With so many cooking oils available on supermarket shelves, it can be tricky to make sense of the latest health headlines about dietary fat. In fact, many consumers are confused about which types of dietary fat experts encourage or discourage in order to promote heart health. However, the overall message seems to be to encourage healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) in the diet by replacing animal fats with vegetables fats. These fats are good for the heart as they decrease the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and fats in the blood, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
To help you select some of the healthiest oils while still pleasing your taste buds, here is a rundown of 9 cooking oils:
This is rich in monounsaturated fat (70%), and it has one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fat among cooking oils, second only to olive oil. Like olive oil, avocado oil is low in polyunsaturated fats (10%). When compared with other vegetable oils, avocado oil has a higher saturated fat content (20%), but this is a lot less than the percentage of saturated fats in lard, butter, or tropical oils such as palm or coconut oil.
Avocado oil is a fine oil to use, although it tends to more expensive and harder to find. It has a mild flavor that's similar to avocado, and it can withstand high cooking temperatures, making it suitable for grilling, sautéing, roasting, or in a salad dressing.
2. Canola Oil
This oil has a relatively high monounsaturated fat content (62%). However, despite this, canola oil still contains a considerable amount of polyunsaturated fat (32%). Furthermore, canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fat among other cooking oils. It’s also one of the few oils that contain a good plant-based source of omega-3 fats. A study carried out in 2013 found that when people use canola oil to replace saturated fat in their diets, it helped them to reduce their cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, which reduces a person’s risk of a heart attack.
Canola oil is a versatile and practical cooking oil that’s not very expensive and can be used in a wide variety of ways, from baking and grilling to stir-frying and making salad dressings.
3. Grapeseed Oil
This versatile cooking oil is extracted from grape seeds left over from wine-making. It’s considered to be a good all-purpose oil that can be used for sautéing and roasting, or in salad dressings. Grapeseed oil has a high percentage of polyunsaturated fat (71%), with a similar fatty acid profile to soybean oil.
According to a 2016 review of studies published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolic Insights, little is known about the effects of grapeseed oil on human health.
Made from the fruit of the coconut, this oil has been promoted as a better alternative to butter. Consumers seem to have bought into the hype that it’s among the healthier options when it comes to oils, and vegans, who eat no animal fat, may use it as a butter substitute (it’s a white solid at room temperature). However, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, so it’s recommended that it’s used sparingly. A study conducted in 2016 found that people who consumed coconut oil had higher LDL cholesterol levels than those who consumed unsaturated fats. Therefore, coconut oil might not be as healthy as everyone says it is.
5. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Pure Olive Oil
Due to its prominent role in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a very popular cooking oil. Extra-virgin oil is made from the first pressing of the olives. This results in an oil that has more flavor and a fruity aroma, and is less processed, meaning it’s considered to be “unrefined.” It’s also usually more expensive than other types of olive oil and contains the most antioxidants.
Olive oils have the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats among cooking oils. They're rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, beneficial plant compounds that improve heart health.
When it comes to cooking at high temperatures there are better choices, as extra-virgin olive oil cannot withstand very high heat before it starts to burn and smoke. Refined, or pure, olive oil may be more suited for high-temperature cooking.
Since extra-virgin olive oil offers more flavor than other types of olive oil, it’s a good option for sautéing vegetables, and preparing salad dressings and marinades.
6. Peanut Oil
Among cooking oils, peanut oil has the highest monounsaturated fat content (49%). It also has a relatively high percentage of polyunsaturated fat (33%). It’s percentage of saturated fat is higher than that of other vegetable oils, but not to the point that it has an effect on heart health.
A flavorful oil with a pale color and nutty aroma, peanut oil can withstand high temperatures, and is a good choice for cooking Asian-inspired meals and stir-fries.
Often used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, sesame oil is a good mixture of polyunsaturated fat (46%) and monounsaturated fat (40%). This oil is not often used as a cooking fat and is used more for its intense flavoring.
Sesame oil lends a nutty flavor to any dish, especially toasted sesame oil, which is darker and has a bolder flavor.
8. Sunflower Oil
Light in color and neutral in flavor, sunflower oil has one of the highest concentrations of polyunsaturated fat (69%) among cooking oils. It has some monounsaturated fat (20%) and is low in saturated fat (11%), making it an overall heart-healthy option.
Four studies have compared the heart-health effects of a diet rich in conventional sunflower oil, a polyunsaturated fat, with a diet rich in canola oil, which has more monounsaturated fat. The research concluded that sunflower oil and canola oil had similar effects: both reduced the levels of cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in the participants’ blood.
This oil is a good all-purpose oil because it can withstand high cooking temperatures.
9. Vegetable Oil
This oil is primarily a polyunsaturated oil (61%). As a bonus, it contains some omega-3 fats, which are heart-healthy fats often found in salmon and sardines, but are less common in plant-based sources of food.
Vegetable oil that is made from soybeans is a neutral-tasting oil that does not have much of a flavor. Nevertheless, it can be used for sautéing, frying, and making salad dressings.