What’s the Healthiest Cooking Oil?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
by Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
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What’s the Healthiest Cooking Oil?

As it turns out, this is a trick question! No two cooking oils are created equal — each one has their own nutritional advantages and best uses in cooking. For this reason, it’s beneficial to not just have one but several oils in your pantry. The key is in knowing when to use which one!

Extra virgin olive and nut and seed oils (such as walnut, hazelnut, flaxseed and sesame) have vivid and unique flavor profiles that can add interest to salad dressings and dips. They’re also great for drizzling over finished dishes. Unfortunately they’re not ideal for cooking. Heating these oils can break down the volatile compounds that give them their characteristic aroma and flavor. It also destroys delicate phenols, flavonoids and other antioxidant compounds. You’ll get the most flavor and nutrition by reserving these oils for off-heat uses.

Storage tip: Olive and avocado oils can be stored at room temperature, but nut and seed oils are best kept in the fridge.

For sautéing, roasting and stir-frying, you want oils that have a high smoke point — for obvious reasons! But smoke point is only one consideration. You also want to choose oils that are low in polyunsaturated fats because heating these fats to high temperatures creates harmful compounds called 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal or HNEs.

Unlike smoke, which you can see and smell, HNEs are invisible and tasteless. Nonetheless, they can damage cells, cause inflammation and may contribute to the risk of cancer and other diseases. Ironically, many of the oils that you’ll see recommended for high-heat cooking (think: corn, soybean, peanut oils) because of their high smoke points are quite high in polyunsaturated fats and therefore more likely to form HNEs when heated.

The Verdict

The best choices for high heat sautéing and frying are oils that have a high smoke point but are low in polyunsaturated fats. These would include filtered or “light” olive oil — which is mostly monounsaturated fat — along with clarified butter (ghee), refined coconut and palm oil, which are rich in saturated fats.

Although we tend to think of “refined” as a bad thing, refining an oil simply means filtering out natural plant compounds present in unrefined oils. Although the phytocompounds in extra-virgin oils add flavor and nutritional benefits, they also lower the smoke point. That’s why refined oils are sometimes labeled as being for high heat.

What oil do you use for high heat cooking? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN
Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, is a licensed nutritionist and creator of the top-rated Nutrition Diva Podcast. Find more nutrition and diet tips and recipes at NutritionOverEasy.com, or connect on Facebook or Twitter.

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16 responses to “What’s the Healthiest Cooking Oil?”

  1. Avatar Julie Martino Berlin says:

    Thoughts on grapeseed oil?

  2. Avatar Brittany says:

    You’re not correct. Coconut oil, butter and palm oil are all unhealthy fats. The oil that is actually the best o use for high heat cooking is naturally refined avocado oil. Don’t use virgin oil, you’re better with the regular, for high heat cooking. We need consider not only smoke point and mono/polyunsaturated fats but what types of fat are healthiest. All the ones you recommended at the end, aside from olive oil, are very high in saturated fat. This may not be an issue if you only use then the odd time and dont eat processed food often, but many people are eating too much. I’m not pulling this information out of nowhere, my mother worked as a registered dietitian for 35+ years ad i definitely trust a registered dietitian over a nutritionist as a dietitian requires a lot more education and an actual degree. A nutritionist means you have a certificate at best.

    • Avatar Shaun says:

      What is your definition of an “unhealthy fat”?

      • Avatar Brittany says:

        Although saturated fat has been found to not be as detrimental as we once thought, it is still not ideal and intake should be limited. It’s not as bad as trans fats or hydrogenated oils but it’s not as good as monounsaturated oils. Especially if you eat processed foods, which tend to contain saturated fat, you really should not be reaching for saturated fat first. Also, a registered dietitian requires a university degree, a nutritionist does not. For instance, when sick kids in hospitals need to put on weight quickly and get lots of nutrients in, registered dietitians are whom they consult, not nutritionists. It doesn’t not require the same amount of education or science. There are many misnomers in nutrition and unfortunately, nutritionists dot actually need a license to do their thing whereas a registered dietitian does, similar to a doctor.

    • Avatar Sarah says:

      Nutritionists also have degrees? It isn’t the best to suggest that they aren’t aware of what they are claiming.

    • Avatar Rob says:

      Not to be harsh, but you should at least look at the writer’s background before ripping them as undereducated and lacking qualifications…

      I don’t know her and have never met or seen her, but on Monica’s site:
      Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition
      Licensed nutritionist (Maryland)
      Board Certified Nutrition Specialist
      Culinary Training: L’Academie de Cuisine
      Professional Affiliations: American Dietetic Association, American College of Nutrition, International Association of Culinary Professional, Association of Health Care Journalists

      She’s written 6 books and appears on numerous media outlets. So, she’s not correct but your mom is a dietician. I’m not a doctor, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.

      • Avatar Brittany says:

        Dietitians also do a residency/internship type thing in hospitals when they start out. This is not required for nutritionists. Anyone can write a book, there’s plenty out there that don’t quite have their facts straight.

  3. Avatar Lisa says:

    Having a degree doesn’t mean that you necessarily know more. Also, some of us Nutritional Therapists do have degrees. What I would ask for is a source reference to the information you provide. Every claim should be backed by scientific evidence. There has been a lot more research on fats in general and even though coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is not bad. It has to be said that there are different types of coconut oil also. I’m sure it is a very complex subject which has grey areas.

  4. Avatar Emt says:

    I guess you call it canola oil in English? Or rapeseed oil? I’m not sure. The plant has a small yellow flower and the oil is produced from the seeds. Except we produce it from some modified version of the plant (I think the scientific name is Brassica Rapa L.?) that apparently produces a better cooking oil. It can be heated up really high without causing any harmful compounds to form, or so the nutritionists here will tell you.

    Like other people have said, this article/blog entry has some bad information. Coconut oil, for example, isn’t a healthy option.

    • Avatar Boy Carrying a Wine Bottle says:

      Rapeseed oil came up to my mind too. It’s said to be a good choice for sautéing. Brittany claimed the opposite though.

      disq*us/p/1chalvm

  5. Avatar collaroygal says:

    Avocado oil has a much higher flash point than olive oil. Also coconut oil has a lot of healthy benefits and is a good fat.

    All seed oils are polyunsaturated and should be avoided.

  6. Avatar Bet Rob says:

    Nice to find an MFP article where the author understands the science that saturated fats aren’t harmful, and polyunsaturated ones can be when overheated.

  7. Avatar Diana says:

    Safflower oil is also ideal for cooking at high temperatures.

  8. Avatar Lisa says:

    I’ve been told that brassica/rape seed oil is also very good for cooking as it has a high smoking point. It’s used in Sweden a lot but isn’t as popular or easy to find in the US. I have to buy it imported.

  9. Avatar Stump says:

    Coconut oil for all cooking

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