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Home/Blog/Best Cooking Oils: Healthiest and Safest Vs. Ones to Avoid

Best Cooking Oils: Healthiest and Safest Vs. Ones to Avoid

By Joe Boland

July 6, 2024

Best cooking oils

When it comes to preparing meals, the type of cooking oil you use can significantly impact your health. With a plethora of options available, choosing the right oil can be daunting.

This guide aims to demystify cooking oils and help you make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.

We’ll explore what makes a cooking oil healthy, the safest and less safe options for cooking, and which oils you should avoid altogether.

What Is a Healthy Cooking Oil?

Fats get a bad rap, but they’re actually an essential part of a healthy diet. In fact, some fats are crucial for heart health, brain function and nutrient absorption.

The key is to choose the right fats, and when it comes to cooking, that means selecting a healthy cooking oil.

Healthy cooking oils are those that maintain their nutritional integrity when exposed to heat and provide beneficial nutrients, such as healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamins.

The key factors that determine the healthiness of a cooking oil include its smoke point, fat composition and stability under heat.

  • Smoke Point: The temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and break down, releasing harmful compounds.

  • Fat Composition: Oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are generally healthier than those high in saturated fats.

  • Stability: Oils that remain stable at high temperatures and do not oxidize easily are preferred for cooking.

Best Oils for Cooking

Oils with high smoke points and stable fat compositions are the safest for cooking. These oils are less likely to break down and release harmful substances when heated.

1. Avocado oil

With a smoke point of around 520°F (271°C), avocado oil is ideal for high-heat cooking methods like frying and searing. It is rich in monounsaturated fats, which are beneficial for heart health.

2. Coconut oil

Although it has a lower smoke point (350°F or 177°C), coconut oil is stable due to its high saturated fat content. Coconut oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than other fats and may offer health benefits.

It's suitable for baking and medium-heat cooking.

3. Ghee

Ghee, aka clarified butter, has a high smoke point of 485°F (252°C) and is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is an excellent choice for sautéing and frying.

4. Beef tallow

With a high smoke point of around 400°F (204°C), beef tallow is a traditional cooking fat that is stable and provides a rich flavor.

5. Chicken fat

Chicken fat has a smoke point of about 375°F (190°C) and adds a unique taste to dishes. It's suitable for sautéing and roasting.

6. Goose fat

Goose fat has a smoke point of around 375°F (190°C) and is prized for its flavor and stability.

7. Duck fat

With a smoke point of about 375°F (190°C), duck fat is excellent for frying and roasting, imparting a rich taste.

8. Lamb tallow

Similar to beef tallow, lamb tallow has a high smoke point and is stable, making it good for high-heat cooking.

9. Lard

Rendered pork fat with a smoke point of 370°F (188°C), lard is versatile and adds flavor to various dishes. However, pork is often problematic for a variety of reasons, so while it can be a safe oil to cook with, lard is on the less healthy side than other safe cooking oils.

10. Red palm oil

Red palm oil has a smoke point of about 450°F (232°C) and is rich in vitamins A and E, making it a healthy choice for high-heat cooking. Some people may have a sensitivity to it negatively, however, and there are environmental concerns along with issues with finding less processed versions of this oil.

Safe for Low Temperature Cooking

While not as heat-stable as the oils listed above, these oils are still good options for cooking at lower temperatures or for drizzling over finished dishes.

1. Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 375°F (190°C), making it suitable for sautéing and baking. It's rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, which are linked to numerous health benefits.

2. Sesame oil

With a smoke point of 410°F (210°C), sesame oil is good for stir-frying and sautéing. It contains antioxidant properties.

3. Peanut oil

Peanut oil has a smoke point of 450°F (232°C) and is often used in Asian cuisine. It’s high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.

4. Butter

Butter has a lower smoke point of around 350°F (177°C) but can be used for low to medium-heat cooking. It adds rich flavor and contains beneficial nutrients like vitamins A and D.

5. Macadamia nut oil

With a smoke point of about 390°F (199°C), macadamia nut oil is good for sautéing and baking. It is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.

6. Walnut oil

Walnut oil has a smoke point of around 320°F (160°C) and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are sensitive to heat, so walnut oil is actually best used for cold applications, but it isn’t unhealthy to cook with it. It’s not necessarily the best option, though.

7. Grapeseed oil

With a relatively high smoke point of around 420°F (216°C), grapeseed oil is high in polyunsaturated fats. Like walnut oil, it’s best used for low-heat cooking or cold applications because the PUFAs can oxidize in high heat, but it’s still considered a healthy cooking oil overall.

Unhealthy Oils for Cooking

Some oils, despite being popular, are not ideal for cooking due to their low smoke points and unstable fat compositions.

1. Flaxseed oil

With a smoke point of only 225°F (107°C), flaxseed oil is prone to oxidation and should not be used for cooking. It’s best used as a salad dressing or drizzled over finished dishes.

2. Almond oil

Almond oil has a smoke point of 430°F (221°C), but it is not very stable at high temperatures and is better suited for cold dishes.

3. Black currant seed oil

This oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids but has a low smoke point, making it unsuitable for cooking.

4. Evening primrose oil

Known for its health benefits, this oil has a very low smoke point and should not be heated.

5. Pumpkin seed oil

With a low smoke point, pumpkin seed oil should be used only in cold dishes.

6. Hemp oil

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, hemp oil has a low smoke point and is best used for cold applications.

7. Pine nut oil

This oil is delicate and should not be heated, as it can oxidize quickly.

8. Hazelnut oil

With a low smoke point, hazelnut oil is best used in dressings and cold dishes.

9. Rice bran oil

Despite a high smoke point, rice bran oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can be unhealthy when heated.

10. Safflower/sunflower oil

These oils have high smoke points but are also high in omega-6 fatty acids and prone to oxidation.

Cooking Oils to Avoid

Certain oils should be avoided due to their negative health impacts, especially when heated.

1. Vegetable oils

Oils such as soybean, corn and canola oil often have high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can be unhealthy when eaten in excess. They are also prone to oxidation and can release harmful free radicals when heated.

2. Margarine and shortening

These products contain trans fats, which are linked to chronic health conditions. They should be avoided entirely, whether for cooking or baking.

3. Rapeseed oil

Similar to canola oil, rapeseed oil can have high levels of erucic acid and is often highly processed.

4. Cottonseed oil

This oil is prone to contamination with pesticides and is highly processed, making it unhealthy for consumption.

5. Vegetable shortening

Often made from partially hydrogenated oils, shortening contains trans fats and should be avoided.

6. Partially hydrogenated fats/oils

These are high in trans fats and are harmful to overall well-being.

Conclusion

Choosing the right cooking oil is essential for both your culinary endeavors and your health. Opt for oils with high smoke points and stable fat compositions for cooking, and avoid those that can become harmful when heated.

By making informed choices, you can enjoy delicious meals while promoting your overall well-being.

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