Trying to improve your health? Swapping out some of the the worst cooking oils from your diet is a great first step.
What you believe about cooking oil depends largely on who you talk to, which website or blog you visit, or what diet book you read. There are even social media memes dedicated to eliminating healthy oils or finding the best oils. The right oil can add flavor and texture to your meals and snacks, but it’s difficult to sort research-backed facts from fads and rumors. This guide will help you determine your healthiest options whether you’re baking cookies, cooking for your family, or simply stocking up for general use.
The debate over healthy and unhealthy oil often comes down to a discussion about saturated and unsaturated fat. By now, most people have moved beyond the low-fat hype that once dominated the diet industry. We’re now aware that the human body needs fat to thrive, but not all fats are equal. Understanding the difference between a couple simple terms will help you differentiate the “bad” from the “good.”
These fat types don’t just apply to cooking oil. Saturated fat is found in red meat and other foods while unsaturated fats are readily available in fish and many healthy plant foods. You can’t eliminate either of these fats from your diet entirely, but you can make healthier choices to limit your saturated fat intake. That’s why choosing the right cooking oil is so important.
If you see the words “partially hydrogenated” on the label of your oil, you can automatically consider it an unhealthy option. In general, saturated fats are solid at room temperature while unsaturated fats are liquid. Partially hydrogenated fats are semi-solid, and they’re molecularly different from the fats naturally found in animal products and plants. Some research has shown that foods containing partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats that can lead to heart disease, inflammation, and other health problems.
To give you a general idea of which oils should never grace your shopping list, consider this rundown of the unhealthiest worst cooking oils:
Some professionals would slip canola on this list as well while organizations like the American Heart Association continue to promote it as one of the healthiest oils. This is because non-organic canola oil is genetically modified, which you may know as a GMO. If you buy organic canola oil, it goes back to the list of a healthy oil that is good for your heart.
This is where you’ll find a lot of debate, depending on who you listen to. The American Heart Association is primarily focused on the healthiest oils for your heart, and they recommend using oils that meet a few criteria:
Eliminating tropical oils takes coconut oil out of the running, but many people now believe that coconut oil is incredibly healthy and has many benefits! The American Heart Association would eliminate this oil simply because it is high in saturated fat, but others say the far doesn’t hurt you…other things do! In fact, coconut oil has also been proven to lower cholesterol levels. The lauric acid it contains raises HDL cholesterol levels, which are essential for healthy cholesterol levels. (Learn more about the benefits of coconut oil here…) So we would say that makes places it on the healthy list!
If you listen to the research analyzed by Prevention, you should use a different set of criteria to determine the healthiest cooking oil:
Using these criteria, the healthiest cooking oils include olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil. Notice that there is some overlap with oils recommended by the American Heart Association. Olive oil would make it to the top of both lists and is generally considered one of the healthiest oils for cooking.
At this point, you should have some idea which oils offer the healthy fats that your body needs and which oils may clog your arteries or interfere effective weight management. Which oils you purchase will depend largely on what foods you enjoy cooking or baking. You may need to stock up on multiple oil types so that you always have what you need to make delicious foods that nourish your body. Of course, the first step is to eliminate unhealthy oils from your kitchen.