The 7 Healthiest Cooking Oils—and Which to Avoid

RDs weigh in and answer: What is the healthiest oil to cook with?

Healthy cooking oils: olive oil, avocado oil
Photo: Getty Images

Choosing a cooking oil can be daunting, especially when standing in the supermarket looking at rows and rows of everything from olive oil to sunflower oil. While you probably have a bottle of olive oil at home, sometimes it's worth switching things up. After all, different cooking oils have varied purposes and flavor profiles, so switching your go-to cooking oil now and again can make your food (yes, even baked goods) tastier and healthier.

To figure out the best cooking oils for your health (along with some of the cooking oils you should avoid), we consulted a team of dietitians and nutritionists, who had plenty to say about this widely used ingredient. First, it's important to understand more about fats found in foods, including the oil you coat your pan with each time you sauté vegetables or fry an egg.

"Fats in foods are made up of a combination of fatty acids, which can be saturated or unsaturated. Research has shown that replacing sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fats reduces the risk for heart disease," explains Andrea Canada, RD. "Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and typically come from sources like avocado, nuts, vegetables, and poultry. Saturated fats come from red meats, cream/butter, coconut oil, and palm oil and are solid at room temperature."

"When choosing a cooking oil, healthier choices include unsaturated oils that can withstand the high temperatures of cooking," Canada adds. Curious to know what these "healthier choices" are? Keep reading to learn more about the healthiest oils you can buy.

Healthiest Cooking Oils

"Healthy cooking oils are not only for healthy cooking. They can be used for both frying and baking, and believe it or not, they can also make your food taste better," says Ronald Smith, an RD based in Colorado. "Most of these oils are rich in essential vitamins and contain higher amounts of monounsaturated fats, which are a good source of protein."

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Like many processed foods, oil can be refined, chemically altered, or include additives to yield many varieties. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is extracted from olives by mechanical methods that do not change the oil. The golden-green oil retains more of the flavor, vitamins, minerals, phenolic compounds, and other natural chemicals found in olives.

"Olive oil is one of the best oil choices out there. Olive oil contains antioxidants, including vitamin E, which can help prevent heart disease and cancer, as well as fight inflammation within the body," says Liz Cook, RD.

"Olive oil should not be used above approximately 350 degrees, which is its smoke point. Smoke point is the temperature at which oils begin to break down and release compounds that can be detrimental to our health."

Smoke point: 325-350 F; use it for sautéing or to make sauces and dressings.

Avocado Oil

Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, and antioxidants. "Avocado oil is high in the 'good for you' type of fat (monounsaturated fats), which helps to promote meal satisfaction when incorporated into a balanced meal or snack with other foods. Avocado oil also contains a similar percentage of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as olive oil," says Rachel Fine, an RD and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition. "Oleic acid is the specific fatty acid that is predominant in avocado oil, which is thought to be responsible for cardiovascular benefits. Additionally, consuming avocado oil with a meal will enhance the absorption of other fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin K."

Smoke point: 520 F; use it for any type of high-heat cooking.

Almond Oil

Almond oil is packed with nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, and copper. According to a 2021 study, almond oil is a great source of antioxidants and has a myriad of nutritional benefits. It's been proven to improve heart health, maintain stable blood sugar levels, reduce oxidative stress, and promote neuroprotection, which safeguards the nervous system from injury and damage. Additionally, almond oil can improve skin damage (on account of its antioxidant content) when applied topically.

Smoke point: 420 F, use it for sautéing or roasting.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil has a deliciously distinct taste and smell, especially if you buy toasted sesame oil. Use this oil to add flavor to stir-fries, roasted vegetables, sauces, and dressings. "This oil not only contains heart-healthy fat but also protects against neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," shares Mehak Naeem, RDN at The Candida Diet. "A study conducted by Osaka City University showed that the chemical compound in sesame seeds decreases the production of dopamine that causes neuronal damage. This, in turn, can prevent neurodegenerative diseases."

And that's not all this flavorful cooking oil can do! "Sesame oil is a heart-healthy oil that contains antioxidants to improve overall health. Sesame oil is beneficial for helping to manage blood sugar, specifically in individuals with type 2 diabetes," Cook adds. "Sesame oil's smoke point is about 410 degrees, which makes it suitable for many cooking methods."

Smoke point: 410-450 F; use it for sautéing and roasting.

Safflower Oil

Though safflower oil is a bit of a controversial pick, this vegetable oil does have health benefits and can easily be used in moderation. "This oil is enriched with heart-healthy fats and also controls blood sugar levels," notes Naeem. "A study conducted by Ohio State University found that using safflower oil for 16 weeks can improve one's overall health status by increasing 'good' HDL cholesterol, improving insulin sensitivity, and reducing inflammatory markers."

