March 9

Assessing the Best and Worst Cooking Oils


by Julie Baker

There are many cooking oils, and it is hard to figure out which ones are best for your diet and cooking needs. With many people less concerned about a low-fat lifestyle than before, many oils are getting the A-Ok from nutritionists and physicians. How do you know what cooking oil is best and which to avoid?

When assessing cooking oils, you want to focus on two key points: the smoke point and the saturated fat content. Despite the growing popularity of the keto diet and its preference for butter and coconut oil — both high in saturated fat — the USDA still recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of daily calories.

Additionally, even healthy oils can become less so if exposed to higher temperatures than their specified smoke point. At the smoke point, the oil starts breaking down and burning, essentially losing its value.

With all of this in mind, which oils are best, and which should you avoid or be cautious about? There are at least six popular cooking oils on the market, four are good options, and two are questionable.

1. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is a staple in most kitchens, and for a good reason: it is one of the healthiest you can buy. The product is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, and while it doesn't have the highest smoke point, it does resist oxidation.

However, you do need to keep the smoke point in mind. EVOO should be used primarily for stewing and roasting. When you need an oil for pan-frying or high-heat cooking, you will want to look to other oils on this list.

2. Avocado Oil

Like EVOO, avocado oil contains antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has more of a flavor profile that will slightly affect the taste of food, but not much. Additionally, the cooking oil contains vitamin E.

As avocado oil is higher in monounsaturated fats and other healthy unsaturated fats than EVOO, it has a higher smoke point. Therefore, avocado oil is best for high-heat cooking like searing, stir-frying, and sauteing.

3. Olive Oil

Regular olive oil, which might be labeled refined or light olive oil, is a healthy option despite the "refined" label. Most people see the term refined as a drawback or a negative, but it is a benefit with olive oil. 

The refining process inevitably strips away some antioxidants, but it also increases the smoke point. With a high smoke point, regular olive oil can handle high-heat cooking.

4. Hazelnut Oil

Hazelnut oil has a strong aroma and will influence the flavor of foods. Therefore, you will not want to use it for cooking meat and potatoes, but it can be great for making winter vegetables.

Like avocado oil, hazelnut oil is high in monounsaturated fats and contains vitamin E. Because of its composition, the oil has a high smoke point, allowing it to withstand high oven temperatures.

5. Vegetable Oils

While you might be tempted to buy vegetable oil, be cautious. When a bottle is labeled "vegetable oil," the blend is a mystery, so you never know what you are buying. 

Additionally, many of these hodge-podge oils have a lower smoke point, which burns at lower temperatures. When these oils burn, they can release carcinogens, potentially leading to long-term health issues.

6. Coconut Oil

Despite the growing praise for coconut oil, it is high in saturated fat. While it does have a high smoke point and a sweet flavor, you do not want to use it too often.

What cooking oils do you prefer, and for what dishes?


Cooking, Health, Oil

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