What’s the Best Oil to Cook With?

Wednesday Aug 28 | BY |
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Oil

What oil is the safest and healthiest to cook with?

Grapeseed, olive, sunflower, canola, coconut—there are so many options. Which is the best for cooking?

As you can imagine, there are a number of opinions out there. We gathered up the evidence and presented it here so you can decide for yourself.

Healthy Cooking Oils

When looking for healthy cooking oils, there are a lot of options, depending on what you’re looking for in terms of nutrition, heating capacity, and flavor. The first thing to remember is that anytime you cook with an oil, you risk heating it too much, which can cause oxidation and lead to the formation of carcinogens and other unhealthy compounds. When your oil starts to change color, that’s a sign that it’s starting to degrade from too much heat.

On the whole, oils come in three categories as far as what types of fatty acids they have:

  1. Saturated fatty acids pack together tightly, making this oil extremely stable even when exposed to heat and light. Oils with high levels of saturated fatty acids are the best choice for cooking.
  2. Monounsaturated fatty acids don’t pack together as tightly as saturated fatty acids do. They are relatively stable when exposed to heat, however, and work well when cooking at low-to-medium temperatures.
  3. Polyunsaturated fatty acids don’t pack together very well. They are unstable and may produce significant levels of free radicals when exposed to heat. They should not be used for cooking.

On our list below, we started out with those oils that are considered healthy and can withstand the heat.

Note: The refining process removes impurities from an oil, which typically increases smoke point. For example, unrefined (extra virgin) olive oil has a lower smoke point (about 375 degrees) than refined olive oil (about 465 degrees). Refined oils can be processed with chemicals, however. If you want a higher smoke point without the chemicals, look for those brands that are refined in more natural ways.

  • Coconut oil: One of the most unique oils, coconut oil is nearly a completely saturated fat that’s been linked with overall reductions in cholesterol, and may have other health benefits like increasing energy and promoting a healthy digestive tract. It can withstand the heat for most recipes. Stars for: High smoke point of about 450 degrees, and the “virgin” variety is virtually scent-free. Many health benefits. Great in soups, stews, curries and baked goods.
  • Red palm oil (not to be confused with palm kernel oil): Taken from the fruit of the palm, it’s high in saturated fat, which makes it a nice, stable cooking oil. It also has a high ratio of “good fats,” with new research finding health benefits similar to olive oil. It contains a high content of carotenes, including lycopene, and numerous tocotrienols, highly potent forms of vitamin E. Stars for: Withstands high heat, nutritious, stable.
  • Avocado oil: How about a smoke point of 510 degrees? This oil can withstand the heat, and yet is chock full of healthy fats. Stars for: Versatile—use for high heat cooking, sautéing, frying, baking, you name it. Also wonderful in dressings and stir-fries. Provides added health benefits like the potential reduction of heart disease.
  • Almond oil: This oil is full of good-for-you fats and has a high smoke point of about 495 degrees. Great for all sorts of cooking, and also works great in desserts because of its natural almond flavor. Stars for: High smoke point, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, clean, neutral flavor.

Healthy Oils for Low-to-Medium Heat Cooking

Several oils are good for you because of their nutritional content, but may have lower smoke points, which means their nutrients can oxidize and become bad for your health more quickly than those with a higher smoke point. Some of these include the following—just be sure to purchase organic versions that are free of aflatoxins.

