The Healthiest Cooking Oils

June 11, 2013   59 Comments

Snack Girl has been asked about the healthiest oils a bunch of times and keeps dodging the question.

Healthy Cooking Oils

Why? There is a lot of discussion in the medical community about oil, and there isn’t a strong consensus probably because different vegetable and nut oils have received different amounts of attention. Everyone does agree that using a vegetable oil is healthier than lard (meat fat) because the oil is not packed with saturated fat (bad for your heart).

Also, chefs use different oils for different dishes because some oils degrade at high temperatures so you cannot use one oil for all of your cooking.

My advice is to fill your pantry with a variety of oils and hope one day that the health experts will find a panacea to end all of our oil dilemmas. Many of you have ended your oil dilemma by not using any vegetable oil because it is a processed food. I find that commendable, but you are going to have to pry my extra virgin olive oil out of my cold dead hands.

Good Oils:

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) has been important in scientific studies of the Mediterranean diet. It is a monounsaturated fat and research shows that monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) help keep “bad” LDL cholesterol low and boost levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. In addition, EVOO is high in antioxidants called polyphenols that have been linked to heart health. Numerous large, long-term studies have demonstrated a powerful association between relatively high dietary intake of MUFAs, and reduced risk of abdominal obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Canola oil generally doesn’t have many antioxidants, as olive oil does, but it does have a relatively long shelf life. In addition, canola is the richest cooking-oil source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat that has been linked to heart health.

Walnut oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, and macadamia nut oil are examples of expensive but healthy oils that should not be cooked but added to your salad dressing to get essential nutrients and fats. Keep these in the refrigerator to keep them from going rancid as they are delicate.

Bad Oils:

Vegetable oil is a mix of whatever is left over and can contain oils that you want to avoid. Always try to pick canola or another “named” oil before you buy generic vegetable oil.

Partially Hydrogenated Soybean oil and Palm oil are found in many processed foods and should be avoided. Soybean oil is high in Omega-6 fats which aren’t as healthy as Omega-3 fats and palm oil is high in saturated fat.

For more information, you can check out a segment on Dr. Oz Best Cooking Oils for his perspective.

I know I am opening a can of worms here so please be respectful of each other (and me) in the comments section. I reviewed a bunch of different material to come to my conclusions and I know that I could have missed some. This is a very oily subject (he he).

What oils do you use and why?

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How about coconut oil? I've seen a lot lately that says it's a great alternative to all of the above choices.

Hi, great post! You mentioned the nut based oils should not be cooked with however I have also heard the same for Olive Oil that it breaks down with high temperature. Is this true? What about Canola Oil for cooking? Thanks,

one question -- I have seen things recently about canola being heavily genetically modified. If those reports are true, then it will pretty much be EVOO for me all the way. It's hard to balance what's good for you (health) AND good for the environment ... although, when you think about it, if it is good for the environment and contributes to a healthy earth, it should be good for us too, right? :)

No, not everyone agrees that vegetable oils are healthier than animal oils - they're generally less stable, and oils/fats from animals raised well (pastured/grass-fed) are actually pretty darn healthy.… is what I use. (Real) olive oil is a wonderful thing - when you're not using high heat. Otherwise I use coconut oil, avocado oil, or pastured lard/grass-fed tallow/grass-fed butter. I'd love to find tea seed oil, and have bought duck fat for a treat (though haven't found that from an actual trusted farmer yet).

funny, I got another newsletter today extolling the virtues of extra virgin olive oil. I do use EVOO but not for high temps. For high heat I use coconut oil since it has a high smoke point. It's a medium chain fatty acid and has beneficial amino acids as well. Yes, it's caloric as all fats are. I don't use tons of it.

Hi Lisa,

I change it up once and awhile and use a blend of EVOO and Canola oil, one part of each!

