There are dozens of oils on the market these days – from coconut and avocado oil, through to olive oil and vegetable oil. But have you ever wondered which is the right cooking oil to use?
As with anything to do with health, the answer is often ‘it depends’. The right oil for you may depend on your health goals, any dietary restrictions you may have, and your taste preferences.
So let’s take a look at some of your options for healthy cooking oils and which oils it’s best not to cook with.
Which oils are the healthiest to cook with?
When it comes to healthy cooking oils, there are a couple of factors we want to consider:
1) The smoke point – the temperature at which an oil starts to burn. This is also when beneficial nutrients and antioxidants are destroyed, and when delicate fatty acids can form harmful compounds
2) Resistance to oxidisation – when an oil reacts with oxygen, it can form a variety of harmful compounds. This reaction can occur at room temperature, but the process speeds up if the oil is at a high temperature. Therefore, we want to choose cooking oils that have oxidisation-resistance properties such as high antioxidant content or low polyunsaturated fat content.
3) Health Benefits – along with how it holds up in high heats, we also want to opt for oils that have research supporting their health benefits.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few healthy oil options to consider.
The darling of the healthy-oil world has to be olive oil.
Until recently, there was advice going around to avoid cooking with olive oil. But a further look into the research has uncovered that olive oil is a good cooking option.
Olive oil has a moderately high smoke point, higher than what was previously thought. The exact temperature does depend on the type of oil (light, virgin or extra virgin), but it’s estimated to be between 190-207 degrees Celcius.
This makes olive oil a good choice for most cooking methods, including pan-frying.
However, it may not be suitable for deep frying at a higher temperature.
Olive oil is also rich in heat-stable monounsaturated fats and is a great source of antioxidants. This makes it more resistant to oxidisation.
What about the health benefits? Just some of them include:
Anti-inflammatory properties – both the antioxidants and the fatty acids in olive oil have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. This means it could be beneficial for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and heart disease.
Protective against Alzheimer’s – studies suggest that a compound in olive oil may help to remove the plaques that build up in the brain with Alzheimer’s. Research has also found that extra-virgin olive oil supports brain function and reduces the formation of plaques. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to incorporate into the diet!
Enhance absorption of nutrients– some nutrients require fat for maximum absorption. One example of this is carotenoid antioxidants. One study found that adding avocado oil to a saladwith carotenoid-rich vegetables significantly increased the absorption of the antioxidants.
By combining avocado with other antioxidant-rich plant foods, you may be able to boost your antioxidant absorption!
Oils to avoid when cooking
There are some oils that you want to avoid when cooking.
This can be due to their low smoke point or high risk of oxidisation.
Unfortunately, ‘vegetable oil’ can be made up of a variety of different vegetable-based oils. Unless it is clearly stated on the label, you may never know what the exact ingredients and ratios are.
Although vegetable oils are refined and therefore have a higher smoke point, they are high in polyunsaturated fat, particularly omega-6. This makes them unsuitable for cooking, as the oil can easily become oxidised and rancid.
The high omega-6 content can also be a problem when it comes to inflammation. If you’re looking to manage inflammation of any kind, opt for oils that don’t contain a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids instead.
Black Seed Oil
Black seed oil is extracted from seeds of the Nigella Sativa plant. It has been used as far back as the ancient Pharos of Egypt to support good health due to its unique profile of essential oils.
It is commonly used today for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to help with joint pain and auto-immune related symptoms.
The medicinal properties of black seed oil have been the focus of over 600 peer-reviewed studies. The health benefits are believed to from a chemical compound within the seeds oil called Thymoquinone.
Thymoquinone is a delicate essential oil that is damaged with heat exposure. The oil also contains Omega 3, 6 and 9 which make black seed oil a nutritional powerhouse, but unfortunately NOT suitable for cooking.
The oil can be added to hot drinks or added to soups but it should not be cooked with as the temperatures are a lot higher. A lot of people also take a teaspoon before their meal which saves the risk of any heat damage.
Flaxseed & Hemp oil
Although both flaxseed and hemp oil have plenty to offer in terms of health benefits, they are not to be used in cooking. They have a low smoke point and oxidises easily thanks to the delicate omega-3 fatty acids.
If you want to incorporate either oil, add it into smoothies, mix it into a dip or drizzle over salad.
There are several good options when it comes to choosing a healthy cooking oil. It also depends on the taste of what you're cooking.
As great as coconut oil is it can sometimes leave an undesired coconut taste that doesn't go with some meals.