Produced by certain types of fungi that like to live on grains and nuts—particularly domestic peanuts—these toxins can be detrimental to human health. A 2010 study found that oils like olive, peanut, and sesame can all be contaminated. Check with the manufacturer, and look for peanut oil made from raw, wild peanuts, which are free of aflatoxin.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Olive oil is a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which help control cholesterol levels and have been linked with heart health. At temperatures over 200 it can oxidize, however, which may not be good for your body. Stars for: Great in its non-heated form. Drizzle it on steamed veggies or onto a nice cold salad. Also good for low-heat sautéing. Refined oils can stand more heat.
  • Walnut oil: This is full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and has about a medium-high smoke point. Stars for: Healthy omega-3s, can take heat up to about 400 degrees (refined). Use for baking, sautéing at low-to-medium heat, or drizzle cold on a salad. Adds a hint of walnut flavor, making it good for salads, marinades, and sautés.
  • Sesame seed oil: Best used for light sautéing and low-heat baking. It has a nice light flavor great for stir-fries. Linked to health benefits like lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. Stars for: Rich, nutty flavor.
  • Peanut oil: You can use the refined version for light sautéing or for making sauces, particularly if you want the nutty flavor. Use this oil sparingly, however, as it does have a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. Stars for: High smoking point of about 450 degrees. Great for cooking fish, stir-fries and Asian dishes.

Healthy Oils That Aren’t So Great for Cooking

Many oils are very good for you, but break down more easily when exposed to light, heat, and air, which means they’re not as healthy for cooking. Some include the following:

  • Grapeseed oil: This healthy oil has a low saturated fat level, making it good for your waistline as well as your recipes. A medium-high smoke point of about 420 degrees would make this a good cooking oil, but grapeseed is mostly polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable. It can oxidize easily when exposed to light, air, and heat, so it’s very delicate. Good source of vitamin E and oleic acid.
  • Evening primrose: This oil has a high level of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but it doesn’t do well with heat.
  • Flaxseed oil: Another oil that’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but it has a smoke point of only about 225 degrees, so it’s not good for cooking. Stir it into dishes after heating or into salad dressings.
  • Hemp oil: Full of healthy fatty acids that may reduce risk of diabetes, according to studies. It’s too delicate to be heated, however, so save for dips and dressings.
  • Hazelnut oil: Provides vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fats. Best used within three to six months for peak flavor. Too delicate for cooking, however—use on cooked rice, quinoa, or oatmeal. Also great mixed with lemon juice over pasta, roasted veggies, or steamed greens.

Oils that May Have Negative Health Effects

Some oils that we think would be healthy actually are not. Many are rich in omega 6 fatty acids, which aren’t inherently unhealthy, but we’re getting too much in the American diet, so cutting back is a good idea.

Recent studies have also found that some polyunsaturated vegetables oils, including safflower oil, can become rancid more easily than others. This is another thing to consider when choosing cooking oils.

  • Soybean oil: This oil is high in omega-6 fats, which aren’t necessarily bad for you, but Americans as a whole are eating too many, which can lead to health problems. Sources for this oil are likely GMO crops, and most options are highly processed with chemicals.
  • Sunflower oil: It has a high smoke point, is a great source of vitamin E, and most of its fat is unsaturated. In packaged foods, however, it’s often partially hydrogenated, which means it has unhealthy trans fats. It’s also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Reusing the oil could result in the formation of harmful trans fats.
  • Safflower oil: This has a high smoke point and a low saturated fat level, but it can form dangerous free radicals when exposed to heat or oxygen. Polyunsaturated safflower oils contain a lot of linoleic acid and may produce free radicals when exposed to heat. A more recent study in 2013 also found that eating omega-6 fats like those in safflower oil may lead to a higher risk of heart problems.
  • Canola oil: Contains health-promoting omega-9 fatty acids, and has some omega-3s as well. Has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor. Yet it has a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which may lead to health problems. It also goes rancid quite easily and can form high concentrations of trans fatty acids. Canola may also come from GMO crops.
  • Cottonseed oil: About half of this oil is made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are unstable. Also contains a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Corn oil: Another oil that can produce harmful chemicals when heated. It’s also high in omega-6 fatty acids, and has only a medium-high smoke point. Much of the available corn oil comes from genetically engineered plants.

There are other oils out there we didn’t cover. Please share any tips you may have!

* * *

Sources
Renee Elder, “Study: omega 6 fats found in corn, safflower oils may be dangerous for heart patients,” NewsObserver.com, February 15, 2013, http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/02/15/2683552/study-omega-6-fats-found-in-corn.html.

