The Healthiest Cooking Oils—and When to Use Them
Making healthy choices in the kitchen can be a confusing game of pros versus cons—especially when you’re deciding which oil to cook with. Between canola, coconut, vegetable and olive oils, how do you know which are full of healthy fats and which are best left on the shelf? On top of that, some are better for cooking and others are better off in things like salad dressings. Ready to clear up the confusion? Use this handy guide to figure out which oil to use when:
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is full of healthy monounsaturated fats, which can possibly lower your risk of heart disease, so it makes sense people want to choose olive oil over saturated-fat-filled butter as often as they can. It’s best for using straight out of the bottle (say, in a vinaigrette) or if you’re doing moderate-heat cooking on the stove (if you’re sautéing up some veggies, for example). Don’t use it when you’re cooking over high heat, like when searing meats, because it will start to smoke, due to its lower temperature smoke point.
- Canola Oil: Canola oil has a mild flavor that disappears into whatever you’re cooking or baking and a high smoke point, meaning it can be super versatile in the kitchen. It’s also low in saturated fat and contains essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with lower cholesterol and may improve the good cholesterol, HDL.
- Vegetable Oil: Vegetable oil is similar to canola, but is a blend of different oils (the majority is often soybean oil). Because of its relatively neutral taste and high smoke point, it’s often called for in recipes for baked goods such as brownies, cakes and cookies. Vegetable oil also has healthy fats, so in moderation it may be a better choice than saturated fats like butter or lard.
- Avocado Oil: You know avocados are healthy—well so is its oil. High in monounsaturated fats, it can improve cholesterol levels and heart health. It also has an incredibly high smoke point, so you can use it instead of olive oil if you’re cooking over high heat on the stove. It’s also delicious in salad dressings. That said, it does have the avocado flavor, so it’s not the best choice if you don’t want to taste it in the final dish.
- Coconut Oil: This might be the trendiest oil out there, but it’s not necessarily the healthiest. It’s higher in saturated fat, so use it in moderation (like butter), but it also contains the highest percentage of medium-chained trans fatty acids, MCT, compared to other oils, which may aid in good heart health and weight loss goals. It also has a sweetness to it and isn’t great for cooking with high heat, since it will start to smoke around 350 degrees. Have a jar and not sure what to do with it? Try using it on your skin! It’s great as a replacement for shaving cream, or as a body moisturizer.
As with any product high in fat, oils are best used in moderation (even the healthiest options!). Which ones do you like to use? Tell us in the comments.
Photo credit: jchizhe