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Healthy Cooking Oils

Updated on June 19, 2013

The Most Healthy Cooking Oils

So what are the most healthy cooking oils? The answer might surprise you. Keep in mind that there are many kinds of cooking oils to choose from and each has its own unique taste and also has its own individual cooking properties.

To understand about cooking oils, you have to know a little bit about the oils themselves and the factors that make them good or bad - health-wise and cooking-wise. That might seem a little confusing but consider these factoids.

  • Not all oils are created equally
  • They all have a different smoking point (more on this in a second)
  • Each oil has different kinds of fat - usually good and bad
  • Last but not least, each usually has a very distinct flavor


Personally, I think just as in many facets of life, selecting an oil to cook with should be a matter of using what is most nutritious while being fairly economical, using what you have on hand, and matching the oil to the dish you're using it in. That seems the wisest course of action, however, that said, there are some good rules of thumb to know about each oil. There are some oils that are more heart healthy for example (which you should use more of) and some which are not as healthy (and should be used sparingly).

What are heart-healthy cooking oils?

Heart-healthy oils recommended by most physicians are those derived from plant sources. They are also those that are the least processed or refined. If you think about it, anything refined is going to be losing nutrients. Oils are really no different.

They also have less saturated fats and should be used as a substitute for those in your diet. The best oils are made up mostly of monounsatured fats. It's also important to note that by processing, oils become higher in saturated fats, so always try to find oils that are minimally processed.

Most medical professionals recommend 2 oils in particular as the most healthy cooking oils. These are olive oil and canola oil. However, the story goes a bit deeper than that. There are olive oils and there are olive oils for instance. Knowing what to look for will help you decide what your taste buds prefer and also what your pocketbook can afford.

Before we look at some of the different types of oils (and even types of oils within the same category), let's answer the burning question.

What is the smoke point for oil and what does it have to do with health?

The smoke point for any oil is the exact point at which it starts to smoke. We've all seen this happen when we take our eyes off the skillet that we were planning on using for a stir fry or a pan fry, right? It's not a pretty sight - or smell.

However, much more important to know is that when oils reach the smoke point, they give off bad vibes. They give off loads of harmful toxins and things called free radicals. You don't want those in your system. They have been linked to many diseases and cancers.

The way to prevent this is to always use the right oil for the right job. Now you're getting the picture. Depending on the oil's fat content and other properties, each oil has its own unique smoke point so it should be used in the best situations to avoid hitting that smoke point while preserving its healthiest properties when it goes into your body.

Let's compare some oils and see how they shake out in terms of fat, smoke points and taste. We'll see which oils are best for which recipes.

Oils for Frying

Well, technically, fried foods aren't really that healthy for us. But there are some times when frying is going to be necessary. High temperatures require a special kind of oil that can withstand the heat. This also means using these oils for browning or searing anything. These oils have a very high smoke point.

  • Almond oil - adds a distinctive nutty taste - low in saturated fat
  • Avocado - this oil has a distinctive sweet aroma - fairly low in saturated fat
  • Hazelnut - very bold, strong flavor - low in saturated fat
  • Palm - distinct taste - extremely high in saturated fat
  • Sunflower - high-oleic versions are best - fairly low in saturated fat
  • Light olive oil - lighter in color not calories - fairly low in saturated fat

PST! If you want to eliminate some or all of the frying, use oil sprays such as canola or olive oil cooking spray. Cuts the fat and the calories.

Best Oils for Baking, Oven Foods & Stir Fry

When you are using oils in dishes that are baked, whether they are casseroles or cakes, you want an oil that is going to have a medium-high smoke point so that they will not release those unhealthy toxins. These same oils are also most favorable for dishes like stir fry where the heat is medium high but not in the frying range for heat.

  • Canola - no real flavor - very low in saturated fat and has some omega-3's
  • Grapeseed - not overpowering - pretty low in saturated fat - high in omega-6
  • Macademia nut - very bold flavor - pretty low in saturated fat
  • Extra virgin oil - best pick oil all around - pretty low in saturated fat
  • Peanut - great for stir fry - pretty low in saturated fat

PST! Peanut and walnut oils seem to have the most danger for allergic reactions in anyone who has a nut allergy. Make sure to ask guests about nut allergies before using nut oils in preparing food.

