What are the Best and Worst Cooking Oils for You?
© 2013 Health Realizations, Inc. Updated
Once you've made a commitment to healthier eating, cooking more of your meals at home and paying attention to healthy cooking methods becomes important. After all, even the most nutritious meal can be sabotaged if you fry it or douse it in trans-fat-laden oil.
Try experimenting with different types and flavors of oil. One of the best ways to really savor the flavor is to try the oil on a piece of crusty bread.
The type of oil you choose to cook with can also add or detract from the nutritional value of your meal. Here we've broken down some of the most popular cooking oils to clear up the confusion over which are great, and not-so-great, for cooking.
Vegetable Oils: Included in this category are soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and others. Although these polyunsaturated fat are typically described as heart healthy -- they may help to reduce cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease -- they are often highly processed and are quite perishable.
This means that when you use them to cook with, the fats easily become rancid, and rancid oil may contribute to oxidative stress and damaging free radicals in your body. In general, any highly processed vegetable oil is not the best choice for a healthy diet.
Sesame Oil: Sesame oil is composed of primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Sesame oil is also rich in antioxidants and very stable, meaning you can heat it to a relatively high temperature without damaging the oil.
Olive Oil: Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. However, olive oil is very perishable, making it an ideal oil for salads, cold dishes and dipping bread, but not for cooking.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but don't let that scare you. This incredibly stable oil contains a type of saturated fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are actually great for your immune system, intestinal health and even may help to support weight management. And, because coconut oil is highly stable, it won't become damaged during cooking.
Avocado Oil: If you're looking for something a little unusual, avocado oil is a healthy choice. It's rich in monounsaturated fats (similar to olive oil) but is relatively heat-stable. Further, when used on salads, avocado oil has been found to increase your absorption of nutrients such as beta-carotene and lutein, making it an ideal base for salad dressings.
The absolute worst oil you can use is highly processed, low-quality vegetable oil. It will be devoid of nutrients and very susceptible to going rancid (and rancid oil should not be consumed).
A Final Note About Choosing Healthy Cooking Oils
Cooking oils are not created equal, and you will find a wide variety of qualities, and price ranges, in your grocery store. Because of the fragile nature of oils, you should look for varieties with the following properties:
Minimal, gentle processing: Highly processed oils can become damaged before you even open the bottle. Look for expeller-pressed or cold-pressed oils to be sure you're getting high-quality, undamaged oil.
Minimal refining: Refined oils have been stripped of their flavor, color and nutrients. Although they have a place if you'll be using them for high-temperature cooking (as they're processed to be made more stable), for other uses (particularly when flavor and nutrition are important) seek out unrefined oils.
Stored in a dark, glass bottle: Oil can become damaged by heat and light, which is why you'll find high-quality oils stored in dark-tinted bottles. It is also possible that the oil could leach ptentially dangerous chemicals from a plastic storage bottle, which is why you should, ideally, seek out those stored in glass bottles.