I use coconut oil in cooking and sometimes baking. EVOO and sesame oil for salad dressing, they have great flavors and the chemicals in EVOO is not broken down

I made my pancakes with sunflower oil today. It has a high burn pt so good for stir fry but can work in salad dressing as well. Not sure how great it is I'm sure someone will give their thoughts. For the most part I stay away from oils if I can, I always get conflicting info.(Coconut oil being the latest).EVOO is my main go to.

what about peanut oil? what other oil can stand up to the heat of a wok?

What about grape seed oil? It has so many great properties and can be cooked at a high temp quickly allowing you to keep the important nutrients in your food.

What bothers me is what I read about fake olive oil - apparently it is a big industry and you cannot tell what is fake or blended and what is not.

Thank you for this post. This will be a huge help in my shopping. I never thought to refrigerate the nut oils either. I just by in small amounts and used them fast.

Canola oil is a TERRIBLE oil! STAY AWAY! It's high in omega-6 fats (the bad fats) and it is NOT a good source of omega-3s! Any omega-3s that it did have are oxidized by the violent, high-heat processing necessary to make the oil. Thus, they are actually toxic.

The best oils are the traditional oils that our ancestors used for generations. This includes coconut oil (the BEST one!), extra virgin olive oil, real grass-fed butter, pastured lard, and grass-fed tallow. These are all full of good fats and contain wonderful flavor. Fat does NOT make you fat.

I also have read canola oil is not a good oil. Any feedback on grapeseed oil? Sesame oil?

I too love using coconut oil for baking breads and I use it for my granola. No one mentioned choosing based on flavor. Coconut oil has a great flavor. I mostly use EVOO and very sparingly use canola. I do sometimes use real organic butter.

I recently purchased a recipe book that doesn't use any oil. Just add water to your pan when frying a tablespoon or 2 at a time to prevent sticking. You can actually taste the food. Of course I still use some for certain dishes for flavors, but most of the time I'll start with frying in water and just add a little toward the end.

What is a Canola?? Where does canola oil come from. What about corn oil? Is that bad for you too? I usually use olive oil for cooking with a pad of butter added for flavor. As far as an oil for deep frying,,,,I don't,,,I only saute fry. But I always wondered what is a CANOLA????hahaha

Charlene, what is the name of the cookbook you just bought? Thanks!

Everyone who's asked about us an oil good, PLEASE see my link above. Super helpful. As for canola, "a canola" doesn't exist. It's very processed usually GMO rapeseed oil- but rapeseed isn't a pretty name, so they went with Canadian Oil, Low Acid aka Canola. Even when organic thus not GMO it's pretty far from the original through selective breeding and highly refined/bleached/deodorized. Bleh.

I use grapeseed oil for eggs. It has a slightly nutty flavor and high smoke point and from what I last remember reading nutritionally beneficial. I actually bought it to massage my baby at first but didn't like it for that and started cooking with it!

Flaxseed oil in salad dressing recipes.

Are we forgetting flax seed oil? How does it compare?

Love your list. My only question would be that you mentioned that sesame oil should not be cooked. Don't a lot of asian recipes and stir fries use sesame oil?

Not a good idea to promote canola oil as "good." It's heavily processed. Grapeseed oil is another oil that's excellent for cooking and healthy.

I used to use EVOO for everything. Then I heard NOT to cook with it so OK I went to Canola oil, then I heard NOT good for u, so now I use for cooking, COCONUT oil. LOVE it but I do however still use the Canola oil for baking.

Devil's advocate here -- why add oil at all?

I don't think that we'd get much argument if I said that whole apples are healthier than applesauce, so I'd similarly argue that eating whole corn kernels or whole soybeans or whole coconuts (well, the meat, not the shell!) is healthier than eating the squeezed, refined, and processed in who-knows-what-ways oils from the respective whole foods.

We own an 8" ceramic pan ($20 at a discount store) and my wife makes pudla -- sans any added oil -- every day and that pan comes clean with some hot water and a wipe with a paper towel. And even if something sticks, big whoop...

Okay, off my soapbox. :)

I'd like to mention a little known gem - moringa oil (known as Ben Oil in some quarters). It has nutritional characteristics similar to extra virgin oil, but very stable. It has a very long shelf life and a very high burning point. The oil comes from the seed of the amazing moringa tree.

