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8 Healthiest Cooking Oils: The Definitive Ranking (And Which Ones To Skip)

Stephanie Eckelkamp
Author: Expert reviewer:
January 24, 2023
Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Expert review by
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Registered Dietitian
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra is a Registered Dietitian with a Grand Diplôme in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute and a bachelor’s in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University. After a decade working in the culinary and media worlds, Lauren pursued her ultimate passion and received her master's degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics at New York University.
woman pouring sunflower oil into a salad
Image by Trinette Reed / Stocksy
January 24, 2023
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Cooking oils are a necessary kitchen staple. They're essential for whipping up homemade dressings and sauces, sautéing or roasting veggies, pan-frying various proteins, baking better-for-you desserts, and more. But not all oils are created equal—and with so many options available, picking the "right" one can feel downright confusing.

With the help of several nutrition experts, we break down what makes a cooking oil healthy in the first place, the best options for various cooking methods, and which ones to limit or avoid.

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What to look for in a healthy oil:

1.

Its predominant fatty acid

All cooking oils will contain varying amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fats), and saturated fatty acids (SFAs).

The predominant fat present in an oil influences its stability when heated and its healthfulness. So, what should you gravitate toward? 

MUFA-rich oils are widely considered the safest fats to cook with—research suggests1 they may help curb inflammation, improve blood lipids like cholesterol, and support cardiovascular health. Swapping SFAs for MUFAs in the diet has proven beneficial in several studies2.

They're also more heat-stable than PUFAs, says Desiree Nielsen, R.D., a registered dietitian specializing in gut health and inflammation and author of Good for Your Gut. So when you heat them, they're less likely to degrade into undesirable lipid oxidation byproducts. The predominant MUFA in cooking oils is oleic acid3, or omega-9. 

PUFA-rich oils are a bit of a mixed bag. Both omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs are essential (i.e., we can't make them, and we need them as part of our diet), but they're also highly unsaturated, thus less stable and more prone to degradation when exposed to light, heat, and oxygen, explains Nielsen.

Cooking with these more fragile oils can promote the development of lipid oxidation byproducts4 such as aldehydes that may promote inflammation and have negative health effects over time.

Most of us already get ample omega-6 PUFAs in our diet, as they're prevalent in packaged and whole foods, says Nielsen, so prioritizing other fats (e.g., omega-3 PUFAs and MUFAs) is smart for overall nutritional balance. Using omega-3-rich oils such as flaxseed oil in unheated applications is a good way to preserve their integrity and reap their many benefits.

SFA-rich oils are among the most heat-stable, but they should still be used sparingly, particularly if you're concerned about cardiovascular disease, as they have the potential to elevate LDL cholesterol5.

While there are some unique and compelling benefits of certain high-saturated fat oils (like coconut oil), the fact remains that "scores of human trials have confirmed that replacing animal fats and saturated fats with unsaturated fats is beneficial for health," says Nielsen. Research also suggests excessive SFA consumption may promote inflammation and gut dysbiosis6, while MUFAs and omega-3 PUFAs don't have this effect.

But keep in mind, you may have more wiggle room in your diet for SFA-rich oils if you're eating a predominantly whole-food-based, plant-rich diet. 

Summary

All cooking oils will contain varying amounts of fatty acids, with the predominant fat present dictating its stability. MUFAs are less likely to have lipid oxidation byproducts, PUFAs are less stable and more prone to degradation, and SFAs are the most heat-stable yet have the potential to elevate LDL cholesterol.
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2.

Its extraction and refinement process

In general, the less refined an oil, the better, says Uma Naidoo, M.D., a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food.

Opt for "unrefined" or "naturally refined" varieties. Less refining means more nutrients, beneficial phytochemicals, and flavor. In making an "unrefined oil," olives, avocado, seeds, or nuts are crushed (cold pressed or expeller pressed) to release oils, which are then gently filtered to remove solids. "Naturally refined" oils are more thoroughly filtered and may experience additional heat, but they aren't treated with high heat or chemicals. If you opt for these, choose one higher in MUFAs (or SFAs, if that fits your goals), which resist degradation better than PUFAs.

Production of highly refined oils7, on the other hand, requires the use of chemical solvents to draw out the oil, along with high heat and pressure to eliminate impurities that contribute to unwanted flavors or a lower smoke point. The downside: This process can damage fat molecules and generate lipid oxidation byproducts (some of which can be subsequently removed from the oil) and cause significant reduction in phytochemicals8 and nutrients9.

