All The Healthiest Cooking Oils and How To Use Them

Kylie Arsenault
{Photo credit: Katie Minicuci}

Fats are necessary to sustain life as we know it.  Consuming healthy fats in oil form is arguably one of the best ways to get your fill.  Certain oils have more benefits than others, and some have more uses.  There's tons of wonderful things each of these oils will do for you; I could honestly write separate articles for each of the oils on this list.  The purpose of this article is to make you aware of the most present effects of consuming these oils, as well as ways to use them (and ways not to use them).  If your curiosity gets sparked by any of these words or phrases in bold, I encourage you to click on them to learn more!

Almond Oil

To kick off our list of all the healthiest cooking oils and how to use them, we are starting off strong with almond oil.  This multipurpose oil can be used for so many things.  The list of reasons why you might want to keep this oil in your pantry is pretty impressive.  For starters,  just one tablespoon will get you 26% of your RDI of vitamin E.  This powerful antioxidant is known to fight off free radicals that promote cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline.  It's worth noting that almond oil is good for your heart in other ways as well.  Consisting of 70% monounsaturated fats, levels of HDL (good) cholesterol have been observed to improve significantly by those who consume this oil regularly.  It was further uncovered that consuming almond oil regularly assists with long-term blood glucose control.  One more interesting effect this oil has upon ingestion is that it assists with weight loss!  Of course, chugging almond oil will not benefit your waistline (It's advised that you do not do this).  However, when consumed alongside your reduced caloric intake, it has been shown to lead to a decrease in abdominal fat.  This is due to the higher ratios of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as they increase satiety and promote weight loss.

Almond oil will make for a tasty addition to tossed salads, pastas, to make salad dressings, and in granolas.  Its smoke point of about 450°F also allows for its usage in baked goods, and can be used in place of vegetable or canola oil.  Almond oil also can be applied topically for glowing skin.  Its notable components of zinc and vitamin E make it great for sensitive skin, to treat irritation and dryness, for uneven skin texture, to reduce wrinkling due to aging, and to treat sun damages.  If you have a nut allergy, safflower oil is a good replacement.  Try making scrubs, lotions, lip gloss, bath oils, or to use it as a carrier oil for essential oils.

Avocado Oil

Avocados are one of the most trendy fruits out there, and some genius thought to extract its oil back in the 1940s due to the lack of fats and cooking oils during wartime.  This unusual fruit is known to benefit health in numerous ways, and its oil form is no different.  Including avocado oil in your diet will increase your healthy fats intake.  The word fat doesn't sound very appealing, but hear me out: 70% of avocado oil consists of a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid called oleic acid.  Oleic acid is known to aid against cardiovascular disease, lower the LDL (bad) to HDL (good) cholesterol ratio, and reduce blood pressure.  Aside from keeping your heart healthy, your vision will be protected from age-related eye diseases, like macular degeneration and cataracts,  due to the presence of lutein in this oil.  The magical vitamin B12 is also found in this oil; skin creams with this oil in it have been proven to improve symptoms of psoriasis as well as heal skin injuries.  Additionally, during metabolism, your cells release free radicals which are known to cause heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Avocado oil silences these free radicals by entrance of the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria.  Like I said before, the list of benefits goes on- but I'll leave that to you to find out firsthand (or by doing further reading).  

Now how does one use avocado oil?  Well, this oil in particular can take a lot of heat (up to 520°F).  It's great for grilling, frying, roasting, baking, searing, or sautéing.  If it's unrefined/virgin, it's also great for drizzling on top of gazpacho, salad, making homemade mayo, pesto, and even nutritious smoothies.

 Coconut Oil

milk, salt, coconut
Claire Waggoner

The ratio of saturated fats to unsaturated fats in this oil has magical effects on your health.  While it is generally advised to limit saturated fat intake to about 10% of your daily calorie consumption, a tablespoon of this plant-based oil will benefit you in crazy ways.  The fats in this oil are actually believed to make your body burn its stored fat; Thereby being believed to help reduce abdominal fat.  There are also MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) found in coconut oil, which your body uses as immediate energy.  MCTs are also really good brain food, and are being used to treat Alzheimer's as well as epilepsy.  Like other plant-based fats, coconut oil is great to help increase HDL production and reduce that of LDL (talk about a happy heart).  

As I'm sure you've heard, this fat is great for external use as wellFace washes, deodorants, lip moisturizers, makeup removers, stain removershair masks, cuticle rubs, and even toothpastes made with coconut oil soothe irritation, moisturize, and help fight bacteria.  This oil is pretty versatile in the kitchen as well.  Unrefined coconut oil is great for baking, sautéing, and making things like vegan chocolate, vegan mayonnaise, or salad dressings.  Refined coconut oils have markedly less benefits, but it can take higher heat for using as marinade when roasting and grilling foods.

Macadamia Oil

Unless you've got a tree-nut allergy, this oil is a great choice for multiple reasons.  Its high levels of monounsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks by lowering LDL cholesterol.  It also contains antioxidants and oleic acid, which combat oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body produced during metabolism.  Additionally, there's this thing called tocotrienol which is a type of vitamin E.  Tocotrienols are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and even anti-cancer properties.  On top of that, they vitamin E in this oil makes it great for moisturizing hair and skin.

