Which Cooking Oil Is Healthiest?
Olive Oil, Coconut Oil or Avocado Oil: Which Is Best?
Step into the cooking oil section of any supermarket and you are bound to be confused. There are hundreds of different options, so how do you know which oil is the healthiest for you and your family?
Today, we’re going to break down three of the most popular oils discussed in the healthy cooking atmosphere—olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.
Is Oil Actually “Healthy”?
We get that a lot, and the answer is, it depends!
Not all cooking oils are created equal, and the operative word there is “created”. Quick science lesson: when cooking oil is extracted from its source using heat, which many commercially produced cooking oils are, it becomes rancid and discolored requiring it to be bleached and deodorized with chemicals that cause oxidative stress in the body. (We’re looking at you, canola oil.) That means many of those gleaming bottles of vegetable oil lining supermarket shelves aren’t telling the whole story.
This is where people get confused but fear not! We’re about to break it down with just a handful of tips.
First, when shopping for cooking oil, look for the phrases, “cold pressed” or “expeller pressed”. That way you know they were never damaged by heat, necessitating chemical correction.
Second, know the “smoke point” to avoid adulterating your healthy oils by cooking at high temperatures or higher temperatures than recommended. We’d hate to have you ruin the lovely oils recommended in tip one by rendering them unhealthy with high-heat cooking. Here’s a handy list of smoke point pointers from the world renowned Cleveland Clinic.
Third, avoid oils that are hydrogenated or contain trans fats. These oils contain free radicals and also cause the oxidative stress mentioned above, which can contribute to things like high blood pressure and stroke. No bueno.
Finally, no matter which healthy cooking oil you choose, use it wisely and with moderation. You’ve probably heard that good fat in your diet is important, and it is, especially when its nutrients remain intact. Yes, we said, nutrients! Depending on the oil, we’re talking vitamin E, K, and many other essential vitamins. Some cooking oils even have antibacterial properties or cholesterol-optimizing benefits, BUT don’t go overboard. Consider cooking oil as an ingredient for food prep or a flavor enhancer, then focus on getting many of your healthy fats, especially polyunsaturated fat, from whole food sources like nuts, seeds, or fish, as practitioners of the Mediterranean diet have for centuries with incredible results.
Alright, people, onto our faves!
Chances are, at least half of the cooking oil aisle in your local supermarket is made up of olive oils. Many cultures have understood the health benefits of olive oil for thousands of years, but in modern culture, it became the darling of the cooking world after a series of studies were published in the late-1990s and early-2000s showcasing the countries where it was a dietary staple and how the general populations of those countries, most following a Mediterranean diet, shared impressively good health. Edging out the reigning champ, canola oil, which is a good thing, because most canola oil is anything but healthy.
- What Does It Taste Like? The darker the color of the olive oil, the more pronounced the taste. It doesn’t usually taste like the olives in a martini, but high-quality olive oil can have a slightly brine-y flavor. Lighter olive oils are usually almost entirely neutral in flavor.
- What’s Good About It: Olive oil has long been lauded as a healthier cooking oil because of its antioxidant profile. Olive oil also is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acid. And if you suffer from diabetes, the oleic acid in olive oil has been shown to reduce insulin resistance. It’s also readily available and very affordable.
- What’s Not So Good About It: The Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid profile of olive oil sways to the unhealthy side of things. Olive oil also has a relatively low smoke point of around 350°F (depending on the grade of oil), so avoid using it in a screaming hot oven or to sear food.
- Recommended Use: The flavor of higher-quality extra virgin olive oil is excellent in uncooked applications like tossing vegetables, or in salad dressings.
Just a year ago, you’d have to hit up a health food store to find avocado oil, but now, you can grab it at most supermarkets and wholesale club stores. Avocado oil is a great option for all kinds of cooking and baking because of its mild flavor (just like avocado itself).
- What Does It Taste Like? Pretty much nothing! It’s a very mild-flavored cooking oil.
- What’s Good About It: Since it is so mild and has a very high smoke point of 500°, it’s a great option almost anywhere in the kitchen—try it in your baked goods or pizza crusts. Like olive oil, if you are going to replace not-so-healthy fats like trans fats, avocado oil is a good option because it’s rich in monounsaturated fats.
- What’s Not So Good About It: Just like with olive oil, avocado oil suffers an Omega-3 to Omega-6 imbalance, so you’re better off getting your healthy fats from more whole food sources.
- Recommended Use: It’s great any time you need a cooking oil for things like sautéing vegetables, or making eggs. It’s also amazing in homemade mayonnaise, because it politely allows the other ingredients to shine.
You can’t spend 10 seconds on the internet without someone talking about their love of coconut oil. People use it as a moisturizer for their skin, a hair treatment, and even to clean their teeth (talk to your dentist before you make any major changes to your dental routine). We’re going to focus on the cooking aspects of coconut oil here.
- What Does It Taste Like? Coconut. There’s no getting around it, coconut oil is very, well, coconutty. If you love coconut, you’re in for a treat. If you don’t like coconut, you might want to look elsewhere.
- What’s Good About It: It adds wonderful flavor. From a health standpoint, the benefits of coconut oil are fraught with controversy. One article will tell you to eat coconut oil by the spoonful. The next will tell you to never eat coconut oil again. We need more research to prove who is correct. Proponents of coconut oil say that it can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease (because of its anti-inflammatory properties), and help balance your hormones, which can also improve the condition of your skin, especially if you suffer from acne or other skin conditions like Eczema or Psoriasis. Studies have proven that coconut oil can even help boost your HDL or “good” cholesterol.
- What’s Not So Good About It: Many healthcare professionals point to the high saturated fat content (about 90%, compared to 63% for butter) as a reason to stay away from coconut oil in large amounts. Lovers of coconut oil say that it is a different kind of saturated fat that is actually beneficial for your body—and that the vast array of other benefits outweigh any negatives. Again, there haven’t been definitive studies to prove either way.
- Recommended Use: Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but easily melts at 76°F. Coconut oil can be used in place of almost any other fat or oil in baking or cooking. But, again, you WILL taste the coconut, so if you aren’t a big fan (or if it wouldn’t be appropriate for the dish), you may want to choose a less intensely flavored oil.