Bao L, et al., “Determination of aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, and G2 in olive oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil,” J AOAC Int. 2010 May-June;93(3):936-42, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20629398.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

46 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. You are missing out on one of the most up and coming oils, “Rice Bean Oil”. It is hard to find, Trader Joes has it. Gourmet chefs are using it as it has the highest flash point of any oil and lesser amounts of oil stick to the food when fried. It is high in Omega 6, making a great tasting salad oil when mixed with Olive Oil, which is high in Omega 3, making it a great balanced salad dressing.

    I admit to be biased as a shareholder of RiceBran Technologies. They sell all they currently make commercially and have 40% more of a more refined oil coming online early next year. The product is backed by Henk Hoogsanklamp, the world’s most respected meat extender expert(meat filler). All products are gluten free, non hypoallergenic and non GMO.

    http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Sectors/Beverage/IFT-2013-RiceBran-Technologies-taps-into-plant-based-protein-craze-There-s-a-huge-protein-gap-and-we-re-going-to-help-fill-it

    http://henkhoogenkamp.com/_Books.aspx

    http://www.ricebrantech.com/

    George Johnson

    • Chuck Q says:

      Oils high in Omega 6’s should never be used as food. These polyunsaturated fats are not good for us. Olive oil is high in Omega 9’s, the monounsaturated fats, not Omega 3’s, which are found in fish oils and in flaxseed. Olive oil is good for salads, but not because of Omega 3’s.

  2. Deane Alban says:

    Excellent post! I will be sharing it with my readers. I’m glad you wrote it so I don’t have to… 🙂

  3. Jack Rollins says:

    Great informative post. I did not realize avocado oil had such a high smoke point. I was always under the impression that it was meant to be used as a topping. Also did not realize that palm oil has some health benefits.

  4. This is really informative. I never knew that olive oil could only be used in medium fire cooking. Thank you for these article. Where can I get more information on these? Like how to get specific cooking oils?

  5. Tammy says:

    Please don’t promote palm oil usage!!! The production of it is devastating orangutan habitat beyond recognition. Most palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia where huge forests are cleared to plant palms for palm oil. Even those marked sustainable can not be trusted as of yet. Thank you.

  6. Katherine says:

    I find Rice Bran Oil is a very good source of omegas, and is good for the skin. I can tolerate this oil over all the others. Is there any bad effects you know of with this oil please. I was advised to use this many years ago and have stuck with it.

    Katherine.

  7. LuAn says:

    Great job, Colleen. This topic definitely demystifies the confusing array of oils for me! Thanks

  8. RM says:

    If avocado oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (as is olive oil) and almond oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are highly polyunsaturated and should not be heated, how can either of these oils be recommended for high-temperature cooking? Puzzled.

  9. Kelli says:

    Olive oil in particular should never be heated at all! There’s no reason to kill its beautiful living contents. Of course it should be organic extra virgin and always cold pressed as nothing else compares to its health benefits, and will only give you more dangerous acidity for your body to deal with. Even more important is that heating any oil at all creates a carcinogenic situation in the body, along with any grain that you heat. High temperatures are extremely lethal and should always be avoided. I’ve learned this after 2 1/2 years of research because I’ve been dealing with breast cancer that long, and completely changed my diet because of it. If you must heat an oil, the best one to use is coconut oil on heat as low as possible, but remember it’s better not to do it! I know these are not things we want to hear, especially because we all grew up cooking, but eventually our bodies pay the price! We need to become wiser and more conscious as a human species! And our food is a crucial place to start.

    • Natalya says:

      Hi Kelli,
      I was wondering if you think coconut oil is better for cooking at higher temps than animal fat? (Lard, tallow) I know that heating vegetable/nut oils is not good, is it as bad to heat/roast animal fat (at higher temps)? Thanks!