Cooking Oils for Sautes, Sauces or Low Heat

The oils that are best when sauteing, using in sauces or baking at low temperatures are oils that have a medium smoke point. Try some of these choices for these situations. All are fairly low in saturated fats - in the 10-15% range - except coconut oil.

  • Corn - has a lot of omega-6
  • Hemp - contains omega-3's - must be stored in fridge
  • Pumpkin seed - has omega 3's
  • Sesame - nutty or rich flavor - must be stored in fridge
  • Soybean - contains a lot of omega-6
  • Walnut - lots of omega-3's and very low in saturated fat
  • Coconut - very high in saturated fat at 92%!

Oils to Use in Uncooked Foods

These oils are used for marinades, dips or dressings. They are also used for things like Italian bread dipping sauce.

  • Extra virgin olive oil - best pick oil and low in saturated fat
  • Flaxseed - low in saturated fat and great for omega-3's
  • Walnut - low in saturated fat and good for omega-3's
  • Wheat germ - relatively low in saturated fat and great for omega-6 - store in fridge

PST! Use virgin or extra virgin olive oils when taste is of the essence. Use "regular" olive oil when cooking with it because it has a higher smoke point. You'll save a little dough in the process as virgin and extra virgin olive oils cost more than regular olive oil.

Healthy and Nutritious Oils

What have we learned then? Fat is fat, no matter what form it comes in. However, it has been proven that there are some fats that are better for us than others. The trick is knowing which oils are the best for what circumstance and at what point they break down and become unhealthy oils.

Exercising common sense and controlling portions is the key to managing any oils we use in food preparation and helps us further eliminate unhealthy eating habits. I've found very few situations where moderation isn't the best policy and it also applies to healthy cooking.

For instance, I use coconut oil knowing that it is very high in saturated fat. However, using 1/2 teaspoon of it to flavor something isn't going overboard and I can still indulge in a very flavorful oil. Coconut oil has much controversery surrounding it but many claim is has remarkable health benefits linked to it - such as improving your immune system, weight loss and anti-aging properties. While I would not endorse using it exclusively for cooking, I think adding a bit of it to your diet is not going to cause any harm.

As mainstays, I use primarily extra virgin olive oil, canola oil and walnut oil and walnut oil only for baking. I use coconut oil sparingly and every once in a while I splurge and use peanut oil for stir frys. However, I do find that extra virgin olive oil is good for just about everything I cook because it has a relatively calm smoke point. I use canola oil for anything I think olive oil might overpower in terms of being able to taste it.

Look for organic oils and oils that are minimally processed. Compare the saturated fat on the label between the more processed and the least processed. You will be amazed at how they differ. Anything that has been processed will always lose something in the translation so I opt for as much organic or unprocessed product as possible.

Remember that fat is still fat though and cutting back on oils is one thing recommended for heart-healthy eating. Steaming more, using cooking oil sprays, even cooking in parchment paper are all good ways to cut down on fat and use oils more sparingly.

At those times though when you need to use oil, remember these healthy cooking oils and let the smoke points and fat content be your guide to healthier cooking.


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    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks very much for the comment, Heather. I learned a lot too~~

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 

      9 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Really useful info. I enjoyed reading up on oils I haven't known much about till now, like almond and walnut. I liked how you broke them down into uses as well. Great research - you've inspired me to try something new!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Hi Becky: Thanks for stopping by - I appreciate your enthusiastic endorsement of coconut oil~

    • Becky Bruce profile image

      Becky Bruce 

      9 years ago from San Diego, CA

      great hub! So many don't know the dangers of cooking with oils we often assume as safe and even healthy! Coconut oil is the best... for absolutely everything!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks, Maddie - I learned a lot about them as well~ This is good!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      9 years ago from Oakland, CA

      I love that you've given us the best oils for different methods of cooking! I'm taking notes!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks, Om for stopping by - I haven't tried grapeseed or hemp oil myself either and have that on the list~ Some of them are a little $$ but guess one of these days I'll buy a new one and give it a try. I really love the coconut oil but it sure has a lot of myths associated with it...and proponents of it. I guess I'll have to wait and see over the YEARS how it shakes out - if it's really that great for you or not~

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      9 years ago

      What an interesting hub! I haven't tried many types of cooking oil. So far I've been using vegetable and soybean oils for both sauteing and frying (I don't fry food that often, though!). I love using olive oil in salads, too. Can't live without it! Some cooking oils you mentioned, like almond, grapeseed and hemp, sound very intriguing. I've got to tried them. Thanks for sharing this useful info!

