Using oil in your meals not only helps with the cooking of your food, but adds flavour, mouthfeel, improves satiety and can even increase the nutritional value of your meal by providing your body with healthy fats, vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols and aiding the absorption of fat soluble vitamins!
But with endless options at the supermarket, it can be difficult to know which oil is best.
To help you choose a healthy cooking oil, we will first look at 4 points to consider when choosing an oil and then the pros, cons and uses of common cooking oils.
4 Points To Consider When Choosing An Oil:
- What are you using the oil for? Are you frying, baking, roasting, or making a salad dressing? Each oil has a different composition, heat stability, and flavour, which means they have different purposes in the kitchen. Some oils are best for cold dishes and dressings, while others should be used in cooking.
- Smoke point. Smoke point is the point at which an oil begins to smoke, which can reduce the nutritional value and flavour in the oil. All oils have a different smoke point, which is influenced by the quality of the oil and the free fatty acid content. As a general rule, oils with a higher smoke point are best for cooking, while oils with a low smoke point are best used in salads or dressings.
- Fat composition. All oils have a different composition of saturated and unsaturated (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats). Unsaturated fats have beneficial effects on our health and protect against heart disease by raising our HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, while saturated fats have adverse effects on our health by raising our LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. It’s therefore recommended we mostly consume oils containing a higher proportion of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (usually plant-based oils), while minimising our intake of oils containing a higher proportion of saturated fats (such as coconut oil).
- Flavour. All oils differ in flavour, so it’s important to consider which oil will complement the flavours in your meal.
Common Cooking Oils – Pros, Cons and Uses:
Extra virgin olive oil:
Pros: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is known as the ‘gold standard’ of oils due to its nutritional profile and practicality. EVOO contains a high proportion of unsaturated fats (particularly monounsaturated) and has a low saturated fat content, making it beneficial for heart health. EVOO also contains polyphenols, which act as antioxidants to protect against cell damage. It’s also a better source of other nutrients, such as vitamin E, than regular olive oil due to minimal processing.
Cons: Good quality extra virgin olive oil may be more expensive than regular olive oil or other oil types.
Uses: EVOO is an excellent all-round oil that can be used in most household situations. It has a smoke point of approximately 200°C, making it a safe choice for shallow frying, baking, and roasting. It also tastes delicious in cool dishes, such as salads and dressings.
Pros: Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, making it a great ingredient in raw slices and cakes to improve the texture.
Cons: Approximately 95% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, which raises our LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, therefore negatively affecting our health. While the perceived benefits of certain medium-chain fatty acids present in coconut oil has resulted in its increasing popularity, unfortunately such claims lack sufficient supporting evidence.
Uses: Due to a smoke point of approximately 200°C, (refined) coconut oil is safe for heating and cooking purposes, however due to the high saturated fat content should be minimised. Can be used in raw baking to improve the texture.
Pros: Avocado oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, making it a beneficial choice for heart health. Like olive oil, avocado oil has a high concentration of polyphenols, giving it high antioxidant abilities.
Cons: Avocado oil is often more expensive than other oils and tends to lack in flavour.
Uses: Due to its high smoke point (approximately 270°C), avocado oil is an excellent choice for cooking methods, such as frying, baking, and roasting.
Pros: Flaxseed oil is another excellent source of unsaturated fats. Approximately 80% of the fat in flaxseed oil is polyunsaturated fat, of which there is a high omega-3 content. Omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous benefits, particularly to brain, eye, heart, and skin health.
Cons: Flaxseed oil is heat sensitive, with a low smoke point (approximately 107°C), and therefore should not be heated or used for cooking.
Uses: Salads, dressings, dips, and other cold dishes.
Hemp seed oil:
Pros: Hemp seed oil is an excellent source of polyunsaturated fats and has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3:1, which has been shown as a beneficial ratio for health. Hemp seed oil also contains high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid with strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Cons: Hemp seed oil is another oil that has a higher price point.
Uses: Hemp seed oil has a moderate smoke point (approximately 165°C), meaning it can be used in cooking at moderate temperatures. However, it is best used in cold dishes, such as salads, in addition to sauces, dressings, and dips.
Pros: Walnut oil is predominantly polyunsaturated fats and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, walnut oil is a good source of polyphenols, particularly ellagitannins, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cons: Walnut oil has a high price point and may develop a bitter taste when cooked.
Uses: Walnut oil has a moderate smoke point of approximately 160°C and it can therefore be used when cooking at low to moderate temperatures. However, it would make a great addition to salads, drizzled over bread, or drizzled over vegetables.
Rice bran oil:
Pros: Rice bran oil predominantly consists of unsaturated fats (a mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), which is beneficial to our health. It also has a high smoke point (approximately 230°C), which makes it an excellent choice for higher-temperature cooking methods. It’s also relatively affordable, compared with other cooking oils.
Cons: Although rice bran oil is predominantly unsaturated fats, it does have a higher saturated fat content than most of the oils mentioned thus far (approximately 24%).
Uses: Rice bran oil is best used in cooking, including frying and roasting, however can also be used in dressings and other cold dishes. Its subtle flavour makes it an incredibly versatile oil.
Grape seed oil:
Pros: Grape seed oil contains a large proportion of polyunsaturated fat (approximately 70%) and is packed with vitamin E.
Cons: While grape seed oil is high in polyunsaturated fat, the majority of this consists of omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6 fatty acids are required in the diet, an imbalance between the level of omega-6 and omega-3 consumed (specifically, excess omega-6 consumption) may cause adverse health effects, including a pro-inflammatory response.
Uses: Grape seed oil has a fairly neutral flavour and a high smoke point (approximately 215°C), making it an excellent choice for all cooking methods.
Pros: Peanut oil is predominantly polyunsaturated fats and an excellent sources of vitamin E, with one serve providing approximately 20% of the recommended daily vitamin E intake. It’s also relatively affordable compared with other oils.
Cons: Peanut oil has a high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids, compared with omega-3 fatty acids, which as mentioned, can lead to adverse health effects if a balance is not achieved in the context of an overall diet.
Uses: Peanut oil has a subtle nutty taste and is a great addition to Asian Style dishes. Due to its high smoke point (approximately 230°C), peanut oil can be used safely for most cooking methods.
Pros: Sesame oil is predominantly unsaturated fats, with an even mix of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. It also has a high smoke point (approximately 230°C), which makes it an excellent choice for higher-temperature cooking methods.
Cons: Compared to some other oils (such as EVOO), sesame oil contains a smaller proportion of additional nutrients.
Uses: Due to its high smoke point, sesame oil can be used for cooking or cold dishes. It’s delicious in Asian-style meals, as well as salad dressings.
So which oil is best?
While the best oil depends on what you’re using it for and your taste preferences, if you’re looking for an all-rounder, look no further than extra virgin olive oil. It’s minimally processed, which allows it to retain maximum antioxidants and other nutrients; has a beneficial fat composition; and can be safely used in most cooking methods.
This blog was was written with student Nutritionist Caitlin McKenzie from the Nourish Naturally team.