Summary

Unrefined or naturally refined cooking oils are processed in a way that preserves more of their phytochemicals and nutrients, so they're typically a healthier pick than refined oils.
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3.

Its smoke point

Finally, consider an oil's smoke point. "Oils that have a low smoke point tend to be less desirable to cook with because they'll burn more easily," according to Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, R.D., adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and author of Recipe for Survival.

Heating beyond the smoke point can promote the formation of pro-inflammatory free radicals and a compound called acrolein, which is associated with a range of chronic diseases10. Just keep in mind, many highly refined oils have a high smoke point, but this doesn't necessarily make them a "healthy" choice—so be sure to consider the factors above as well. 

You also don't need a sky-high smoke point for all your cooking. While you'd want a high smoke point for frying, searing, or high-heat roasting, you can do quite a bit with an oil that has a moderate smoke point and stable fatty acid profile (e.g., a MUFA-rich EVOO or avocado oil), including sauteing, baking, and moderate-heat roasting.

That's because when you're cooking, the oils are buffered by the food and don't actually reach that temperature, per Nielsen, who says a typical supermarket EVOO can be used up to medium-high heat or for baking temperatures up to 400°F to 425°F. Just avoid heating those fancy, unfiltered, artisanal oils that look cloudy since a higher concentration of solids significantly lowers the smoke point. 

Summary

The truth is, yes, some cooking oils are better than others when it comes to nutrient content, health benefits, and stability when heated—and these are typically influenced by factors such as the oil's level of refinement, fatty acid composition, and smoke point. Your ideal oil will also depend on flavor preferences and how you plan to use it (with heat or no heat, for example).
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Healthiest cooking oils.

With these factors in mind, here are the eight healthiest cooking oils you can buy—and what to use them for:

1.

Extra-virgin olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a type of MUFA, and retains a high level of nutrients such as vitamin E, phytosterols, and at least 30 phenolic compounds11 (many of which function as antioxidants), thanks to its low level of processing. In terms of proven health benefits, "it's the best researched oil we have," says Nielsen.

Studies12 show that olive oil serves as a protective factor against cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL cholesterol and raising beneficial HDL cholesterol, curbs inflammation, and may even help bolster intestinal health by promoting optimal microbial biodiversity and balance within the gut (the polyphenol oleuropein seems to function as a prebiotic).

Olive oil has also been linked to "incredible mental health benefits13, including reduced stress, improved mood, and reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease," says Naidoo, "largely due to its high polyphenol content, which reduces inflammation and fights the damaging effects of oxidative stress."

Consuming more olive oil—especially in place of other fats—could even extend your life14, according to some research.

EVOO's high levels of polyphenols also help it resist degradation and oxidation when heated—and, while levels of these compounds go down a bit after cooking, there are still enough left to confer meaningful benefits, according to one study15. A good EVOO rich in polyphenols will taste fresh, a bit grassy, and pleasantly peppery.

  • Smoke point: 325 to 375°F
  • Good for: Drizzling on top of salads, toasts, pasta, or grain dishes. Light to medium-high heat cooking like sauteing and stir-frying, and some roasting and baking.
  • How quickly it goes bad: Use within 6 months of opening the bottle (some sources recommend within 3 months for maximum nutrition and freshness). 
  • Fat breakdown: 74% MUFAs (or more), 10% PUFAs, 16% SFAs
  • Taste: Grassy, peppery
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2.

Avocado oil (unrefined or naturally refined)

Avocado oil is pressed from the flesh of the avocado fruit and—like olive oil—is abundant in oxidatively stable MUFAs (predominantly oleic acid) and a variety of phytochemicals.

"Oleic acid, which may act as an anti-inflammatory in the brain, has been shown to help maintain healthy brain tissue16 despite exposure to oxidative stress," says Naidoo.

Diets rich in avocado oil have also been associated with17 reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. And while olive oil tends to be higher in phenolic compounds, avocado oil is a particularly good source17 of carotenoids such as the antioxidant lutein, which may be protective against cardiovascular issues and cancer. 

An unrefined ("virgin" or "extra-virgin") avocado oil has a green hue, a similar moderate smoke point to EVOO, and a characteristic avocado flavor, with subtle vegetal, buttery, and mushroomy notes, but when it's more thoroughly filtered (or "naturally refined"), it develops a mellow flavor, yellow color, and a high smoke point that makes it a great all-purpose cooking oil.  

