5 Healthier Oils To Keep On Hand

by Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Last Updated: September 29, 2020

Considering the competing information out there about the “best” oil around, we thought it would be helpful to provide a breakdown of commonly used oils, tips on how to use them, and the health benefits they offer. As you use oils in your cooking, whether it’s to sauté your favorite vegetables or marinate juicy chicken thighs, aim for oils with healthier fats to help protect your heart and provide a nutritional boost to your meal.
  1. Olive oil
    If you’ve ever wondered why some olive oils read “extra virgin” versus others that simply say “olive oil,” you’re not alone. An “extra virgin” label simply means it’s made from pure, cold pressed olives, and therefore has the most olive flavor and is the most unrefined. One hundred percent olive oil is a blend that includes both cold-pressed olive oil and refined olive oils, which yields a minimal olive taste. Most nutrition experts agree that olive oil is one of the most versatile and healthy oils out there, as it is high in monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been linked to better overall heart health. This oil is also rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that may have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Before you pick an olive oil to use, consider what your recipe needs. If you are looking to enjoy the taste of olive in the oil, choose an extra virgin olive oil. If you are sautéing over medium high or high heat, you will want to choose 100% olive oil, as it has a higher smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke, becomes ineffective, and may start to break down. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point than others making it a tasty choice when sautéing or searing at low to medium heat or when making dressings.
  2. Canola oil
    Some may be surprised that canola oil made it on our list, but it is one of the most nutritious options. Most people associate canola oil with fried foods due to its high smoke point (400° F), however, on its own it packs a punch of nutrition. Much like other healthy oils, canola oil is low in saturated fat. Saturated fats can increase “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and decrease “good” cholesterol (HDL), therefore putting individuals at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Canola oil has a neutral taste that doesn’t provide much depth in the flavor department, so it’s best to avoid it when sautéing foods and creating dressings. We recommend using canola oil when roasting, baking, or frying food (in moderation of course).
  3. Avocado oil
    This trendy oil is a hot topic of conversation due to its higher smoke point, neutral flavor, and high nutritional value. Like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil is unrefined. It offers plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids that are important to keeping “bad” LDL cholesterol low and helping to improve “good” HDL cholesterol levels, which supports heart health. You can use this oil as a marinade, when baking, or when crafting homemade mayonnaise. Avocado oil does have a higher price point compared to other oils, but a little goes a long way.
  4. Sunflower oil
    Made from sunflower seeds, this oil is light in taste and appearance. It’s high in vitamin E – one tablespoon of sunflower oil provides 28% of an individual’s daily recommended intake of the nutrient. It has a high smoke point, which is favorable when stir-frying. Sunflower oil has a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and is low in saturated fat compared to some other oils.
  5. Safflower oil
    A suitable alternative to vegetable and canola oil, safflower oil has a high smoke point as well. In fact, at 510° F, this has the highest smoke point of all the oils listed above. There are two varieties of safflower oil: high-oleic and high-linoleic. High-oleic safflower oil contains more monounsaturated fats and is best used when cooking at high temperatures. High-linoleic safflower oil has more polyunsaturated fats and is good for crafting unheated foods like vinaigrettes.

In general, choose oils with less than 3 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and no partially hydrogenated oils or trans fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends using these oils as a replacement to solid fats, like butter, shortening, and hard stick margarine, and tropical oils, like palm oil or coconut oil, that contain higher amounts of saturated fat. Remember to always store your oils in a cool, dark place to keep them fresh for longer.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria Le Maire, RD, LD

Victoria is a dedicated dietitian with a love for helping others develop a positive relationship with food, while setting realistic goals. Victoria has professional experience with various conditions such as strokes, diabetes and weight management. She strives to make a nutritious lifestyle attainable for all. You can catch Victoria scratch-cooking at home, trying new workouts at her local gym or spending time with her dog, Jack.