Cooking Oils

IMG_0358Are you bewildered when you go to the store and look at the large display of cooking oils? There are a wide variety of oils on the market and it can be confusing to know which ones are best for cooking and which are healthy for your heart.

First, remember that oil is a fat, and fat calories are still fat calories, no matter which type of oil you use. So use the least amount of fat possible to prepare your foods while still getting the greatest amount of taste and health benefits.

There are some important points to remember when cooking with oils.

1. Smoke Point:
The smoke point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. Oils have different smoke points, so some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures than others.

High Smoke Point Oils (best for searing and browning)

Note: also deep frying, but this method is unhealthy and not recommended.

Medium High Smoke Point Oils

(best for baking, oven cooking or stir-frying)

Medium Smoke Point Oils

(best for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking)

No-heat Oils

(best for making dressings, dips or marinades)

Almond Canola Corn Flaxseed
Avocado Grapeseed Hemp Wheat Germ
Hazelnut Macadamia nut Pumpkin seed Walnut
Palm Light virgin olive Sesame
Sunflower Peanut Soybean
Light olive/refined olive Virgin coconut

2. Which oils are healthiest?
All cooking oils are healthy because the fat in liquid vegetable oil is mostly unsaturated, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Using unsaturated fats in place of more saturated fats can help you lower your total cholesterol and your LDL’s. LDL’s are the so-called “bad cholesterol” because they tend to stick to the sides of your blood vessels.

Vegetable oils are trans fat-free. Trans fats are formed when food producers make a solid fat from a liquid vegetable oil. For example stick margarine is made from liquid vegetable oil and made solid by the food manufacturer through a process called “partial hydrogenation”. This is also how vegetable shortening is made. Many researchers believe that trans fats may be just as bad or even worse for us by clogging arteries!

3. Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3 fats are one of the polyunsaturated fats. Research suggests that Omega 3 fatty acids may lower your chances of getting heart disease, high blood pressure, and some cancers. They might also help with arthritis. We cannot make omega 3 fats in our bodies so we need to get them from our foods. Oils high in Omega 3 fats include: flaxseed, canola, soybean, and walnut.

4. Flavor
So which oils should you use in cooking? The taste of oils should play a role in your buying and cooking decisions. Olive oil is commonly used in salad dressings and for sautéing vegetables because of its distinctive flavor. It also makes an excellent alternative to butter – just put a little olive oil in a small dish and dip your bread. Canola and other vegetable oils have a blander flavor which makes them suitable for baking or any time you don’t want a strong flavor.

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist




Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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