I’m not going to get into whether or not consuming oil in general is healthy. I personally like using a little oil when I’m cooking for a variety of reasons, but I do make a conscious effort to keep our kitchen stocked with healthy options.
When it comes to using an oil for cooking, one key thing to consider is the smoke point. When you sauté on your stovetop or roast, oils that can’t handle the high temperatures will start to oxidize, meaning that they react with oxygen to form free radicals that can lead to a host of health problems including inflammation. In addition, when an oil starts to smoke/burn some of the nutritional qualities of the fat are also compromised.
Below are some of my favorite oils for cooking (along with their smoke points):
Olive Oil: It seems the Italians were onto something with their love of this oil. Olive oil is filled with monounsaturated fats that are good for your heart as well as some of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives. Through my research I’ve found that regular olive oil (not extra-virgin) is best for cooking, sautéing ad grilling. Extra-virgin has a lower smoke point (325°F) and more flavor so it’s better suited for dressings, dips, sauces and dishes that aren’t cooked.
I typically buy extra-virgin olive oil and use it for lower heat cooking, dressings, dips and sauces.
Avocado Oil: Like olive oil, avocado oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat known for it’s heart health benefits. If you haven’t tried avocado oil yet, you’re missing out. This relative newcomer to the health food scene is low in saturated fat and has a high smoke point (around 520°F) and a neutral flavor that makes it great for cooking.
This is my new go-to oil for cooking! Because of the high smoke point I like to use it for all my roasting, sautéing and grilling. I also like using the cooking spray when something only needs a touch of oil. Sometimes I’ll just use spray when I’m roasting veggies.
Sesame Oil: This oil isn’t one I use regularly for cooking, but I like to keep on hand for adding a teaspoon or two to Asian dishes. It has a nutty flavor that’s perfect for stir-fries, sauces and dressings like the sesame dressing I posted here. Sesame oil is high and vitamin E and also contains vitamin K. It’s smoke point is 410°F.
Tip: Unrefined, virgin or extra-virgin means that the oil hasn’t been processed (as much) and will likely have more flavor. So unrefined or virgin coconut oil and olive oil will all taste more like the fruit/veggie than the refined versions. I personally think the more unrefined the better and tend to buy extra-virgin or virgin oils.
Which Cooking Oils Should Be Avoided?
While coconut oil is still considered controversial, there are some oils that everyone (but their manufacturers) can agree are better avoided.
In general, it’s a good idea to stay away from any oils labeled “partially hydrogenated”. This term is used for anything from soybean oil to other kinds of vegetables, and it can raise your LDL levels, without also raising HDL. While it’s more likely you’ll see these oils in processed foods than in their raw form, it’s still important to be aware of them when you look for cooking oils.
Another oil that’s best avoided is palm oil. High in saturated fat, palm oil lacks the health benefits of coconut oil and should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, palm oil farms are helping to destroy rainforests globally.
I’m also not a big fan of using vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil or corn oil. All of these oils are highly processed which involves high heat, deodorization and chemicals. They’re also typically made from GMO crops.
Although there are healthy oils out there, they’re still oils, which are extracted from the whole food. The health benefits associated with oils don’t mean that you should add heaps of oil to everything. Just be mindful and use moderation because a little goes a long way!