Cooking oils compared: Which to use or avoid for health benefits

By: Bel Marra Health | Healthy Eating | Sunday, October 18, 2015 - 11:00 AM

Cooking oils compared: Which to use or avoid for health benefitsYou’ve likely heard a variety of opinions when it comes to cooking oils. Oil is bad. No wait, it’s good. Well, then it should be limited. No – enjoy it in large amounts! Slow down!

When it comes to oil, especially those for cooking, it seems health advice is all over the map. This can make it difficult to choose a good cooking oil. With so many oils on the market it can get overwhelming just picking up something to cook with. We are here to offer you a comprehensive guide to the best cooking oils to use for better health.

Not only will you finally have an understanding of healthy cooking oils, but you can make an informed decision based on your unique needs. You might already be familiar with some of these oils, but others could be totally new, even for you. So let’s compile a list of healthy cooking oils that are beneficial to your health.


Types of fats in oils

Types of fats in oilsBefore we get down to culinary business, let’s clear up a few rumors and myths about oil and fat. When it comes to oil, there are four main types of fat you need to know about: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.

Oftentimes, when we hear the word “fat” we cringe in horror, but we really don’t need to. Fat is essential for the body, and as long as you’re choosing healthy fats, you’re safe. The real question is, what is healthy fat?

In the realm of healthy fats we have two options: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. This leaves saturated and trans – the less healthy fats.

Monounsaturated fats: Monounsaturated fat can be found in peanut oil, olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. This type of fat boosts heart health, helps cholesterol and is generally good for overall health.

Polyunsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats are similar to monounsaturated fats in the sense that they are necessary for overall good health. Polyunsaturated fats also provide omega-3 and omega-6. This type of fat can be found in sesame, sunflower and corn oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds.

Saturated fats: Found in cheese, butter, ice cream and high-fat cuts of meat, saturated fats are generally considered to be bad for our health and should be limited.

Trans fats: Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods, fried foods, packaged snacks, candy bars and vegetable shortenings. Although trans fat can occur naturally, it’s most commonly found in packaged goods in unnaturally higher amounts. This type of fat can lead to bad cholesterol and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Limiting and avoiding packaged goods are sure ways to decrease your intake of trans fats.

5 healthy cooking oils to use

Now that we know the difference between the types of fat, we can explore healthy cooking oils that are safe to use and can offer us great health benefits.

  1. Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) continues to be praised for its health benefits. A staple in the Mediterranean diet, EVOO comes from pressing olives.

Extra virgin olive oilReported benefits of extra virgin olive oil include:

  • It may protect against inflammation.
  • It promotes good cholesterol.
  • It can prevent blood clotting, which has been linked to stroke and heart attacks.
  • It may help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
  • It can boost brain health as shown in studies of people who follow the Mediterranean diet.

Because monounsaturated fats are resilient to heat, olive oil is still beneficial when used for cooking. The best version of olive oil is extra virgin as it is the purest form.

Related reading: Olive oil enriched Mediterranean diet reduces risk of breast cancer

  1. Coconut oil

Coconut oil has strongly been debated because it contains saturated fat, but this shouldn’t deter you from using it – the tropical oil still offers many health benefits. Opt for an organic version when you can.

Coconut oilHealth benefits of coconut oil are:

  • Its lauric acid content can help fight off infections.
  • Virgin coconut oil may aid in good cholesterol.
  • It can aid in weight loss by helping you feel full.
  • It’s a great cosmetic product, such as a moisturizer for hair and skin.

For optimal benefits, coconut oil should be used at low heat and can be a substitute for butter in baked goods.

  1. Avocado oil

You may not be as familiar with avocado oil as you are with olive or coconut, but it definitely ranks near the top for healthy cooking oils. We know that avocados on their own are healthy for us, so their oil is not much different. The best part is avocado oil can sustain high heat without losing out on any of its benefits.