      • Kelli says:

        Hi Natalya,

        Using animal fat opens a whole can of worms and if you choose to eat meat no matter what, you should only ever use animal products from organic grass fed, humanely treated animals without hormones unless they are wild. Without going into that too much, the easiest thing to explain about coconut oil is that it’s actually stable enough to resist heat-induced damage. Here’s a great article about the many benefits of coconut oil:
        http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/20/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats.aspx

        • Natalya says:

          Hi Kelli,
          Thank-you for getting back to me. I am a big fan of coconut oil. Luckily I live in a coconut growing area and use an Omega juicer to extract an oil rich coconut cream from dry coconuts. This is over the top amazing and delicious, if you like coconut.
          All the best, Natalya

        • Natalya says:

          Hi Kelli,
          One more question 🙂 What do you think about the refined coconut oil? That has no coconut flavor/smell? I have shunned away from it, but sometimes you don’t want the coconut taste, no matter how much you love coconut!
          Thanks, Natalya

  10. Peachy Yutangco Daye says:

    Please feature rice bran oil (from Basmati Rice in India).

    Thanks

  11. Matthias says:

    The best oil is to use NO oil in cooking. Usually you can just use water instead of oil. Just try it.

    Instead of using the extracted oils of the seeds, use the whole seeds instead and you have much more minerals, vitamins and other nutrients in your diet. And it is usually cheaper, too.

  12. Colleen,

    I found your article on oils to be quite helpful, both confirming and enlightening to me.
    You mention feeling a sense of belonging in a wider community of individuals who either
    understand or want to gain knowledge in natural health and its’ wide array of topics;
    this really hit home with me since so many people around me do not share my interest
    and desire to do what it takes to become more healthy. I am a cancer survivor and
    have been so dedicated for the last 10 or more years to doing the best thing when it
    comes to my body, mind and soul. I of course try to do for others what they are open to,
    but it does become a bit discouraging; so I wish you lots of everything it takes to
    forge ahead and continue your pursuit of health as well as sharing your great knowledge
    with others. Thanks for the lift of spirits! Danielle

  13. emily says:

    I would like to know if macadamia oil is heat stable. I have read some conflicting information about it. I believe macadamia nuts have lower levels of omega 6 than other nuts, I am trying to eat less omega 6s as I’m keeping an eyeye on my omega ratios.

  14. Joe says:

    Canola oil:

    Years ago, I heard some very bad things about canola oil, but since then, I have seen it promoted as a health food. What’s the deal?

    Things I heard:
    1) Canola stands for Canada Oil, because canola was invented in a “laboratory” and did not exist in nature before that at all. It’s kind of a poster child for unnatural products.

    Wikipedia says it was “naturally” bred by scientists in Canada. It was renamed from rapeseed oil mainly because that name was a bit less than ideal for marketing. It also says that around 90% of US and Canadian Canola crops are GMO.

    Snopes )rumor debunkers) says it’s cool: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/canola.asp

    2) Canola oil, is closer to machine oil than vegetable oil and does nasty things to people who eat it. The Snopes article above verifies it’s (rapeseed oil) use as a machine oil, but not the nasty part.

    3) As mentioned briefly above, it can easily be or is carcionogenic.

    4) Canola oil contains erucic acid (a lot less than the original rapeseed). It looks like the research on this is muddy, but it was considered dangerous to humas at one point. Apparently, this is also in most brassicas including one of the superheros, kale.

    I’d really like to know if these allegations are true and whether this oil is safe at all for people to use.

  15. Sharon says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this article. Since I cook some of my food in oil I am glad to see this topic being addressed. I also thought avocado oil should not be used for cooking and now know better.

  16. Ton says:

    Hi Colleen,

    Thanks for a great article.

    Most fats, especially those that are hydrogenated and associated with GMOs are outright dangerous!
    As most of us know, oils are essential as it is a major component of our brain and every one of our body cells requires fat for proper operation.
    Also “Fat-soluble” vitamins require fats for transport & Assimilation.

