I find that one of the biggest topics of confusion is what oils are the healthiest to cook with. And I won’t lie – its confusing for everyone. New discoveries keep arising, and its hard to keep up.
Given all the confusion, I have done my own extensive research on the topic, and wanted to share with you my conclusions and what I apply in my own life to stay healthy. Plus, I’ll clarify a few points for you to keep in mind when choosing your own cooking oils.
First, let me share a few facts / basic tips to keep in mind:
- DIFFERENT OILS ARE BETTER FOR DIFFERENT COOKING METHODS. Some oils are better for high heat cooking than others, and that depends on their “smoking point” (the temperature at which oils start to break down and lose nutrients) and on how easily they oxidize. When oils are heated, they react with oxygen and go through a process of oxidation, which can then create harmful compounds – so you want to limit this. Examples of oils with a higher smoking point (can withstand higher heat) and less sensitive to oxidation, include: coconut oil, ghee and grass-fed butter, avocado oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil.
- GET YOUR OMEGA 3’s. Getting the right balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is important for your health, as too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3 leads to inflammation in your body, which is a precursor to almost all disease. And sadly, most of us are getting a lot more Omega 6 fatty acids than Omega 3, so you want to emphasize increasing the omega-3-rich oils in your diet, such as: flaxseed, walnut, avocado and olive oil.
- AVOID TRANS FATS. Different oils have different types of fats, including: SATURATED FATS (solid at room temperature), UNSATURATED FATS (liquid at room temperature) and of course, TRANS FATS (artificial fats created from vegetable oil to make them more shelf-stable). When it comes to saturated vs. unsaturated fats – its hard to generalize whether they’re good or bad for you as it varies per type of oil, but one thing is for sure: Trans fats are BAD, have no nutritional benefit, and should be avoided. Trans fats are found in most: deep-fried foods, store-bought cookies, cakes and pies, in shortening (Crisco), frosting, pancake mixes and refrigerated dough, non-dairy creamers, margarine, and even crackers. So always read ingredient labels and be wary of anything labeled “partially hydrogenated oils”.
Here are my favorite oils, and why:
TOP 3 FOR EVERYDAY USE:
1) Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): This is my favorite oil overall: it’s amazing for your overall health, and I love the variety providing different (delicious) flavors. It’s very rich in polyphenols - antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, known to help prevent diseases including cancer, and boost your heart and brain health. And it’s been proven to help raise your “good” cholesterol (HDL) while lowering your ‘bad” cholesterol (LDL).
- It has a medium smoke point, around 325-375 (depending on the variety), so safe for most cooking, but I generally suggest not using your best EVOO for frying or roasting above 375 F. (“Pure” olive oil has a smoke point of around 450-475 so is better for higher heat cooking, but taste and nutritional quality are not nearly as good as Extra-Virgin!)
- Tips: Opt for Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and “Cold-Pressed” (meaning it hasn’t been exposed to high heat for processing) which retains more nutrients and antioxidants that the more refined ones (plus tastes way better!). Also, choose ones in dark glass bottles to prevent the heat from damaging the oil, and regardless, keep it away from too much heat and light. Note: in the case of EVOO, you get way you pay for, so a cheap olive oil is usually a red flag!
- Best uses: For dipping bread (yum!), sautéing and roasting on medium heat, drizzling on food, in salad dressings and all sauces.
2) Coconut Oil: This is my second favorite oil, given its numerous proven health benefits, including its ability to help balance hormones, improve digestion, balance blood sugar, increase HDL and burn fat. It is largely saturated fat, and while the debate is still out there on saturated fat, coconut oil’s health benefits seem to far outweigh any potential negatives from the saturated fat. It’s rich in medium-chain fatty acids, that are easily processed by your liver and used for energy instead of being stored as fat. And its rich in Lauric acid, which can improve cholesterol, and it helps kill unfriendly bacteria (including candida) in your gut. As a bonus, coconut oil has so many benefits outside of just cooking (I love it on my skin, my face, hair, and for oil pulling given its anti-bacterial qualities). Plus, it has a long shelf life!
- Has a medium smoke point around 350-375 F, but the high amount of saturated fat makes it less sensitive to oxidation, so still safe for high heat.
- Tip: Look for organic, virgin coconut oil to obtain best quality with most nutrients.
- Best uses: To make any dessert, for baking (creamy quality makes it a great substitute for butter), sautéing, adding to smoothies and even to your coffee to make an energizing bulletproof coffee. (On top of all the uses outside of the kitchen, as mentioned earlier!)
