There is a lot of conflicting information about fatty acids and saturated fats out there – healthy cooking oils may seem to some like an oxymoron, but studies have shown that fat is in fact a necessary part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Despite the fact that all cooking oils are equal when it comes to calories, that is simply not the case when it comes to health benefits; so, what makes one cooking oil healthier than the next one? 

You want to avoid using any cooking oils that are highly processed or refined, such as soybean oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil.

Studies have actually linked these oils with serious diseases, including heart disease and some cancers.

One such study, conducted by Michel de Lorgeril and Patricia Salen in consort with the Laboratoire Cœur and Nutrition, Universi Joseph Fourier-CNRS in Grenoble, France demonstrated that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats can reduce the dietary risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Similarly to the above study, WebMD also recommends choosing polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats over saturated fats for a healthier diet.

Conversely, just because cooking oil is a polyunsaturated fat and not a saturated fat, does not exclusively dictate it is healthy.

Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats can form a harmful compound when heated – a fatty-acid derived toxin named 4-Hydroxynonenal or HNE – even if they do have a higher smoke point than other cooking oils. You should never reuse previously heated cooking oil, for this reason.

Regardless of the oil, or oils, you choose to cook with in your kitchen, remember: always store your cooking oil in a cool and dark place.

If it is stored in direct sunlight, or a place that is too warm, it will go rancid.

List of Cooking Oils

After careful research, here is a list of six of the healthiest cooking oils you can choose to cook with:

1. Coconut oil

Coconut oil on table close-up

Coconut oil has been touted as the ‘kale of cooking oils’. Although coconut oil does contain saturated fats, there have been studies conducted that demonstrate that the saturated fats within coconut oil may not be as harmful as others.

Coconut oil is composed of medium-chain fatty acids, or medium-chain triglycerides; this means that using it as your cooking oil can actually help to promote weight loss.

A study conducted by R.J. Stubbs and C.G. Harbron at the Rowett Research Institute, Brucksburn, Aberdeen demonstrated that consuming coconut oil helped participants to feel satiated sooner, and for longer periods of time.

You can incorporate coconut oil into your cooking regimen by using it in sauces, for light sautéing, for low-heat baking, and in smoothies.

Key Point: Incorporating coconut oil as your primary cooking oil may help to encourage weight loss.

2. Extra virgin olive oil

Green olives and oil

Extra virgin olive oil has a high monounsaturated fat level, with a composition of almost eighty percent. It is chock-full of antioxidants – most specifically polyphenols – that have been linked to heart health.

In addition, it also possesses the anti-inflammatory properties oleocanthal and oleuropein.

These properties are important because it has been long believed that chronic inflammation is the leading cause of many diseases.

In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, extra virgin olive oil can also help to lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or your ‘bad’ cholesterol, thus improving cardiovascular health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you only need to incorporate two tablespoons of olive oil a day in order to reap the benefits.

With a bold and tangy flavour, extra virgin olive oil is great for roasting, grilling, sautéing, and a great base for salad dressings and for marinades.

One thing to keep in mind when purchasing olive oils – ‘light’ olive oil does not pertain to the number of calories per serving, but rather to the colour of the oil itself.

Key Point: Olive oil can help to lower your ‘bad’ cholesterol and help improve your cardiovascular health.

3. Avocado oil

avocado oil, avocado

 Avocado oil has a monounsaturated fat level that is even higher than olive oil, and contains more than two times the phytosterol beta-sitosterol than olive oil does.

When purchasing avocado oil, you want to look for the cold pressed avocado oil. The process of cold pressing the oil from the avocado helps to retain its high levels of Vitamin E. A study conducted by A. Saremi and R.

Arora at the Department of Medicine, Chicago Medical School, in North Chicago, Illinois demonstrated that while it isn’t recommended to take a Vitamin E supplement, it is advised that people consume foods that are abundant in antioxidant vitamins.

In addition to cardiovascular health, vitamin E has also been known to help reduce your LDL cholesterol, as well as helping to maintain the moisture levels in your epidermis.