Ways to utilize this oil in the kitchen include sautéing, baking, roasting, and grilling.  It can also be a great base for mayonnaisesalad dressings, or for marinades. Topically, it is also great for hair masks, shampoos, and conditioners.  As mentioned previously, the vitamin E in this oil is great for skin.  However, it could possibly worsen acne conditions if applied directly to the skin. 

Olive Oil

olive oil, herb, tea, oil, rosemary
Jessica Kelly

Pretty much everyone has a bottle of this in their pantry.  It brings decadence and flavor to so many different dishes.  Is it worth the hype?  Most definitely.  You've probably also noticed "virgin" and "extra-virgin" on certain bottles.  The more virgin it is, the more purely pressed olives it is.  So extra-virgin means absolutely no additives or chemicals included.  The same goes for any other oil with "virgin" on the label.  Now onto the reason you came here, the benefits.  The fat content is mainly monounsaturated fats, with a little bit of saturated and polyunsaturated fats.  One tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil contains 73% monounsaturated fats, 14% saturated fats, 13% vitamin E, and 7% vitamin K.  Olive oil is also highlighted by its antioxidant content.  These antioxidants provide a plethora of positive effects including the reduction of inflammation as well as LDL cholesterol, and cancer prevention.  This superfood is also known to fight cognitive impairment, thereby reducing the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease.  The heart also benefits greatly from this oil, as it fights off heart disease (the most common cause of death in the world).  It lowers blood pressure, reduces blood clotting, and improves the lining of your arteries.  One more thing worth mentioning is that it helps reduce the risk of obtaining type 2 diabetes, while also having no correlation with weight gain or obesity.  Consumption of fats is known to promote weight gain.  However, studies performed on the Mediterranean diet have uncovered that consumption of olive oil has virtually no effect on BMI.  In fact, those who choose to live by this lifestyle seem to have very healthy body weights

The smoking point of extra virgin olive oil allows for a multitude of different uses.  It is great for things like vinaigrettes and dressings, dips, and for low temperature roasting, sautéing, and baking.  Another creative use for this oil is to infuse it with your favorite herbs.  This flavorful twist makes for a great addition to popcorn, flatbreads, hummus, veggies, and other snacks.    

Safflower Oil

You might be wondering, what even is a safflower.  After a quick search, you'll find that a safflower plant looks very similar to a dandelion.  Not only that, but they also produce useful edible oils that are great for high temperatures when cooking.  Other reasons why you might be interesting in having a bottle of safflower oil in your pantry include its blood sugar regulating properties, its healthy ratio of "good" to "bad" fats, and its inflammation fighting properties.  It can also be beneficial from the topical aspect, as it is moisturizing for the skin.  People who consume this oil in moderation, regularly have reduced chances of type 2 diabetes, as well as lower levels of LDL cholesterol.

Before deciding what to do with your safflower oil, make sure you check to see whether it's monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.  The difference is important because the ladder has a lower smoking point, and is therefor not very good for cooking.  Monounsaturated safflower oil is great for frying, sautéing, roasting, baking, popping popcorn, you name it!  Polyunsaturated safflower oil is best to use for making mayonnaises, dressings, homemade dips, drizzled on top of hummus or gazpacho, or other raw recipes.  Additionally, safflower oil can be used as a carrier oil for aromatherapy scents.

Sesame Oil

Sesame seeds are the ace up cooking oil's sleeve.  This highly advantageous oil is extracted from pressed sesame seeds, and used for cosmetic, culinary, and even medical purposes.  There's been sufficient research done to prove that sesame oil helps to control blood sugar, especially in those afflicted with type two diabetes.  In this study, it was deduced that individuals with diabetes will see a reduction in their blood sugar levels.  Going deeper, the risks of heart disease are believed to decline with regular consumption of this monounsaturated fat.  In fact, the LDL cholesterol levels in those who consume sesame seed oil have seen a greater reduction than that of those who consume olive oil.  Similarly to the other oils mentioned previously, sesame oil contains antioxidants- namely sesamol and sesaminol.  These particular antioxidants have been closely studied to find that they significantly reduce inflammation, they reduce risks of cancers, and reduce cell damage caused by free radicals. 

There are many different uses for sesame oil, so keeping this on hand is a must.  Its nutty flavor makes amazing stir fries, noodles, salad dressings, and more.  Aside from the kitchen, sesame oil can be used in the bathroom;  It works great as a mouthwash!  Oil pulling, to be more precise, is a technique in which you swish oil around in your mouth, and rinse it out.  The oil pulls bacteria out, making it an effective treatment for cavity prevention, bad-breath reduction, as well as to reduce inflammation.  Additionally, your hair and scalp can benefit from sesame oil masks.  There are even studies proving that sesame oil can reduce balding, and even help reverse some of its effects!