3) Ghee: Also known as clarified butter, meaning that the milk fats are removed from butter. Ghee has been used for thousands of years and is considered an ancient health food, most commonly used in India, especially in Ayurvedic healing practices. Like coconut oil, its benefits are both internal and external (it’s even used to treat burns and rashes), and has been shown to help cleanse and support overall wellness. Nutritionally, its rich in vitamins A, D, E and K2 (which helps build strong bones). But mostly, I love it for its gut-healing properties due to the medium-chain fatty acids and the butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that supports a healthy digestive tract and helps detoxify your colon. Plus, being dairy-free (vs. butter) makes it suitable for anyone!
- Has a high smoke point around 450 F, so great for any high-heat cooking.
- Tip: buy organic ghee from grass-fed cows, as it contains CLA (conjugated Linoleic Acid) which has shown to lower inflammation and even body-fat!
- Best uses: For sauteing at high temperatures, baking, and to cook grains, legumes and soups (in lieu of butter).
Follow-up favorites that are great to have in your kitchen:
Avocado Oil: Its like olive oil in composition, high in Omega 3’s and in Vitamin E, yet has a much higher smoke point than extra-virgin olive oil (around 500 F) so can be used for frying and any high heat roasting. I use it once in a while to switch it up (usually in lieu of olive oil for higher temperature cooking), but generally prefer eating the fruit (I’m a huge avocado fan!), and using EV Olive Oil for cooking and dressings, as I enjoy the taste more. Best use: For roasting between 375-400 F and frying.
Flaxseed Oil: Has a low smoke point so don’t use for cooking, but it is very rich in Omega 3’s (plant-based omega 3’s called Alpha Linolic Acid (ALA)) and amazing for your gut and heart health (it’s known to lower blood pressure). However, it can go rancid very quickly so you must keep refrigerated and finish the bottle quickly! Best use: I use it in my salad dressings, sometimes add it to smoothies, and 1 tablespoon on an empty stomach helps alleviate constipation better than most other remedies!
Sesame Oil: Has a medium-high smoke point so can be used for cooking, but its higher in Omega 6 than Omega 3’s, so don’t overdo it. I admit that I LOVE the flavor, and just a tiny bit goes a long way. Best use: For stir-fries, and drizzling on vegetables and grains for a little “Asian” flavor
Walnut Oil: It has an optimal Omega 3: Omega 6 balance, and tastes delicious to drizzle on food. It has a low smoke point (around 320) so I wouldn’t use for cooking. It’s mostly polyunsaturated fat (like most nut and seed oils) which generally means it spoils quickly, so buy in small quantities. Best use: Drizzling on vegetables, grains, toast, and for raw desserts.
Butter (grass-fed): Real butter from grass-fed cows is actually nutritious and good for you. Similar to ghee, it contains vitamins A, E and K2, conjugated Linoleic Acid (which can lower body fat in humans), and Butyrate (which can help fight inflammation and improve gut health). However, butter contains lactose, small amounts of sugar and proteins, that get burned during high-heat cooking, and is not suitable for lactose-intolerant people nor vegans. Therefore, I generally prefer ghee. Best use: For baking and for specific recipes where you want the particular taste of butter!
Sunflower Oil: Has a very high smoke point (around 450 F) so like avocado oil, is a great option for cooking at high temperatures, but it’s almost entirely Omega-6 fatty acids, so again, don’t overdo it and make sure to balance it out with lots of Omega-3-rich oils. Best use: For occasional frying and high-heat baking/roasting.
WHICH ARE THE WORST OFFENDERS?
Corn oil, Soybean oil, Cottonseed oil, mixed Vegetable Oils, and Margarine. These are generally genetically modified, very refined, mostly omega-6 fatty acids, and contain little-to-no health benefits.
What about Canola Oil? Because of its ideal Omega 3-Omega 6 ratio, Canola Oil would also a top choice. Plus it has a medium- high smoke point (around 400-425 F) so could be great for high-heat cooking. BUT the problem with Canola Oil is twofold: 1) almost all of it is genetically modified (especially in the US), and 2) it undergoes a harsh chemical process, using toxic solvents like hexane, potentially leaving trace amounts in your oil. So beware, because it’s used in lots of packaged products, like hummus, which even if no hexane is present, still means you’re getting GMOs. However, if you can find organic, non-GMO canola oil, then it should be fine to use sparingly. But generally, I avoid it, especially with so many other great options!
CONCLUSION? Make sure you have plenty of extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil in your pantry for everyday cooking, and then choose a few others for diversity, such as avocado oil, flaxseed and sesame oil. And personally, I recommend also trying ghee instead of butter given its awesome healing properties!