    Further to coconut oil let us not forget that this oil does not require bile & the actions of the liver “in General” to be processed effectively through the human digestive tract and so provide major benefits.

    This is good for people who have their GallBladder removed (due to the turning gangrenous of this organ) and/or have problems with their liver (such as fatty liver) due to enjoyable (but not so healthy) habits during their youth.

    For older people, – as I am now – it seems to keep Brain deterioration at bay and, after all, with the epidemic towards these & Similar diseases these days, this certainly may have the potential to preserve the dignity & Quality of Life for the individual whilst reduce an enormous burden on their immediate family.
    All Such at a reasonable cost as compared to the many medications currently prescribed for these conditions.
    Also, the (free of charge) side effects of Coconut oil are beneficial rather then detrimental!

  17. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for this very helpful article. I’m glad that it gave me a confirmation to what I’ve always been doing to choose the right oil.
    Now, what has been a big question for me, was regarding the Palm oil. I have never bought ANY snack or food item that uses that. But now I see that you separate it from Red Palm oil. Which I never heard of it!
    1) Would you please explain a bit more about the differences of palm oil.
    2) And if Red Palm oil, or other varieties of palm oil, comes under any other name in the list of ingredients on the labels?
    Thank you:)

  18. Just use butter and don’t worry about the rest.

  19. Davor says:

    VERY interesting article and discussion. Many people automatically think that baked or fried food is bad for you, but I think a little bit of baked and fried is also necessary for good health. It’s all about balancing your diet. I, like Kevin, use myself as a lab rat, and observe the consequences – how I feel when I introduce or deduct something from my diet. I’ve been western vegetarian, vegetarian, raw vegan and whatnot. All I can say is – balance is the key. If you eat only fried food it is not good, and if you eat only raw it is not good for you, too. I tend to think that raw is quite a bit healthier diet, though, as it made me have far more energy and feel great. However, it didn’t make me feel entirely fulfilled since I like to eat really tasty dishes, cooked or fried, so I introduced some baked and fried dishes into my diet and since then I think my diet is quite perfect. 🙂 Remember to eat your salad! 🙂 We, my wife and I, always have a huge salad with every meal filled with raw greenery and some extra virgin olive oil or pumpkin oil. I mostly use sunflower seeds oil for cooking and I never use very high temperatures for frying or baking. Cheers! Have a healthy life!

  20. Donna says:

    Excellent Post Thank You! My favorite oil to use for high heat cooking is Coconut oil, I didn’t know about Avacado oil, I will put that on my list of to try next, I have used Grapeseed oil as well, did not know you shouldn’t cook with it due to it’s delicacy..

  21. Lori says:

    Excellent article! Currently, coconut oil is my all-time fav for cooking, a body oil & hair defrizzer. Olive oil is next, with sesame boy far behind!

  22. Heather says:

    Thanks for the list. Is it reasonable to be concerned about the destruction of the Amazon when consuming products with palm oil?

  23. Brett Stevenson says:

    There are no healthy oils for cooking or otherwise. When you divorce the contents from it’s fibre package you create something more resembling a drug in it’s effects than a WHOLE food. Free oils paralyze circulating insulin and the nitrous oxide in the blood responsible for blood vessel dilation thus compromising blood circulation and glucose uptake.

    See Vogel (Bracial Artery Tourniquet Test) and Esselstyn (Nitrous Oxide is a Vasodilator)

  24. Christine says:

    Thanks for the info. I did not realize there were so many oils.

    I use virgin press organic olive oil in my salad dressing and exclusively coconut oil for any cooking or baking, and that seems to work for me.

  25. Kendra says:

    Why are the last 6 oils even mentioned? They highly refined with toxic chemicals. Canola is crap. The only safe oil to heat is coconut oil. Oils should be eaten in VERY small quantities-they are so difficult for the liver to process, and most are already rancid, with chemicals added to mask the smell. Wake up, people.

