Not all oils are equal when it comes to cooking, baking or just eating. Oils have a variety of cholesterol levels, fats, and vitamins. The smoke point, the point of heating to which the oil breaks down and releases radicals, is also important and different for each type of oil.
The amount of processing an oil goes through is also important. The less refined, the more nutrients in the oil but the lower the smoke point, while more refined oils have a higher smoke point. So, what are the best oils you should consider when cooking?
The Top 4 Healthy Oils You Should Be Using
1. Olive Oil
Olive oil has a smoke point of 350˚F, which is the point at which the nutrients in the oil start breaking down and giving off that burnt smell and taste. This makes it one of the better choices when cooking at cooler temperatures, or as a base for sauces.
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, which provides benefits for blood, brain, skin, and eye health, and acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are important for protecting the body against the negative effects of free radicals and in turn, disease.
The primary fat in olive oil is oleic acid, which is shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It also has properties that prevent oxidation of bad cholesterol due to the compounds known as oleocanthal and oleuropein.
2. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil has similar properties as olive oil, containing a high percentage of oleic acid and vitamin E, but has a much higher smoke point of 520˚F, making it a good, healthy choice for high-temperature cooking, such as deep-frying and stir-frying.
There is evidence that this type of oil might be beneficial in helping to reduce joint pain inflammation as it works to enhance the absorption of other nutrients and protects against free radicals.
Avocado oil doesn’t have a lot of flavor, but is creamy (just like an avocado!), so is a good option for cooking if you don’t want to use an oil that adds to the flavor of your recipes but is slightly more buttery to cook with.
The main downside to this healthy oil is the price tag. It is often more expensive than other cooking oils, and harder to find, so you may only be able to find it in its spray format.
It is also important to note that the nutrition and quality of avocado oil is often related to where the avocados came from and how the oil was extracted, so it will vary from bottle to bottle.
3. Sesame Oil
Sesame oil has a smoke point of 410˚F which is ideal for medium or high-temperature cooking.
One of the biggest benefits of this type of oil is the fact that it is high in antioxidants, known as sesamol and sesaminol, which are neuroprotective. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. However, it is not particularly high in nutrients.
Due to the strong, nutty flavor of sesame oil it is best used in Asian dishes (particularly tasty when cooking tofu and stir fries), and also works very well as part of a salad dressing.
4. Safflower Oil
Lastly is safflower oil, extracted from the seeds of safflower plants. The smoke point of this oil is 510˚F making it another great option for high-heat recipes, however, the neutral flavor makes safflower oil ideal for additions like dips, marinades, sauces, and dressings.
Safflower oil is low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats which are thought to help with inflammation, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.
How much oil should I use?
To get the best health benefits, start with 1 tbsp and allow it to heat up so it spreads, then add more if it’s required for your pan or what you’re cooking. The vast majority of meals won’t need more than 1 tbsp (some can take less), especially if you manage the temperature correctly (i.e., don’t try to cook everything faster with a higher heat than necessary).
These 4 oils will give you plenty of options when choosing a healthy oil to cook with, but you need to make sure that you are choosing the right one depending on the temperature you are cooking at. If you are cooking with a high heat, such as deep frying or stir-frying, you want to ensure that you are selecting an oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil or safflower oil. This will ensure that the oil remains stable and doesn’t release any radicals which are harmful to health.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.