Thanks for the article, Lisa!

Price Foundation has a great primer on fats and oils. You can scroll down to "Confused About Fats?" in this link.…

Also they have an oils FAQ:

I've read that coconut oil raises both good and bad cholesterol so to use it sparingly. Canola oil scares me. Organic EVOO is my go to, but now concerned it's a "blend" and I don't know it. What an interesting topic!

Canola oil should be avoided as it contains GMOs I used coconut oil. Adds an awesome flavor to almost everything. Even in cookies or cakes if it calls for butter cup for cup it is the same.

The only oils I have in my pantry are EVOO, Ghee, and coconut oil. Here is my go-to on good oils. These are good fats that are needed in our diet.

Canola is a oilseed crop grown by Saskatchewan farmers. For the history of the crop read this

I use sunflower and olive oil the most. I like sunflower to cook with or as a substitute for butter when I make popcorn. I do WW and according to their research the healthy oils are olive, sunflower, safflower, flax seed, and canola. I don't use canola because it is genetically modified. I'm waiting for WW to update the healthy oils as new research comes out.

Lard is making a comeback...if it's grass fed. Be curious to how things change with new research, especially the GMO debate.

Also partionally hydrogenated oils typically have trans fat hidden in them... Which also make them a poor choice :(

Erik, Yes, olive oil breaks down in high heat. Some oil companies put what temperature is best to use on the packaging (Spectrum is the brand I use because of this). Also, some of you mentioned coconut oil. I have researched it and have seen more positive attributes. (I'm not an expert, just an obsessive clean eater). While researching I also found that coconut oil can be used on skin (both dry and oily) to help balance the pH of it. If you do decide to venture into this use, do so only at night--it's really greasy and a little goes a LONG way. Hope this helps!

I use coconut oil or grapeseed oil for higher temps (depending on what I'm cooking) - and only use EVOO for lower temps.

Dr. Oz. said if you freeze you olive oil and it does not freeze, it is not the real thing.

I Do Not Like To Employ Olive Oil in Everything

Because it Tastes Too much like Olives. IMO Even Greek Salad Should Not Be Buried Under Olive Oil Because I Find The Taste Of Olives To Be Too Pervasive. Then Homemade Greek Salad With (with the other ingredients) Two parts Safflower Oil One part Olive Oil.

I too like coconut oil....I keep hearing that canola is not good for you.....but I still use some olive oil tho....I think this may be a personal preference to just what you want to use.....really you don't know what to use.....they keep coming up with new info, on what is and isn't good for you !!!! So just use whatever you want I guess.....but for me I will continue to use coconut & some olive not use veg. oil tho.....still like peanut oil, but don't use it that often....

I just have to add my 2 cents where fats & oils are concerned. I've been doing a lot of reading and research on this subject and what I have decided is best for my family are the following: olive oil (moving away from using this for heated applications), butter, coconut oil, lard. I lean toward traditional fats - these man-made vegetable oils are NO-good science experiments. And I will second the one above who said "fats don't make us fat"!

What are the benefits of coconut oil? I just bought some to use in homemade healthy granola because the recipe calle for it, but now wondering how healthy is it really? Would like comments - thanks!

I never use canola oil!!!! Read "The Science of Skinny" for information on oils. Canola oil is made from the Rape seed which is genetically modified before it is ever made into oil. I use coconut oil & olive oil.

I'm trying to go with the least-processed, closest-to-what-God-made oils. My top four picks are: extra-virgin first-cold-pressed olive oil, organic unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil, lard from local non-GMO-fed pigs, and organic butter. I use some refrigerated sesame or sunflower oils as well, but not as often.

Canola oil used to be my go-to oil, but I don't use it anymore because of GMO issues. I have purchased organic canola in the past, but don't prefer it, and really don't see the need to buy it anymore.

You have stated that Sesame oil should not be used for cooking. May I offer my comments by way of amplification?

