vitamin E). Avocado oil also has a much higher smoke point than olive oil, making it a versatile, low-flavor option for high-heat cooking.
Sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is extremely high in vitamin E – a single tablespoon contains 28% of the daily recommended intake! It has a high smoke point and a neutral, versatile flavor, but also contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids, while important for the body, are “pro-inflammatory,” and must be balanced by anti-inflammatory omega-3s. As with most things, moderation is key.
Coconut oil. Coconut oil, uniquely among plant-based oils, is primarily a saturated fat. Though not all experts agree that a concentrated source of saturated fats is a good idea for health, the American Heart Association has argued that replacing foods high in such fats with healthier options can lower cholesterol and improve lipid profiles. Coconut oil, like other saturated fats, is a fantastic choice for high-heat cooking or frying, and remains very stable at high heat.
As a general rule, the American Heart Association recommends choosing oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, and which contain no partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Experiment with different flavors and combinations, and see which choice fits your taste best!