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Hi Tebo - yes, I read that as well - they just aren't sure (yet) about some of those healthy properties and are concentrating more on the fact that coconut oil is so high in saturated fat. I guess we'll see over time what shakes out so to speak on the healing properties of this oil - in the meantime, I think using it is a good thing to be honest so have been doing that myself. It seems to be helping my dogs as well so who knows? Wishing you good health and thanks for stopping by.

    • tebo profile image


      9 years ago from New Zealand

      Great hub. I often wonder about different cooking oils and usually use olive - extra virgin. Recently I have read that using coconut oil in your cooking instead of your usual oil can help kick start a sluggish thyroid. I have been having symptoms of underactive thyroid although my thyroid test shows borderline underactive so have started using coconut oil. I don't have the putting on weight symptom so don't need to worry too much about that part. Thanks also for the information on smoking points.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks for dropping in lamb servant and the kudos~

      Rhonda - I usually almost always use extra virgin olive oil - not sure why but I've gotten so used to it it just seems like the right oil for most things I do. I do love a little dab of that coconut oil - and I hear you on the hair conditioner~ It is working for my long-haired malamute too!!! Too funny - he absolutely loves the stuff. I even use it on his tangles a wee bit and it seems to help.

      Thanks for the info Dinkan 53 - interesting points.

    • dinkan53 profile image


      9 years ago from India

      Oil containing medium fats are preferrable. This is a useful article, voted up and shared. Most of other oils which contain long chain fats must be avoided or use in small quantaity. Voted up and useful.

    • toknowinfo profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub! I love to cook and primarily use extra virgin olive oil. Thanks for the tip about the difference between regular olive oil. I used to use peanut oil, but I did a taste test with my kids and their friends and the same food cooked in olive oil compared to peanut oil, olive oil won all the way around. So why spend the extra money. When I sauté, I will use either olive oil, or for even better taste, I will use butter. Since weight is not an issue for me or my family, thank goodness, I feel lucky to have choices to cook with. I keep coconut oil in the house, but that is mainly a conditioner for my curly haired daughter, but I think I will buy another jar and try cooking with it. You inspired me. Thanks for putting a fantastic hub together that really gave me a lot to learn from. Rated up, useful, interesting, and awesome.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      9 years ago from United States

      Excellent article. Thanks.

    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Hi Jaye - I don't mind at all about soap boxes~ That is great information and will keep that in mind. I actually have my oil of choice which 99.9% of the time is always extra virgin olive oil though every once in a while if I'm worried the taste will "bleed through" I go with canola but only on rare occasions. I do love the coconut oil though~ As you say...sparingly.

      Thanks for contributing - great information!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      9 years ago from Deep South, USA

      We must be reading some of the same health articles and newsletters! I've recently begun using organic coconut oil (sparingly) and have been using organic olive oil for years--no other oils.

      I haven't used corn oil in years, but avoid ALL corn now except the organic variety. All non-organic corn products come from GMO seeds, and I don't care what the FDA or USDA have to say in defense of Monsanto's "mutated" seeds, I don't trust them.

      Also, canola oil is falsely marketed as a healthy oil, but it isn't. It's extracted using very high heat, pressure and a petroleum solvent called hexane (also in soy products that aren't made with organic soybeans) and other questionable chemicals. All that heat even transforms some of the Omega-3s into trans fats! While the label on any bottle of canola oil you pick up at the supermarket will tell you the oil contains a minimal amount of trans fats, such as 0.2%, the University of Florida tested commercial canola oils and found as much as 4.6% trans fats in them.

      Honest...I didn't intend to get on my soapbox! Just saying.....

      Good article. Voted Up, Useful and Interesting.


    • akirchner profile imageAUTHOR

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      Thanks writer 20 - I use both as well~

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      9 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Great helpful hub, I us canola oil just no and again. I really used Pam most of the time.

      Voted up useful and interesting.


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