Sesame seeds nutrition facts:

One of the first oil seeds known to humankind, sesame seeds are used in culinary as well as in traditional medicines for their nutritive, preventive, and curative properties. Its oil seeds are sources for some phyto-nutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids, flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamins and dietary fiber with potent anti-cancer as well as health promoting properties.

Sesame plant is a tall annual herb of the Pedaliaceae family, which grows extensively in Asia, particularly in Burma and India.

Delicious, crunchy sesame seeds are widely considered healthful foods. 100 g of seeds provide 573 calories. Although, much of its calorie comes from fats, sesame contains several notable health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for wellness.

The seeds are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic acid, which comprise up to 50% fatty acids in them. Oleic acid helps to lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in mono-unsaturated fats help to prevent coronary artery disease and stroke by favoring healthy lipid profile.

The seeds are an also very valuable source of dietary proteins with fine quality amino acids that are essential for growth, especially in children. Just 100 g of seeds provide about 18 g of protein (32% of daily-recommended values).

In addition, sesame seeds contain health benefiting compounds such as sesamol (3, 4-methylene-dioxyphenol), sesaminol, furyl-methanthiol, guajacol (2-methoxyphenol), phenylethanthiol and furaneol, vinylguacol and decadienal. Sesamol and sesaminol are phenolic anti-oxidants. Together, these compounds help stave off harmful free radicals from the human body.

Sesame is among the seeds rich in quality vitamins and minerals. They are very good sources of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, folic acid, thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and riboflavin.

Niacin is another B-complex vitamin found abundantly in sesame. About 4.5 mg or 28% of daily-required levels of niacin is provided by just 100 g of seeds. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.

The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and copper are especially concentrated in sesame seeds. Many of these minerals have a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, hormone production, as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.

One can buy the oil for a reasonable price at Patel Brothers in NY, MN, Charlotte, NC and many places.

So many nutritionists write about how wonderful EVOO is but within the last year people have been talking about the "rip-off" of olive oil - some company's put a little bit of EVOO in a bottle then fill the bottle with cheap vegetable oil then label it as EVOO. Also, there's a question about the age and shelf life of olive oil and EVOO with it becoming rancid over a relatively short period of time. Right now I'm using coconut oil and liking it.

Yes, I worry about the fake olive oil too, but I also read that refined coconut oil is unhealthy.

If you want to eat healthy oils, eat an avocado. It's healthier because you get the whole fruit instead of oils that have been processed.

True but we all need oil for our body as oil is one of the main sources of providing cholesterol through various components any oils have. Cholesterol is necessary otherwise it will affect our memory. Talking of cholesterol we fail to understand that the raio of LDL/HDL is very important. It is erroneous to say LDL is bad. Any textbook on biology that an AP student learns should suffice to provide these fundamental knowledge.

I am quoting below from the Harvard Medical report on oils and fat. A word of caution especially to semi-illiterate as their mind is conditioned and like a scientist are not open to reasoning-deductive reasoning.

The Bottom Line

Choose foods with healthy fats, limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid foods with trans fat.

It’s time to end the low-fat myth. That’s because the percentage of calories from fat that you eat, whether high or low, isn’t really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat you eat.

“Good” fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—lower disease risk. “Bad” fats—saturated and, especially, trans fats—increase disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish. Foods high in bad fats include red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream, as well as processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil. The key to a healthy diet is to choose foods that have more good fats than bad fats—vegetable oils instead of butter, salmon instead of steak—and that don’t contain any trans fat.

“Low-fat,” “reduced fat,” or “fat-free” processed foods are not necessarily “healthy,” nor is it automatically healthier to follow a low-fat diet. One problem with a generic lower-fat diet is that it prompts most people to stop eating fats that are good for the heart along with those that are bad for it. And low-fat diets are often higher in refined carbohydrates and starches from foods like white rice, white bread, potatoes, and sugary drinks. Similarly, when food manufacturers take out fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or starch. Our bodies digest these refined carbohydrates and starches very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and then dip, which in turn leads to hunger, overeating, and weight gain. Over time, eating lots of “fast carbs” can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes as much as—or more than—eating too much saturated fat.