Safflower oil is virtually tasteless and remains a liquid even when refrigerated. From a culinary standpoint, it is great to use in salad dressings and other cold preparations. It's also suitable for high-heat cooking due to its high smoke point.

Smoke point: 440-520 F; use it for cold preparations, as well as sautéing and roasting.

Flaxseed Oil

"Flaxseed oil is a good source of essential fatty acids for vegetarians. In people who have high cholesterol, diets that are high in omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (found in flaxseed oil) have been related to lower lipid profile and lower blood pressure," explains Smith. "Flaxseed oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats, must be kept refrigerated, as it is heat sensitive. It should not be used in cooking due to its low smoke point. It's crucial to remember that flaxseed oil spoils quickly, so store it in the back of the fridge in a dark container."

Smoke point: 200-225 F; use it to drizzle over dishes or in a salad dressing.

Walnut Oil

"Walnut oil is a fantastic finishing element to drizzle on completed foods," says Smith. "Because most walnut oil is offered raw or semi-refined, it contains greater naturally produced minerals and antioxidants." Some of these nutrients include unsaturated fatty acids and plant compounds known as polyphenols.

A 2013 study of 15 adults who were overweight or obese and had moderately high cholesterol levels showed that consuming walnut oil significantly improved blood vessel function. In turn, this can help lower blood pressure. There's also evidence to suggest that walnut oil reduces inflammation, aids blood sugar control, and can reduce the risk of developing certain cancers.

However, Smith notes that since walnut oil is typically sold raw or semi-refined, it can be tricky to cook with and isn't suitable for high-heat cooking. "Add walnut oil into pasta recipes and sprinkle over a salad or a squash-based soup as a finishing touch," Smith suggests.

Smoke point: 300-350 F; use it to drizzle over dishes or in a salad dressing.

Cooking Oils to Avoid

While certain cooking oils are packed with nutrients that do everything from combating inflammation to improving heart health, other oils can harm the body, especially if frequently used. "It's important to remember that not all cooking oils are created equal. Unfortunately, some oils cause harm to your health by increasing inflammation in your body," notes Carrie Gabriel MS, RDN. "You'll want to avoid vegetable oils in particular." Scroll down to find out which cooking oils you should consider replacing ASAP.

Canola Oil

"Canola oil is a highly debated cooking oil when it comes to health. Three points of contention surrounding canola oil include that it is largely produced from genetically modified crops, it requires a chemical called hexane for processing, and that it contains small amounts of trans fats," shares Cook. "From a dietitian's perspective, eliminating trans fats, even in small amounts, is beneficial to your health."

Cook adds: "While I wouldn't consider canola oil to be the worst thing you can consume if a healthier oil like olive, avocado, or sesame oil is available, I would always choose one of them instead."

Soybean Oil

Naeem, who also isn't a fan of canola oil, has similar thoughts about soybean oil. "Soybean oil should be avoided because it contains unstable fats that will destroy the nutritional value of your food," he shares. "It also has a very low smoke point, which means it can easily burn your food."

Palm Oil

"Palm oil is frequently used as a replacement for even more unhealthy (and now banned by the FDA) trans-fats. While palm oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), these are different from the MCTs studied for their health benefits, and the vast majority of fat in palm oil is the less healthy long-chain saturated fats that raise bad cholesterol," says Canada, who also advises against using coconut oil for the same reasons.

Coconut Oil

While some registered dietitians are fans of coconut oil, the majority of RDs we talked to advise against using it regularly. "I don't recommend oils that are solid at room temperature. Tropical oils, such as coconut oil, are included here," notes Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, associate clinical professor emeritus of the Department of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Coconut oil is over 90 percent saturated fat, and studies have found that it raised LDL cholesterol. It has more saturated fat than lard. Some chefs love it, but I discourage its use."

Sunflower Oil

"Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are generally unstable when heated—these oils shouldn't be used for frying. These are oils such as rapeseed (canola), corn oil, grapeseed, and sunflower oil," explains Ellie Busby, registered nutritionist and founder of Vojo Health. "Sunflower oil seems to be the worst to fry with and has higher levels of toxic compounds after frying compared to rapeseed oil."

Corn Oil

In addition to the "bad" vegetable oils mentioned above, Gabriel advises against using corn oil. "A lot of people think that these oils are made from real vegetables, but the truth is that they come from genetically modified plants and contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which may contribute to chronic inflammation and health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritis."

Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN, and the founder and owner of Mea Nutrition adds: "Most vegetable oils also undergo heavy processing at high heats, which destroy beneficial bioactive compounds and lead to structural changes that may promote free radical production in the body."

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