Avocado oilAvocado oil benefits include:

  • Similar to olive oil, avocado oil can reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
  • Reduces fasting glucose as revealed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • It may stabilize blood sugar.
  • It can boost the absorption of antioxidants in foods.
  • It can help protect your liver.

Avocado oil contains monounsaturated fat. It can be used in all dishes and will also enhance flavor. If you haven’t tried avocado oil yet, there’s no better time than now to give this healthy cooking oil a try.

  1. Walnut oil

Walnuts are generally a staple to healthy eating and their oil is no different. Walnuts pack omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to good health. The best part about walnut oil is you can consume much less of it and still receive the benefits of consuming a large amount of walnuts.

The discovery of walnut health benefits is a little more recent. Scientist didn’t catch on to them until about 1937. You’d be surprised to know that walnuts contain vitamin C, which plays into walnut oil’s many benefits.

Walnut oilBenefits of walnut oil include:

  • It protects the heart.
  • Walnut oil provides essential antioxidants.
  • It provides vitamins like B1, B2, B3 and E.
  • Walnut oil can aid in healthy cholesterol.

Walnut oil provides a nutty flavor and can be used on meats such as steak, as a dressing on salads and even on desserts. Walnut oil, unfortunately, can’t withstand high temperatures, so it’s best either uncooked or for cold dressings.

  1. Peanut oil

Unless you have an allergy, we recommend you consume peanut oil. Similar to walnut oil, peanut oil also has a light nutty flavor, but can be used in sautés and frying as is commonly seen in Asian cuisine.

Peanut oil contains high amounts of omega-6; be aware that too much omega-6 can disrupt the normal ratio between omega-3 and 6.

Peanut oilBenefits of peanut oil are:

  • It can be used to massage into the skin and relieve muscle pain.
  • Peanut oil can help keep skin smooth when consumed.
  • It can boost the immune system.
  • Peanut oil provides antioxidants.

Keep in mind that healthy peanut oil should be used sparingly, so just be aware of how often you’re using it and regularly swap in another healthy oil.

These are the top 5 healthy cooking oils you can use to not only improve your cooking, but better your health altogether. Now that we know which oils are healthy and safe, it’s also important to note which cooking oils to avoid. We have compiled a list of the 5 cooking oils you should avoid.


5 cooking oils to avoid

  1. 5 cooking oils to avoidCorn oil

The main issue with corn oil is not that it’s not beneficial to health, but rather the majority of corn is GMO (genetically modified organisms). Studies continue to be conducted uncovering the health consequences of GMOs, so for the time being, it’s best to avoid or limit its use.

Related reading: This oil is worse for you than sugar

  1. Soybean oil

Soybean oil holds the same issues as corn oil – soy crops are mainly GMO. Soybean oil can also be found in many products as it’s used in many vegetable oils, so it may be harder to spot when reading ingredient labels.

  1. Cottonseed oil

Once again, cottonseed oil is an oil created from crops that use pesticides and chemicals. Cotton is primarily used for fabrics, so it needs to be resilient when growing. Additionally, these crops are often GMOs, so avoiding this oil is best.

  1. Canola oil

Canola oil is another highly debated oil. On the one hand, manufacturers of this oil conduct research to show its benefits. On the other hand, other studies have come out that show no benefits. As you may have guessed, there is no such thing as a “canola plant” – which means it’s a product of something else. That something else is rapeseed.

Rapeseed is a GMO product, but manufacturers promote their product by adding in additional omega-3s to make it appear more heart-healthy. Take note, canola oil isn’t that healthy.

  1. Vegetable oil

You’ll be surprised to know that the bulk of vegetable oil is soybeans, so the same caution toward soybean oil should be used for vegetable oil as well.

Cooking should be enjoyable and food should be a useful tool to nourish us and appreciate. So why not receive the maximum benefits we possibly can? Choosing an oil to cook with shouldn’t be complicated. We hope we have made the decision a bit easier for you the next time you head to a grocery store.

Related Readings:

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