  • Smoke point: 350°F to 400°F (unrefined), 480°F to 520°F (naturally refined)
  • Good for: Virgin avocado oils can be used just like EVOO. Naturally refined avocado oil is great for searing, broiling, grilling, frying, and high-heat baking and roasting.
  • How quickly it goes bad: Use within 6 months of opening the bottle. 
  • Fat breakdown: 71% MUFAs, 14% PUFAs, 14% SFAs
  • Taste: Vegetal, buttery
3.

Almond oil (naturally refined)

Almond oil is another great MUFA-rich oil that works well in cooking (it has a similar fatty acid profile to EVOO) and even has topical benefits for skin, according to Titilayo Ayanwola, MPH, R.D., L.D.

Research suggests almond oil may support healthy cholesterol levels18, thanks to its beneficial unsaturated fats, and a tablespoon of almond oil provides around a third of your recommended daily intake for vitamin E19, an antioxidant vitamin that helps protect the body from free radical damage that can accelerate skin aging and drive disease. When applied topically, almond oil can support skin barrier function, boost hydration, and ease inflammation. 

While completely unrefined varieties are hard to come by for culinary applications, naturally refined (i.e., expeller pressed and filtered) almond oil is still a good pick that lends a light, nutty flavor to veggie dishes, grain sides, and baked goods and works well with most cooking techniques thanks to its high smoke point. 

  • Smoke point: 430°F (naturally refined)
  • Good for: Drizzling on top of veggies, salads, grain dishes. Sauteing, roasting, frying, grilling, and incorporating into baked goods that would benefit from a nutty flavor. 
  • How quickly it goes bad: Use within 6 months of opening the bottle.
  • Fat breakdown: 71% MUFAs, 21% PUFAs, 7% SFAs
  • Taste: Nutty
4.

Sesame oil (unrefined)

Sesame oil contains bioactive compounds, including sesamin and sesamol, which have been shown to have antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering effects20, with authors of one study20 noting that it may have potential to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.

The oil contains about equal proportions of MUFAs and PUFAs, and a small amount of SFAs, which makes it suited for raw applications or lower-heat cooking (it's not as heat-stable as olive or avocado oil, which are higher in MUFAs). Opting for unrefined sesame oil (as recommended by Cate Shanahan, M.D., author of The Fatburn Fix) that hasn't been processed with high heat will also help preserve antioxidants and ensure the integrity of those less stable PUFAs.

Sesame oil offers up a delicious, nutty flavor that's ideal for Asian-inspired veggie, rice, and noodle dishes.

  • Smoke point: 350°F (unrefined)
  • Good for: Drizzling on top of vegetables, salads, rice, and noodle dishes. Low heat applications such as gentle sauteing.
  • How quickly it goes bad: Use within 6 months of opening if stored at room temperature, or within a year if stored in the refrigerator.
  • Fat breakdown: 43% PUFAs, 36% MUFAs, 14% SFAs
  • Taste: Nutty, earthy
5.

Flaxseed, hemp, and chia oils (unrefined)

What do these oils have in common? According to Nielsen, they're all a wonderful way to bolster your meals and salad dressings with a dose of plant-based omega-3 PUFAs (also called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), which promote heart health21, brain health22, and, in preclinical research, help regulate inflammation23.

But there's one absolute rule you must follow to reap the benefits: Do not heat them! Ever! "Heating these oils actually causes the omega-3 fats to degrade, meaning the omega-3 content goes down in your recipe," Nielsen says. As mentioned earlier, PUFAs are also more likely to break down into harmful lipid oxidation byproducts when heated. 

Chia seed oil is a particularly potent source of ALA omega-3s—people often take a daily spoonful as a supplement. Foods Alive oil (listed below), for example, contains 9,000 mg of ALA per tablespoon and delivers a 3:1 ratio of omega-3:omega-6 (this exceeds the daily adequate intake for ALA). All of these unrefined oils have a pleasant flavor that's fresh, nutty, and a bit earthy.

  • Smoke point: N/A (do not heat) 
  • Good for: Blend into your morning smoothie, or drizzle on top of salads, oatmeal, yogurt, vegetables, toasts, or grain dishes.
  • How quickly they go bad: Use within 2 to 3 months of opening, and store in the refrigerator.
  • Fat breakdown: Chia: 86% PUFAs (3:1 ratio omega-3:omega-6), 7% MUFAs, 7% SFAs; Flax: 71% PUFAs (4:1 omega-3:omega-6 ratio), 21% MUFAs, 11% SFAs; Hemp: 79% PUFAs (1:3 omega-3:omega-6 ratio), 14% MUFAs, 7% SFAs
  • Taste: Fresh, nutty, earthy
6.

