Comparing Healthy Cooking Oils

Good cooks know you need a variety of healthy cooking oils in the pantry. Why? Not all oils are the same. Let’s start with a few oil facts:

  • Cooking temperature: Not all oils can handle high temperatures. At its “smoke point,” oil begins to smoke and break down, forming unhealthy compounds and giving food a bitter taste. Use oils with higher smoke points for frying or high-heat stir frying and save others for salad dressings, dips and lower temperature cooking.
  • Oil Storage: Heat and light can damage oil, so store yours in a cool, dark place. Keep oils that can turn rancid – like grapeseed oil – in the refrigerator (for up to 6 months). Over time oils can degrade and lose some of their nutritional properties, so promptly discard oil that smells bitter or bad.

Comparing Healthy Options

Before you start whipping up a meal in the kitchen, review the differences between healthy oils and the best ways to use them.:

  • “Virgin” or “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil: Is extracted from olives through cold-pressing to preserve taste and nutrition. Both are high in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and antioxidants. (“Olive oil” or “pure olive oil” is made from a mix of virgin and other lower quality olive oils that are lower in antioxidants.) Smoke points: Extra Virgin ~ 320°F, Virgin ~ 420°F, Extra Light ~ 468°F

Uses: Dipping for bread, salad dressing, low to medium heat sautéing, stir-frying and roasting

  • Peanut Oil: Is high in MUFAs and antioxidants (vitamin E and resveratrol). It has a long shelf-life and can withstand high temperatures. However, to maintain health benefits, avoid heating above 212°F. Smoke point: ~450°F

Uses: Deep-frying, stir fries and ginger dressings due to its nutty flavor

  • Canola Oil: Has a neutral taste and is a good source of both MUFAs and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Look for organic and expeller or cold-pressed types. Smoke point: ~400°F

Uses: Baking, roasting, sautéing and stir-frying, along with coating pans and grills

  • Coconut Oil: Comes from the fruit of mature coconuts and can be used at higher cooking temperatures. Contains high amounts of saturated fat, although studies suggest coconut oil may still be a healthy choice. Choose “virgin” (unrefined) coconut oil. Smoke point: ~350°F

Uses: Its tropical flavor makes it good for baking, curry dishes and fish

  • Sesame Oil: Can either be light or dark and is made from toasted sesame seeds. It’s rich in MUFAs and PUFAs and vitamin E, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and vitamin B6. Smoke point: ~410°F

Uses: Stir-fries and Japanese, Thai and Asian dishes. Its strong nutty flavor also makes a flavorful condiment

  • Grapeseed Oil: Is extracted from the seeds of grapes and is high in PUFAs. It has a neutral taste. Smoke point: ~390°F

Uses: Stir frying, sautéing, dressings and dips

Many recipes will recommend a specific cooking oil based on its cooking properties. Whenever possible, substitute an oil shown above in place of less healthy options like corn oil, vegetable oil, shortening or margarine.

Meet the Author

Andrea Petrowitz, RD is a clinical dietitian with Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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