Soybean Oil

Here we go, another oil that is loaded with benefits.  Before we dive in too deep, it's important to point out that there is one minor setback to this oil's nutritional content.  When consuming fats, you need to make sure you're not going to heavy on the omega-6s, as this may result in raising your blood pressure and even worse things down the road.  On the other hand, omega-3 is tremendously healthy for our bodies, and should be enjoyed at a higher ratio than that of omega-6.  So what does this mean for soybean oil consumption?  It is recommended to enjoy this particular oil in moderation, as it has many benefits- but it also happens to have a relatively higher omega-6 content.  The omega-3 that is found in this oil doesn't provide enough alpha-linolenic acid (also known as ALA, aids in cognitive functions) to actually benefit us much, so be sure to get your omega-3 from other sources.  The good things about this oil include its vitamin K content, its vitamin E content, and its higher concentration of polyunsaturated fats.  These all contribute to healthier bones and skin, as well as a healthier heart.  All in all, not so bad!

Its high smoking point of 428-450°F allows for many uses.  Soybean oil is more commonly used for baking, roasting, sautéing, frying, or even to make vegan mayonnaise.  You can also rub it on your hair or skin for a healthy shine, as well as an effective moisturizer.  

Walnut Oil

Everyone knows how healthy walnuts are, so it's safe to assume its liquid form is pretty great as well.  Let's fact check this theory with some evidence.  Remember the omega-3s we brought up earlier?  Well this oil is loaded with them; namely ALA, which is great for skin health, as well as to reduce inflammation, and to lower blood pressure.  Polyphenols work along side ALA to improve blood vessel functioning, thus working wonders for your vascular system.  Furthermore, the antioxidants in walnuts are believed to improve blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.  This helps prevent strokes, eye or kidney damages, and heart disease.  Additionally, LDL cholesterol seems to be reduced by regular consumption of walnut oil.  People with high levels of triglycerides in their blood are seen to have significantly lower levels when including walnut oil in their diets.  Lastly, walnuts contain melatonin which can help you relax, and even fight insomnia.   

This oil is better enjoyed at low temperatures, as its smoking point is very low.  Try using it in raw recipes to increase flavor profile, as well as nutritional content.  Some ideas include all sorts of different salad dressings and walnut emulsions, pestos, drizzling it onto protein packed lentil dishes, tossing it with flavorful veggies, or for leveling up your favorite granola recipes.  Some low heat recipes you might consider adding walnut oil to include pastas, roasted veggies, on top of sautéed potatoes, or even drizzled on top of soup.

The Other Oils...

At this point, you might be wondering why some popular oils didn't make the cut.  To wrap up this article about all the healthiest cooking oils and how to use them, we are going to go over a couple reasons why certain oils aren't the best option in the kitchen. 

-Canola oil: This genetically modified crossbred oil is likely to contain a variety of different chemicals.  This is a result of the production processes for genetically modified crops.  These chemicals may be harmful for certain people with underlying health conditions.

-Corn oil: This highly refined, genetically modified, pro-inflammatory oil should be avoided at all costs.  Its high smoking point makes it popular for frying, but there are plenty of other healthier fats to fry your tater-tots. 

-Cottonseed oil:  Ok, so this oil does have a plethora of benefits.  However, these benefits are also found more prominently in other oils mentioned earlier in this article.  Furthermore, this oil has a decent amount of unhealthy saturated fats.  It's best to just use olive oil or avocado oil.

- Grapeseed oil:  As of last January, the US had 10,043 wineries, and the US still leads the world in wine consumption today.  Grape seed oil is the byproduct of wine, so there's a ton of it in the world.  Due to the very high ratio of polyunsaturated fats, this oil is one of the worst oils you could use for cooking.  When these fats are heated, they form harmful compounds.  However, its high component of vitamin E makes it just fine to use topically. 

-Palm oil:  This oil is responsible for 8% of the worlds deforestation, effectively destroying the habitats of already endangered species.  There's even been news coverage that companies claiming to be sustainable in their production of palm oil fail to fulfill their promise of habitat conservation.  Palm oil also happens to make up 35% of vegetable oils, consequently making vegetable oil bad for the environment as well.  Find out how to eat more sustainably in this Spoon HQ article.  

-Peanut oil: This oil is commonly used for frying things because it can handle a lot of heat.  It does indeed have a few benefits like reducing risks of heart disease, but it also has a few potential risk factors.  Peanut oil causes oxidative stress, which in turn causes obesity, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.   Maybe it's wiser to stick to coconut oil or avocado oil.    

-Sunflower oil:  Like much of these other unhealthy oils, sunflower oil produces toxic components that cause oxidative stress.  These components are released when heated above 450°F.  Additionally, regular consumption of this oil may cause atherosclerosis in those with type 2 diabetes.

-Vegetable oil: While it may be a popular oil to have in the pantry due to its inexpensive cost, it doesn't make it the best option.  The name alone is sort of off putting- vegetable oil.  You might ask yourself, what vegetables?  It's a blend of generic and cheap oils, which are often genetically modified to some extent.  Additionally, being left in the dark as to what ratio of different oils are being used in the blend makes it difficult to know the amount of different fats present.  As mentioned previously, a large component of this oil is palm oil.  So think about swapping for coconut oil or avocado oil.  Endangered species, and your health, will thank you.