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The Healthiest Cooking Oils, According to a Registered Dietitian
The landscape of oils at the grocery store has really expanded over the past several years, bringing to light new types of unique oils that may seem intimidating at first. But different oils have different characteristics and specific purposes when it comes to cooking. Some oils are best for frying, whereas some are ideal for simply drizzling or using as garnish. Before we get into the different types of cooking oils, there are a few basic tips you'll want to know regarding oil properties and storage practices.
When it comes to storage, you never want to store oil near or over the stove. Certain oils, particularly olive oil, can become rancid if exposed to light, heat, and oxygen. Instead, store oil in a cool, dark place. For best quality and flavor from your oil, aim to use it within one year of purchase (some oils may need to be used even sooner). While wine gets better with age, oil does not and the quality and flavor will weaken as the oil ages.
Another important thing to note is the oil's smoke point, which is listed out for each oil mentioned below. An oil smoke point, also known as the burning point of oil, is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke up and lose its integrity. If an oil starts to smoke, it can release chemicals that give your food a bitter flavor and also produce free radicals that can be harmful to your health. When dealing with high heat oils, Good Housekeeping’s Senior Testing Editor Nicole Papantoniou recommends to heat your pan first, then add your oil, and then the ingredients to help prevent the oil from getting hot too quickly and potentially burning. Ensuring that you are using the right oil for whatever cooking method you choose is crucial to staying within the smoke point limit and enhancing the quality of your dish.
Below, you'll find our list for the healthiest cooking oils:
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The Mediterranean Diet has been linked to weight loss and a reduction in disease risk, plus a boost in longevity overall. Olive oil, known for its role in the Mediterranean Diet, is abundant in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. A large meta analysis done in 2014 found that the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil were able to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
For olive oil to be certified extra virgin, it must be first cold pressed. Cold pressed indicates that the olives never exceed a certain temperature during the pressing process, which ensures maximum quality. Harvesting is also important when it comes to olive oil. Experts from Kosterina Greek Olive Oil harvest unripe olives which they say, “makes the oil richer in healthy polyphenols and very high in antioxidants.” Extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, so it's best for sautéing over medium heat or roasting below those temperatures. It's also a great addition to dressings because of its deep peppery flavor.
Best for: Salad dressings and sautéing
Smoke point: Extra Virgin 325-375°F, Refined 465°F
Nutritionist pick: Kosterina Olive Oil
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This oil, derived from the flesh of pressed avocados, has a mild flavor and high smoke point so it's perfect for almost any cooking uses in the kitchen. Avocado oil has one of the highest levels of healthy monounsaturated fats of all oils, and it's also low in polyunsaturated fats. The mild flavor is very versatile, which is why avocado oil is the perfect healthy swap in any baked goods. It does tend to be a bit more expensive, but many brands offer it in spray container without propellants so you can control how much you use at a time.
Best for: Frying, roasting, baked goods
Smoke point: Virgin 375°F, Refined 520°F
Nutritionist pick: Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Spray
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Flaxseed oil is a great vegan source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in omega-3 ALA, found in flaxseed oil, have been linked to lower lipid levels and reduced blood pressure in individuals with high cholesterol. Abundant in monounsaturated fats, flaxseed oil requires refrigeration and is very sensitive to heat as it can go rancid and oxidize quickly. Flaxseed oil has a very slightly nutty flavor and is best for for salad dressings and drizzling. Due to its low smoke point, flaxseed oil should not be cooked with. It's important to note that flaxseed oil can spoil quickly, which is why it should be kept in a dark container in the back of the refrigerator.
Best for: Salad dressings and drizzling
Smoke point: 225°F
Nutritionist pick: Spectrum Essentials Organic Flax Oil
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"The very thing that make walnuts such a nutrient powerhouse as the only nut with an excellent source of plant omega-3s (ALA) make it’s oil an excellent finishing ingredient to drizzle and pour on completed dishes," says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDN, Author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean and owner of Bazilian’s Health in San Diego. Since most walnut oil is sold unrefined or semi-refined, it has more of the naturally occurring nutrients and phytochemicals but this makes it more challenging when it comes to putting it over heat.
Bazilian suggests using walnut oil to toss into pasta dishes and drizzle over salad or a squash-based soup as a finisher. Since walnut oil is fairly pricey and delicate, Bazilian says it's best to store in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve the flavor and phytochemicals.
Best for: Salad Dressings and drizzling
Smoke point: 320°F
Nutritionist pick: Spectrum Essentials Walnut Oil
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Jada Linton, RDN, LD, of the National Peanut Board says that there are a few different types of peanut oil, each made using a different technique and offering a range of flavors from mild and sweet to strong and nutty. Almost half of peanut oil is comprised of monounsaturated fats. Traditionally used in Asian dishes, peanut oil has a relatively high smoke point and is ideal for searing meats, grilling, roasting vegetables, and frying. Linton adds that, "on top of the delicious flavor, peanut oil is a great source of vitamin E containing 11% of the recommended daily intake and has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils."
Best for: Stir fry, sautéing
Smoke point: 450°F
Nutritionist pick: La Tourangelle Peanut Oil
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Sesame oil is rich in both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and it is also low in saturated fat. It also contains sesamol and sesamin which are powerful antioxidants. There is evidence that sesame oil can potentially reduce blood pressure as well. Expeller-pressed is the best kind of sesame oil, since the oil from the seeds is extracted at a cooler temperature and this is considered cold pressed. Toasted sesame oil involves seeds that are roasted beforehand, but the extraction process is the same. Since toasted sesame oil adds a lot of flavor, it pairs well in stir frys and makes a great alternative to peanut oil if you have a peanut allergy.
Best for: Sautéing, stir fry, frying
Smoke point: 450°F
Nutritionist pick: Napa Valley Naturals Organic Toasted Sesame Oil
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Coconut oil has grown much in popularity with followers of the keto diet and the Paleo diet, but is it healthy? Coconut oil is made by pressing fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat depending on the type. Coconut oil is firm at room temperature because it is composed of 90% saturated fat. Research on coconut oil has been inconsistent, some studies showing it can raise the good HDL cholesterol, while other studies showing it can also raise the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
It's best for quick sautéing or in baked goods, but it does not do well at very high heat temperatures. If you do substitute coconut oil for butter in baked goods, you'll want to use about 25% less coconut oil than the called for amount of butter since coconut oil has higher percentage of fat solids. Regardless, coconut oil is not a miracle food and it is best to use it in moderation, if you like the taste of course.
Best for: Baking and sautéing
Smoke point: Extra Virgin or Unrefined 350°F, Refined 450°F
Nutritionist pick: Carrington Farms Coconut Oil
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Canola oil is made from rapeseed and has a high smoke point, so it can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen which is why it's often a staple in most homes. This budget-friendly choice is low in saturated fat and relatively high in monounsaturated fat. The only issue is that canola oil tends to be highly processed, so looking for cold-pressed and a good quality brand is key.
Best For: Sautéing, frying, baking
Smoke Point: 400°F
Nutritionist Pick: Spectrum Organic Canola Oil