And sometimes, the choice is that clear cut. We know that trans fats are bad and should be avoided. Period.
For better or worse, though, when it comes to cooking oils, it’s not always so straight forward.
That’s why we wanted to look at cooking oils and clear up some confusion.
Testing Conventional Wisdom
For decades, conventional wisdom has gone something like this –
- Trans fats are bad for you
- Saturated fats are bad for you
- Polyunsaturated fats are good for you
- Monounsaturated fats are good for you
Turns out, of those four statements, only one of them is as definitive as conventional wisdom would have you believe.
As we’ve already mentioned, trans fats are bad. They’re so bad, in fact, that added trans fats have been banned from foods.
Companies have until 2018 to remove any added trans fats from products. Obviously, the naturally occurring trans fats in meat and dairy are exempt from the ban, but ALL added trans fats are being removed from processed foods.
Although saturated fats have been demonized for years, that reaction may be completely unfounded. Instead of thinking about saturated fats as being bad for your health, think about them being neutral.
That’s right, so long as you don’t actively have heart, blood pressure, or cholesterol problems, saturated fats don’t have to be avoided. There’s even at least one saturated fat that’s good for you – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s talk about polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats before we get into any specific healthy cooking oil examples.
While in general both are healthy choices when it comes to cooking oils, to say flat out they’re all always healthy cooking oils is a blanket statement that just doesn’t hold up.
Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can be high in omega-6 fatty acids. Your body needs omega-6 fatty acids – they’ve been linked to reduced risk of heart disease - just not in the amounts most people get them.
It’s important to maintain a healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats. If you’re skimping on the omega-3s and overdoing it on the omega-6s, those healthy cooking oils become not-so-healthy cooking oils.
All of that information is important – but it’s also still a little vague. You want to know which cooking oils are healthy and will fit into your lifestyle.
So let’s look at five specific healthy cooking oils.
Avocado Oil – You’re probably familiar with the health benefits of avocados, but you might not have thought about using avocado oil for cooking. It is, however, one of the best healthy cooking oils around. It helps with cholesterol and blood pressure levels, but it also helps your body absorb the nutrients it needs from other sources. The mild flavor means you can cook with avocado oil without detracting from the taste of your food. And is high smoke point makes it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. Try it in your next stir fry.
Coconut oil – Remember earlier, we said there was a saturated fat that was good for you? The wait is over: it’s coconut oil. Even though coconut oil is 92% saturated fat, it’s still a healthy cooking oil because of its other benefits! Rather than making you sick and fat, coconut oil has been shown to improve cholesterol, kill bacteria, and even speed up metabolism rates. Plus, you feel fuller, longer, when you eat food cooked in coconut oil. The key is to use virgin coconut oil, so you know exactly what you’re getting.
Grapeseed oil – Another healthy cooking oil that stands up to high heat, grapeseed oil can be especially useful in grilling or roasting. Buy domestic for a mild, neutral flavor, or imported for a grape-ier, fruity flavor. Since grapeseed oil is high in omega-6s, though, use it sparingly and in balance with plenty of omega-3s!
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) – If you’re only going to use one healthy cooking oil, make it olive oil. It’s considered one of the cornerstones of a healthy diet, and for good reason. EVOO is packed with antioxidants AND flavor. But more importantly than that, it’s been shown to provide numerous health benefits. Olive oil lowers bad cholesterol, while raising good cholesterol, so you get the best of both worlds. In fact, EVOO has been shown to support and improve the markers of overall health across the board. Finally, it’s a nice balance of saturated, poly-and mono-unsaturated fats.
Canola oil – We saved this one for last because it’s even more controversial than coconut oil. For years, canola oil was touted as the healthy cooking oil to choose. And maybe it was an okay choice in the days before GMO crops. But things have changed – and we’ve learned a thing or two about canola oil. 90% of all canola oil processed in the United States and Canada comes from GMO crops. That means exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and the illnesses and health problems that come with them. But we’ve also learned more about how canola oil is expressed, as well as where it comes from. The processing itself requires toxic chemicals in order to end up with canola oil. Officially, there are no toxins left in the oil after the process is complete – but it would only take a trace to cause real problems. So why is canola on this list at all? Because pure, organic, cold-pressed canola oil is a healthy cooking oil. Organically grown crops result in organic canola oil. And cold-pressing doesn’t require toxic chemicals. But you can’t just grab any old canola oil off the shelves and get the healthy cooking oil you want. Make sure your canola oil is labelled “organic” and “cold-pressed” or “cold expressed”. Otherwise, choose another oil entirely.
Don’t get overwhelmed by all this new information. Yes, choosing a healthy cooking oil used to be simple. Guess what? It still is!
Researchers simply have more information than they used to, and it’s our job to pass it along to you. So choose any of these five healthy cooking oils and let your oil help boost your health!