How To Pick The Healthiest Cooking Oil

Healthy Cooking Oil

( Ever wonder what oil you should be cooking with at home? Find out the best picks and what to avoid to maximize the heart healthy and inflammation lowering benefits of healthy oils.

What makes a healthy oil?

Oils in my kitchen are either neutral or positive healthwise, meaning they won’t negatively affect my health if I use them in moderation and some actually provide positive benefits like lowering inflammation, reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol.

Fats that have a the most evidence for health benefits are those that are high in omega 3 fatty acids or that are high in in beneficial compounds like anti-oxidants which help to prevent and repair some of the damage done by our diet and environment. 

Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and are associated with the heart health benefits listed above. Good sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • Fatty cold water fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines). While not an oil- they are the best way to optimize your fatty acid balance.
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hemp and chia oil/seeds
  • Canola oil (for high heat cooking, but not suitable for those avoiding GMOs)
  • Walnut oil

Oils high in vitamins, minerals or other beneficial compound that help to heal include:

  • Olive oil (one of your best bets!)
  • Cold pressed avocado oil
  • Virgin wet milled coconut oil

Saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil are largely neutral. While there is a lot of hype about the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil being more positive than neutral the science is still very early and far from conclusive so I haven’t hopped on that bandwagon yet.

What makes an unhealthy oil? 

From my point of view, oils that are high in omega 6’s but low in omega 3’s are not worth having around. Omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and overly available in our food supply. It’s not that we can’t have them but that the balance between omega 6’s and omega 3’s has been weighted far too heavily to the omega 6 side. There is some thought that this imbalance has contributed to the rise of inflammatory type diseases including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. In contrast our diet is too low in omega 3 fatty acids, so we want a more favourable ratio of the two. We need to eat less of the omega 6’s and more omega 3’s to regain our balance.

Oils to avoid include: generic “vegetable” oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil

What are you using it for?

If you’re going to cook over higher temperatures (anything above medium heat on the stovetop or over 425F in the oven), you’ll want oil that has a higher smoke point. No one is going to get to enjoy the healthful properties of the oil if it tastes smoky and burnt.

Good choices include:

  • Olive oil, extra light (not virgin/extra virgin- they have a lower smoke point)
  • Canola Oil
  • Camelina Oil
  • Any oil if used very rarely- if you are deep frying you’re going to need a heavy hitter like peanut, corn or sunflower oil. Buy a small amount and use it just for that application. As long as its not a regular in your cooking the extra omega 6’s that come from using it once in a while won’t have much of an impact.

If you are cooking over lower temperatures or using it for salad any oil will work! Choose something that offers some flavour and a little will go a long way.

Don’t forgo flavour!

A dab of butter mixed with olive oil or your cooking oil of choice can go a long ways to adding depth and a certain tasty something while still allowing you to amp up the nutritional value of your dinner. Don’t feel bad about using something other than olive oil once in a while, variety in foods is key in any healthy diet and variety in taste helps keep us interested and on track while eating well.

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HealthCastle, founded in 1997, is the largest online nutrition community run by Registered Dietitians. Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.