Avocado oil has a high smoke point, and so can be incorporated into your cooking routine in the same ways that you would incorporate olive oil: sautéing, grilling, sauces, roasting, and as a base in salad dressings and marinades.

Key Point: Like the avocado itself, avocado oil is ripe with antioxidants, healthy fats, and health benefits.

4. Palm oil

Palm oil

 Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palms – most commonly from the African oil palm, but occasionally also from the American oil palm.

It contains very little cholesterol, and like coconut oil is a semi-solid when at room temperature.

Palm oil can be rather controversial oil; there seem to be just as many studies touting it as a superbly nutritional vegetable oil as there are studies that insist it is unhealthy.

However, one study conducted at the Division of Human Nutrition, Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur demonstrated that palm oil lowered participant’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol more than coconut oil.

A further study conducted by T.K. Ng, K. Hassan et. Al  also at the Division of Human Nutrition, Institute for Medical Research concluded the same – subjects with diets prepared with palm oil saw a decrease in their LDL to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.

You can incorporate palm oil into your cooking routine in the same ways you would incorporate coconut oil: by using it for baking, as well as for light sautéing.

Key Point: As with any cooking oil, be sure to watch your portion sizes when cooking with palm oil. Overindulgence will cancel out any health benefits you may incur.

5. Walnut Oil

Walnut oil and nuts on wooden table

Nuts and seeds have long been considered healthful foods; so, too, are the oils extracted from them. Walnut oil is a great example, containing a multitude of vitamins such as vitamins E, K, B-1, B-2, and B-3.

Though there is no dispute that all vitamins play an important part in our health, vitamin K is not referred to as commonly.

Vitamin K is responsible for a regulating blood clotting; it is also extremely helpful for your bone health, by aiding in reduced bone loss.

One study conducted by P. Weber for the Vitamins and Fine Chemicals Division, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., concluded that not only does vitamin K play a significant role in our ability to heal and improve bone health, but that the dietary reference intake had been previously far too low.

The study recommended an increase of fifty percent daily – up to one hundred and twenty micrograms for males and ninety micrograms for females.

In addition to the many vitamins, walnut oil also contains alpha-linolenic acid.

Alpha-linolenic acid is a heart-healthy anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acid. In a study conducted by M de Lorgeril, MD et. Al at the Laboratory of Biochemistry, Hôpital Cardiovasculaire in Lyon, France it was shown that when a Mediterranean-style alpha-linolenic rich diet was consumed after a coronary episode, it was a more effective secondary prevention.

While walnut oil will not stand up to heat like many of the other oils listed, it is a great addition to salad dressings, or as a finishing drizzle on top of roasted vegetables.

Key Point: Walnut oil contains heart-healthy anti-inflammatory properties that are important to cardiovascular health.

6. Sesame Oil

sesame oil and sesame seeds

Proponents of sesame oil will tell you that it can aid you in anything from improving your skin and your hair, to helping manage your anxiety, to improving your digestive processes, and even help to prevent cancer.  

Copper can be found in high quantities is sesame oil.

Copper is not only a natural anti-inflammatory, which can aid in the prevention of many diseases, it is also required in order for the body to produce and maintain red blood cells.

It is also fundamental for bone health and growth within the body.

With sesame oil’s strong, distinctive nutty flavour, a little goes a long way.

Use the light version of the oil for frying; the dark version of the oil pairs well with Chinese and Indian food, as well as with Korean food.

One thing to note: if you are taking any anticoagulant medications you should consult your physician before incorporating any sesame oil into your diet. 

Key Point: With innumerable health benefits, sesame oil can be easily incorporated into your kitchens.

Final Thoughts

It is still possible to over-do it healthy fats. Maintaining portion control, regardless of health benefits the cooking oil may possess, is still paramount. 

What about you – do you regularly use any of these healthier cooking oils?

Are you considering switching up your kitchen routine?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

The Complete Guide to Choosing and Cooking with Healthy Oils
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