Healthy Cooking Oils Explained
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
What oil should you be cooking with? There are so many different options on the market that it can be confusing and misleading. A lot of this depends on what you are cooking and how you are cooking it, plus the desired taste, and the smoke point.
First of all, oils are fats that are either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are made of single bonds which is why they are more stable and resistant to heat while being less reactive. The less reactive an oil is, the less likely it is to oxidize and go rancid, or degrade the oil quality. This makes saturated fats best for high heat cooking because if oils are heated above their smoke point, the oil can do more harm than good to your body and your food by releasing free radicals and causing inflammation.
Unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are made of double bonds. Double bonds are more chemically reactive, so they have a range in stability and sensitivity to heat. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond and polyunsaturated fats have two or more, making monounsaturated fats the more stable option of unsaturated fats.
Essentially, your best options for cooking fats are saturated and monounsaturated fats - try to stay away from cooking with polyunsaturated fats. All healthy fats contain many essential vitamins and minerals, but it is important to be mindful of the sourcing of the fats you use, and how you are using them.
Avocado oil has a high smoke point for an unsaturated fat at 520F. The higher smoke point makes it the winner for high heat cooking like sautéing, frying, etc. Avocado oil tastes very light and fresh so I am also a fan of using it for marinades and dressings. This oil is high in Omega 9, and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties thanks to the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid. These fats make it great for heart health as well because Omega 9 has been proven to increase "good" (HDL) cholesterol and decrease "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. It is perfect for most types of cooking because of the high smoke point and versatile flavor.
EVOO, like Avocado Oil, is high in anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats that helps promote heart health, and contains polyphenol antioxidants. With a smoke point of 350F, EVOO is ideal for dressings, finishing oils, and low to medium heat cooking. EVOO differs from Refined Olive Oil though, which does not have as many health benefits, but has a smoke point of 425F. Refined olive oil has gone through processing, while EVOO is more pure, giving it a darker and more pigmented green color. I personally use olive oil the most for cooking anything savory!
Coconut Oil is a saturated fat containing medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are great for increased energy, as well as decreased cholesterol and blood sugar. The smoke point is 350F, so it can safely be used for sautéing or baking in the oven. Coconut oil is also perfect for cooking anything with natural sweetness to enhance the flavor of foods such as butternut squash or plantains. I love using coconut oil in baked goods recipes, it is also a good vegan butter alternative, and a great healthier and more flavorful way to grease pans for baking!
Ghee is a clarified butter that is processed to remove all dairy proteins and sugars. This lactose free butter alternative has a higher smoke point of 485F. It contains vitamins A, E, and K2. Ghee is of course known for its rich flavor, so it is best for traditional dishes where you prefer more of a butter taste, but be sure to look for a grass-fed variety!
What is your favorite oil to cook with? Are there any other oils you are curious about?