The Top 5 Healthiest Cooking Oils
Drizzle your way through these delicious RD-approved bottles.
Take one look at the oil aisle in any grocery store and you’ll likely be paralyzed with indecision. Is there any food left that hasn’t been turned into a cooking oil? Olive oil always seems like a safe bet, but sometimes you need to change things up (or crank the heat). Avocado oil sounds healthy, but is it really? Coconut oil will cure my metabolic issues and do my taxes, right? And what even is a safflower?
If you’re like me, you frantically take your phone out and start googling. Nine-tabs-open deep and overwhelmed with uncertainty, you leave and promptly order pizza. Because you don’t need that drama in your life right now.
According to Marisa Silver, RD, finding a healthy cooking oil is actually pretty simple. “Experiment with different oils for a variety of health benefits and flavors,” she says. Start by buying a couple of bottles to give yourself options to choose from, then vary the brand and price point once you decide which flavors and uses you’re partial to. Also, when cooking at high temperatures—like roasting or grilling—use a cooking oil with a higher smoke point (indicated below). Those oils are more stable at higher temperatures and do not undergo oxidation as easily. “Oxidation occurs when oils react with oxygen and form free radicals and other harmful substances that you do not want to be eating,” Silver explains.
These are the best—and most healthy—oils Silver recommends you start cooking with.
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 alter the oil. The golden-green oil retains more of the flavor, vitamins, minerals, phenolic compounds, and other natural chemicals found in olives. “You can taste the nutrition—more processed, less healthy olive oils have less flavor and nutrients, and are typically lighter in color,” Silver explains. The chemical make-up of olive oil provides insight into its potential cardioprotective benefits, too. “It’s mainly composed of oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Monounsaturated fats can lower LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. Olive oil also contains multiple forms of antioxidants, which protect cells from destructive free radicals, also thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease.”
Smoke Point: 325-375°F; use it for sautéing or to make sauces and dressings.
Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, and antioxidants. According to Silver, studies have shown that this oil lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, raises HDL (good) cholesterol, and improves cardiovascular health. The high smoke point of avocado oil and neutral flavor make it a healthy all-purpose cooking oil.
Smoke Point: 520°F; use it for any type of high heat cooking.
Almond oil is packed with nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, and copper. “It contains antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties,” Silver says. “It has a similar effect on cholesterol as avocado oil and olive oil and is cardioprotective, too.”
Smoke Point: 420°F, sautéing to roasting
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. According to Silver, it’s high in antioxidants and known to decrease inflammation. “Sesame oil is also rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, and studies in people with type 2 diabetes show sesame oil may even help control blood sugar levels.” With a higher smoke point, it withstands higher cooking temperatures, too.
Smoke Point: 410-450°F; use it for sautéing and roasting.
When it comes to cooking at higher temperatures, coconut oil is a good choice. It's made up of more than 90 percent saturated fat, which make it more heat resistant. “That being said, the jury’s out on whether the saturated fat in coconut oil is beneficial or not,” explains Silver. “We know that lauric acid, a type of saturated fatty acid in coconut oil, raises both HDL (good) cholesterol levels and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. I’d recommend cooking with it in small amounts in the context of a healthy diet pattern.”
Smoke Point: 350-375°F (virgin coconut oil) and 400-450°F (refined coconut oil); use it for high-heat sautéing or roasting.