  26. Great information! Thanks for your research and easy-to-read presentation.

  27. irene says:

    just a question are vegetable oil good for cooking and as the leaflet attached says its triple refined how safe is it

  28. arthur says:

    Macadamia oil , high smoking point and high in monounsaturated lipids.

  29. rachel says:

    whats the healthiest / best oil to use to make oat cakes ie baking … please?

    thanks

  30. Lilly says:

    Is Seseme seed oil safe for stir frys?

  31. Diane says:

    Great, now I am really confused – I go between coconut oil and grapeseed oil for cooking with just depends what I am cooking. Now I read that grapeseed oil isn’t good for cooking??? I use La Tourangelle Grapeseed oil and their thermometer on the back shows High and says: “Suitable for High Heat – perfect for sauteing and frying. An excellent substitute for butter or canola oil”. Also there is a chef I follow and he uses grapeseed oil for his frying in his videos. And I “never” cook with EVOO or Walnut Oil. You know, I give up!!

  32. What is going on here is how best to use something we should not only NOT cook with, but not even eat in the first place. Oils are processed foods. They are not found in nature. They are not healthy and should be used only as condiments. Any cooked are potentially cancerous. Why is this article coming from a website that used to be pure, raw vegan, at the very least step away from the SAD habits. I do not think this article has any merit for what I had previously considered your readers, except as toy food, treat food at best. Next will you be promoting Crisco. Spry and Wesson oils?

  33. Kevin and community: A friend forwarded this today — it’s loaded with new info on the benefits of coconut oil.

    -Coconut oil watch to the end – A Real Eye Opener

    http://www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx?s=/mp4/LJO190v1_WS

  34. Dianne says:

    What about rice bran oil?

  35. The answer is none. Good fats and oils must be in their raw, natural state.

    A natural, raw fat has what is called a CIS configuration; CIS is from the Latin meaning “on this side.” This means that the molecules are on the same side creating a slight electrical charge which gives it a natural bend in its shape. This is important because when it enters your body the natural bend is like the right puzzle piece that fits exactly into the puzzle.
    When the oil is modified, it no longer has this healthy cis configuration. It now has a trans configuration, trans means on opposite sides, and the body treats it as a foreign substance. In effect, it becomes a trans fat.

    Trans fats clog arteries.
    How is the structure of oil modified?
    Oil is modified through heating, refining and hydrogenation.
    So yes, every time you heat oil on high in a frying pan, you are turning it into a trans fat. Oils bought in the grocery store are highly refined. Oils or fats in all packaged or processed foods, baked goods, condiments, and restaurant foods are refined, modified, or hydrogenated. How ironic that margarine, created as a healthy alternative to butter, promotes itself as “heart healthy”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    It is best to use the lowest possible temperature when cooking. Try sautéing your onions or vegetables on low heat with water instead of oil. Make more food from scratch to avoid the unhealthy fats in packaged foods. heated above 40 C or 140 F. You can find them in the natural health food store.
    Healthy natural fats can be found in raw, organic seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and raw nuts, such as almonds. When roasted at high temperatures the cis configuration is transformed which is why they are best raw.

  36. gill says:

    Just wondering how rice bran oil rates? I use it for frying etc

    Thank You

    Gill

  37. Geri says:

    Been using Rice Bran oil for 3 years, love the flavour and high burning point. Also use Macadamia oil great taste for crumbed fish etc.

  38. Mark Decker says:

    Dear Colleen,

    thank you for the article. What about cacao butter, shea butter, Argan oil, pumpkin seed oil ?

    Best regards,

    Mark

  39. this is good information , thanks for posting . Ghee ( cooked butter ) too is a good option for cooking . In India ghee is used for cooking since ancient times. I have used it for therapeutic purpose also like on cuts and burns for more than 25 years. There are no scars left after treating with ghee.

  40. Dave Campa says:

    Nobody ever brings up palm kernel oil, it’s in a lot of products that are labeled as healthy from the local health food store. Is this oil healthy, and can it be used for frying?

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