Have you ever been at the grocery store and felt completely overwhelmed by all of the oil options available? Probably not, but that’s only because you didn’t know that there’s even a difference between cooking oils. Who would have guessed that some are better for cooking and that some are best used in dressing? We’re creatures of habit and tend to stick with what we’re used to. This can be detrimental to our health though! It’s helpful to know whether an oil is saturated or unsaturated as well as what each oil’s smoke point is.
Different types of fats are beneficial to your health and no, they do not automatically make you fat. Polyunsaturated fats can lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, and can help with brain function and growth. Monounsaturated fats can also help lower cholesterol, decrease risk of breast cancer, and reduce arthritis pain.
Oils all have smoke points, which is the temperature which the oil starts to burn and the chemical composition changes. Some oils can become dangerously unhealthy when heated too much and are better suited for cold uses like dipping and salad dressing.
Now that that information is out of the way, let’s talk oil. There are a lot out there. Like a lot. They all serve a purpose, but some serve more purposes and serve them better than others. Whether you’re a deep fryer or a salad eater, we’re here to help you find the perfect oil for your dietary needs. Bring out the oils!
This monounsaturated fat serves numerous purposes, from cooking to salad dressing to broiling and sautéing. It’s able to do this because it comes in multiple varieties, the two most common being extra virgin and virgin. Extra virgin olive oil is made without chemicals or heat. It’s the highest grade of olive oil. Its smoke point is 320 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it ideal for cooking as well as drizzling on bread or meat. Virgin olive oil is very similar, just slightly lower quality and therefor slightly more affordable. Olive oil is a good source of phytochemicals, which contain various minerals and nutrients that are good for your diet.
This is a saturated fat, but hold your horses before you get all up in arms over it. Unlike many “bad” saturated fats, coconut oil is composed of medium chain triglycerides, which are not digested by our bodies and are instead used for instant energy. It’s a healthier alternative to similar instant energy that comes from sugars and carbs. Coconut oil has a medium smoke point of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for cooking. However, because it is composed of saturated fats, it is more stable1 than other oils with a similar smoke point, which makes it more suitable for frying at a higher temperature.
No other oil can really measure up to the versatility and availability of these two oils, but coming in a somewhat close third is…
Canola oil is less popularly known as rapeseed oil. It comes from the canola seed, which is crushed and then the oil is extracted. Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat. It has a smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, making it an ideal choice for numerous forms of cooking, from baking to deep frying. Its neutral taste also makes it a good choice for salad dressing. High in omega-3 and omega-6, this oil can provide the body nutrients that it requires but cannot produce on its own. Canola oil has come under some scrutiny lately regarding its safety for consumption. As far as we can tell, all of the claims against canola oil2 are baseless, weakly based on old rumors and stories regarding its various uses. Though it is produced from genetically modified plants, there are organic and European-produced options available.
Sunflower oil is also a good option. Its fat content is purely unsaturated, both mono and polyunsaturated. It also contains a high amount of linoleic acid, a type of polyunsaturated fat. Linoleic acid can reduce risk of heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol, can improve insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure. It's also high in Vitamin E, which is a helpful antioxidant. Its smoke point is 320 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a good choice for medium temperature cooking but nothing higher.
Honorable mention goes to butter, as it has a medium smoke point and is good for cooking but best of all is ideal for baking. And where would the world be without a wide variety of baked goods?
With so many types of cooking oil out there, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t suit your needs. The oils listed here are the most versatile, plus you can find them at your local grocery store. Most oils will work well in a pinch, but now that you know what’s what, you’ll never find yourself in a pinch again.