Coconut oil (unrefined or naturally refined)

Nutrition experts are torn on coconut oil—but we opted to include it with a few caveats.

Nielsen recommends limiting saturated fats, even coconut oil, due to their potential to disrupt health. Some studies link excess saturated fat intake to inflammation, gut dysbiosis24, and elevated LDL cholesterol5. But if your overall diet and health status are solid, you may be able to enjoy coconut oil in moderation. "If you follow a primarily plant-based diet, with little meat or dairy, you have more 'room' in your choices for saturated fats such as coconut milk and coconut oil," she says. "Coconut oil has long been used in healthy traditional diets." 

Coconut oil may have some unique perks, too. "Unrefined, organic coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is a type of fat that has been specifically linked to brain health25," says Naidoo. Early research has shown that virgin coconut oil may help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression26, as well as improve memory27 with age, she also says. Per one study, the main saturated fat and MCT in coconut oil, lauric acid, may also be less detrimental to cholesterol28 levels than other saturated fats—but it's hard to draw firm conclusions from this research. 

Your best bet: Enjoy coconut oil in moderation when you want the flavor or texture, within the context of a healthy diet. Nielsen occasionally uses heat-stable, naturally refined coconut oil when the texture makes sense—it can be a good shortening substitute, for example.

Unrefined or virgin coconut oil contains more trace nutrients and polyphenols29 and can be used for raw or low- to moderate-heat applications where you want a prominent coconut flavor. Unrefined coconut oil also has skin health benefits and can be used as a lip balm, makeup remover, oil cleanser, or personal lubricant

  • Smoke point: 350°F (unrefined) to 450°F (refined)
  • Good for: Add unrefined coconut oil to smoothies, coffee, raw desserts, or let it melt onto already cooked dishes, where its flavor can shine. Use naturally refined oil for sauteing, stir-frying, baking, and roasting. 
  • How quickly it goes bad: Coconut oil should last about 2 years in your pantry, if you keep the jar shut tight.
  • Fat breakdown: 93% SFAs, 4% MUFAs
  • Taste: Rich, sweet, nutty

Oils to avoid or limit.

Our experts recommend avoiding (or at least not seeking out) highly refined vegetable and seed oils, including those listed below.

While the extent to which these oils actively cause harm is debatable (we can't say definitively yet), what's clear is that they don't deliver anything unique. They tend to be high in omega-6 PUFAs (which we get plenty of already and which are not the most stable cooking fats), and, per Nielsen, they don't contain as many fat-soluble vitamins and polyphenols or have the strong evidence base to support their use like olive oil does.

That said, if you do end up resorting to one of the oils below, don't stress. Your overall diet matters way more than any single ingredient.

Vegetable oils

Much of the vegetable oil sold today is either 100% soybean oil or some blend of inexpensive oils such as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, and corn oil—all of which are highly refined, stripped of beneficial phytochemicals, neutral in flavor, and predominantly composed of omega-6 PUFAs30, also known as linoleic acid.

Despite vegetable oil having a relatively high smoke point (up to 450°F), its high PUFA content means it's more prone to degradation when heated compared to MUFAs and SFAs. Additionally, vegetable oil tends to be derived from genetically modified crops that are sprayed with powerful herbicides that have negative impacts on the environment.

Grapeseed oil

Grapeseed oil is composed of about 70% PUFAs, mostly omega-6. Despite its healthy-sounding name, it's another highly refined oil that doesn't offer anything unique in terms of flavor or health benefits. If you can get your hands on a cold-pressed or expeller-pressed grapeseed oil, that's better, but it's still not great for high-heat applications given its high PUFA content.

Sunflower oil

Unless otherwise specified, sunflower oil is both highly refined and high in omega-6 PUFAs. However, a few brands offer high-oleic sunflower oils (~80% MUFAs) that are also expeller pressed or cold pressed, which would be more heat-stable and retain more nutrition, says Nielsen. But for the price of these superior varieties, you might as well spring for an extra-virgin olive oil.

Safflower oil

Like sunflower oil, much safflower oil sold is highly refined and high in omega-6 PUFAs, but some brands do offer high-oleic, expeller-pressed varieties.