So when you cut back on foods like red meat and butter, replace them with fish, beans, nuts, and healthy oils—not with white bread, white rice, potatoes, sugary drinks, or other refined carbohydrates.

Although it is still important to limit the amount of cholesterol you eat, especially if you have diabetes, for most people dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly the villain it’s been portrayed to be. Cholesterol in the bloodstream, specifically the bad LDL cholesterol, is what’s most important. And the biggest influence on blood cholesterol level is the mix of fats and carbohydrates in your diet—not the amount of cholesterol you eat from food.

@Dr. Ramesh- I'm not sure which "Harvard Medical report" you were quoting; can you explain how dietary fat affects endothelial health?

I would ask you to go through many scientific research papers that have appeared in the American Journal of Cardiology and LANCET (Journal of Medical science from the UK Cambridge University) have amply demonstrated.

If you have access to any university library you can access these journals. Science is based on reason-deductive reasoning and facts that have been arrived after several years of research. I am not in a situation to inculcate what is good and what is bad, as we are indoctrinated by many commercials, and thus people minds are conditioned.

The American Journal of Cardiology

Volume 79, Issue 3, 1 February 1997, Pages 350–354

I don't even use oil. I think the last time I bought it i got cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, but these days I only use butter. It tastes good and all my family members used it without health problems. Most of them lived to 90.

I am using coconut oil....and I really like it....been using it now for about 2 yrs....haven't bought any other oil since.....

Of all the oils, coconut oil is the most versatile. In fact, it is the most useful and versatile of all the fats and oils.

Coconut oil and its components (fatty acids) are used in cooking and food preparation, infant formulas, enteral (tube feeding) and parenteral (intravenous) nutritional formulas for hospital patients, as carriers for transdermal delivery of medication, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral medications, skin creams and lotions, sunscreens, cosmetics, toothpastes, soaps and detergents, lubricants, biofuels, and numerous other pharmaceutical and industrial applications. In fact, there are literally thousands of uses for the oil.

I thought it might be interesting to identify some of the many uses and compiled the following list. Not all possible uses are included, as new uses are being discovered all the time, particularly in medicine, and there are some uses I am not yet aware of. I’ve limited entries to documented medical, nutritional, industrial, historical and common uses for coconut oil. If you know of other uses for coconut oil, feel free to let me know so I can add it to this list.

I haven’t actually counted every item listed below. The list could easily swell to over 1001 items if every medical application were included. For example, coconut oil possesses anti-inflammatory properties and could be useful in treating hundreds of health conditions associated with inflammation. I’ve only listed those that have been documented.

Coconut oil is excellent for massaging cheek to keep it smooth and silky. Many actresses use to keep their face smooth. Cosmetics reacts with skin; but not coconut oil.

Coconut oil has a wide medicinal use. We in South India use a lot: cooking, massaging body skin at least twice a year to keep it free of any skin infections and excellent way to keep body in shape by taking two spoons daily.

If any one is interested to know more about oils write

Coconut oil is sold very cheap at any of the Indian stores (Patel Bros they have branches all over the U.S.) or in COSTCO. It is expensive in most grocery stores.

Barbara here is what the canola oil is made of. First developed in 1970 at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

Canola was developed through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, an oilseed plant already used in ancient civilization as a fuel. The word "rape" in rapeseed comes from the Latin word rapum meaning turnip. Turnip, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, and many other vegetables are related to the two natural canola varieties commonly grown, which are cultivars of Brassica napus and Brassica rapa. The change in name serves to distinguish it from natural rapeseed oil, which has much higher erucic acid content.

Where is the evidence of your Ph.D. in this analysis? Who are the experts that you refer to? Dr. Oz?? What evidence do you have to support that saturated fat is bad for the heart? Have you reviewed any of the studies that correlate heart disease to saturated fat for yourself?

To answer your puff question, I eat coconut oil and butter as my primary fats. I also follow the research of Dr. Ray Peat. A PhD who has actually earned the title.

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