The ultimate guide to the healthiest cooking oils & which to use minimally. Are you using the healthiest oils in your weekly cooking?
This guide will help break down the healthiest cooking oils to use at different temperatures.
There’s such a broad spectrum of what ‘healthy’ means so it can be a bit confusing to decipher which cooking oils are truly the healthiest.
What You'll Find in This Guide
Below I’m breaking down what I’ve found to be the healthiest cooking oils
- high heat stable oils
- low to medium heat oils
- oils that should never be heated
- which oils to use minimally
All cooking oils have a smoke point, or an oil’s resistance to heat.
So if an oil has a low smoke point, once it reaches too high of a temperature, that oil will start to burn (smoke) and break down, producing toxins and free radicals. Not only does this burn the oil, but it also affects your food in both flavor and nutrients lost.
Healthiest High Heat Cooking Oils
Avocado oil is made by using the flesh of the avocado. Once the skin and pit are removed, it’s put into a type of equipment called a centrifuge that separates the oil and the water from the fruit. The oil is then filtered and bottled.
Avocados oil is one of the best high-heat cooking oils because of its antioxidants and its balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
When to use avocado oil: due to its neutral flavor, it can be used to make homemade mayo, sauces, dressings, or marinades, but is also ideal for cooking, baking, and frying, making it great for everyday use.
Look for brands that specifically say high heat stable on the bottle. My favorite is Chosen Foods 100% Avocado Oil (which comes in a variety of sizes and also in a spray), but some other popular brands are Nutiva and Primal Kitchen.
Coconut oil is a very versatile oil that is not only great to cook with, but also has many health benefits and uses. It’s especially great for cooking because of its high smoke point and its even balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
This oil is a great source of healthy fats and is great anti-inflammatory food. Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties that help to fight irritation and infection in the gut making it easier for your body to digest.
Coconut oil works wonderfully as a butter replacement in dairy-free cooking but it’s important to buy an organic source to eliminate the use of any chemicals during the extraction process. I love the Nutiva brand.
Extra virgin or virgin coconut oil does have a mild coconut flavor but often isn't noticeable in the final dish.
If you don't like the flavor of coconut, you can also buy naturally refined organic coconut oil which has a high smoke point as well, but without the coconut flavor.
Palm shortening is palm oil (from a tropical, not coconut, palm tree) that’s been removed from some of its unsaturated fats, making the texture more similar to butter. It has a high smoke point, a high melting point (making it shelf-stable), and has no odor or color.
This is a great replacement for traditional shortening or butter when baking dairy-free and is also great for cooking or frying.
When buying palm shortening, it’s important to get an organic source that is sustainably harvested. The standard practice destroys forests and habitats of endangered species. For this reason, I recommend two brands: Spectrum or Nutiva.
Macadamia oil is made by cold-pressing macadamia nuts and extracting the oil. The nuts impart a rich but mild, buttery flavor.
It has one of the lowest levels of omega-6 fatty acids next to coconut oil and has a high smoke point, plus high levels of antioxidants making it a very healthy cooking oil. Although macadamia oil is shelf-stable, it’s best stored in the fridge.
Healthiest Medium Heat Cooking Oils
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality of olive oil you can buy, which also means it provides the best taste and provides the most health benefits.
The olives are crushed at a mill and the oil is extracted, and then run through a centrifuge (like the avocado oil) to separate the oil from the water and residue. Olive oil is a relatively stable cooking oil with a smoke point that varies depending on the type.
Overall, extra virgin is the best olive oil for cooking, but it shouldn’t be heated above 425ºF.
Olive oil is a refined version of extra virgin olive oil. It has been stripped of its nutrients. Because the refining process removes the flavor, a little bit of the extra virgin olive oil has been mixed back into it to add some flavor.
If you want less of the olive flavor, you can use this oil in dishes that you would use extra virgin olive oil. Just know that you won’t be getting the same nutrients.
LIGHT OLIVE OIL Or PURE OLIVE OIL
Light olive oil is the same as pure olive oil. The word light signifies the color and has little to no flavor. This oil is great for stir-fries, baking, sautéing, and dressings, but I wouldn’t recommend it for frying.
Helpful Tips For Buying Olive Oil
Just like anything regarding food, choose quality over quantity and remember these tips when shopping:
- The flavor of the oil will vary by the price point, but experiment and use what tastes best to you.
- It’s best to try out different brands and see what has the best flavor for you.
- If you live in a city, I’d recommend going to your local olive oil shop.
- Shop around the local stores in your area.
Sesame oil is made from raw, pressed sesame seeds. It has a medium smoke point and shouldn’t be used at high temperatures. It has a light flavor and is ideal for sautéing.
Healthiest Low To No Heat Oils
Toasted Sesame Oil
Not to be confused with sesame oil, but toasted sesame oil is just that - made from toasted sesame seeds. It has a much richer, nuttier flavor than sesame oil, and it also has a lower smoke point.
Since the toasting of the seeds has already enhanced the flavor, cooking with it causes the oil to taste slightly bitter and burnt.
Toasted sesame oil is best used as a finishing oil and is okay to use at a low temperature near the end of its cooking. It’s also excellent when used in dressings. As with the other oils, I recommend buying organic or non-GMO when possible.
Flaxseed oil, also called flax or linseed, should never be heated. This oil is made from ground and pressed flax seeds. Flaxseed is a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseeds are very delicate. Because their health properties can be so easily damaged by heat or light, it's best to add this oil to already prepared foods.
Most Unhealthy Cooking Oils
- Canola oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Vegetable oil
- Rapeseed oil (same as canola)
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
Vegetable oils are extracted from seeds, but unlike healthy cooking oils, these oils can’t be extracted naturally by pressing or separating. They are chemically extracted using hexane (a chemical extracted from petroleum), which, needless to say, is incredibly toxic.
Vegetable oils are made at large in factories, often using genetically modified crops (GMOs) that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides, making them not only unhealthy but detrimental to our health when eaten on a regular basis.
To top it off, they are predominantly made of omega-6 fatty acids which are unstable when exposed to heat. Too much omega-6 in the body causes an overload of inflammation.
When you cook at home, choose quality oils. When you go out to eat, the quality of oils won’t be as high, but that's fine because the majority of your meals are eaten at home.
Just be mindful. There’s no need for an all-or-nothing approach.