Canola oil

Canola oil is a naturally MUFA-rich oil (60% to 65% MUFA). The downside: It's almost always chemically extracted and highly refined. Similar to soybeans, most canola plants in the U.S. and Canada (which produces and exports the most canola oil) are genetically modified to withstand herbicides that can harm the environment. You can find organic, expeller-pressed options, but cold-pressed canola oil is hard to come by. 

Should you cycle your oils?

If there's a healthy oil you enjoy that works well in both raw and most cooked applications (like EVOO), then you don't have to cycle your cooking oils—but sometimes switching up your oils just makes sense from a flavor perspective, depending on what dish or cuisine you're making. 

The context of your diet matters, too. "Every single oil has its own unique fatty acid profile—some will be higher in MUFAs, others will be higher in plant-based omega-3s, and others will be higher in other essentially beneficial or less beneficial nutrients," says Hunnes.

So, if you're already consuming foods that provide a decent amount of one type of fatty acid (e.g., SFA-rich animal products or processed foods made with omega-6 PUFAs), then choosing oils that provide other fatty acids (e.g., MUFAs or omega-3s) can help balance your intake.

There's also the matter of price. Not everyone can afford to use top-shelf oils for everything—and that's OK. In that case, you could prioritize healthy, unrefined oils for raw applications (e.g., drizzling over finished dishes, using in salad dressings or DIY dipping oils) where they will retain their maximum concentration of beneficial phytochemicals while using a less expensive but still heat-stable oil for cooking, like a high-oleic sunflower oil. 

How to store your oil.

Cooking oils can start to oxidize when exposed to oxygen or light, which reduces the amount of beneficial antioxidant compounds, speeds up rancidity, and shortens shelf life—so proper storage is key.

Your best bet: Keep oils in a cool, dark place such as a kitchen cabinet away from your oven or stovetop. For omega-3-rich oils specifically (e.g., flaxseed oil), buy smaller bottles so you can use them up quickly and store them in the refrigerator, advises Nielsen, as these oils are very delicate and prone to degradation.

Packaging matters, too. "It's best to store oils in dark glass bottles to avoid oxidation from light," says Hunnes. "I'd avoid storing oils in plastic, as plastic is lipophilic, meaning it loves fat, so you're more likely to get plastic chemicals leaching into your oil if it is stored in plastic." 

Wondering if your oil is past its prime? Pour some in a small bowl and take a whiff. If it smells sour, metallic, unpleasantly pungent, musty, or a bit like crayons, that's a sign that it's rancid.

Summary

Store oils in a cool, dark place like a cabinet to keep them from oxidizing. Opt for oils that are packaged in dark glass bottles over clear plastic containers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the healthiest cooking oil for sautéing?

The healthiest all-around cooking oil is extra virgin olive oil. Many people incorrectly assume that EVOO should not be heated, but the truth is, its beneficial phytochemicals and high MUFA content make it quite good at resisting oxidation and degradation at moderate temperatures, including sautéing, roasting, and baking, as previously described by Nielsen. 

What is the best cooking oil for high heat?

Expeller pressed avocado oil is one of the best minimally processed oils (i.e. it’s made without the use of chemical solvents, unlike highly refined oils) for high-heat cooking. In addition to containing heat-stable, heart-healthy MUFAs, it has a naturally high smoke point (up to 520°F) and a relatively neutral taste, which is great for letting the natural flavors of your food shine.

Which cooking oil doesn't clog arteries?

Quite a few oils can be considered heart-healthy. Much research to date suggests that replacing trans and saturated fats with oils that are rich in MUFAs or PUFAs (particularly omega-3 PUFAs) may help curb risk of heart disease. In 2018, the FDA also released a qualified health claim stating that daily consumption of 1.5 tablespoons of oils high in oleic acid—a MUFA abundant in olive oil, almond oil, and avocado oil—may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, provided they're used to replace fats and oils high in saturated fats. 

The takeaway.

Cooking oils are complicated, but nutritious options exist for every application. Once you know what makes a healthy cooking oil (in terms of fat profile, level of refinement, and smoke point), it gets way easier to choose one (or a few) that fits your culinary needs and health goals. And remember: These oils should make up a relatively small percentage of your caloric intake, so they're not going to make or break your health (your overall diet and lifestyle will do that)—they're just one additional way to fine-tune it. 

Stephanie Eckelkamp
Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor

Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).






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