There are plenty of cooking oils to choose from, but not all of them are healthy. Certain types of vegetable oils are highly refined and stripped of their antioxidants and minerals. In general, oils that are extracted from larger nuts or seeds require less processing and may have greater overall health benefits. To better navigate the oil aisle, mbg spoke with registered dietitians about the health benefits, smoke points, and best uses for different cooking oils:
Extra-virgin olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the least processed, and therefore has the greatest nutritional benefit, compared to other types of olive oils.
"Since it is derived from olive berries, it contains large amounts of antioxidants, phytosterols, and vitamins," registered dietitian Titilayo Ayanwola, MPH, R.D., L.D., tells mbg. "It is notably rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps to maintain the integrity of cell membranes and protect it from damage by harmful free radicals," she adds. Studies show the monounsaturated fats in extra-virgin olive oil can reduce bad cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy oil.
- Best for: Drizzling on top of salads, toasts, or pasta dishes. Dipping bread or quick sautés.
- Not ideal for: Baking, frying, high-heat roasting, or sautéing.
- Smoke point: 325 to 375°F
Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), a fat source that the body absorbs and turns into energy. MCTs may help manage weight and body composition. Coconut oil is also high in lauric acid, which can lower bad cholesterol. Due to the high saturated fat content (80 to 90%), Ayanwola says to use coconut oil sparingly.
- Best for: Roasting, baking (butter replacement in vegan baked goods), pan-frying.
- Not ideal for: Deep-frying.
- Smoke point: 350 (unrefined) to 450°F (refined)
"Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, low in saturated fat, and contains moderate amounts of vitamin E," says Mascha Davis, R.D., MPH, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Vitamins. It's also high in antioxidants and carotenoids. "Carotenoids are important in the prevention of chronic disease and have been shown to decrease the risk of certain cancers and the development of eye disease," Ayanwola says.
The quality of the oil depends on the avocado's origin and extraction methods, so make sure to check for unrefined oil. It also tends to be on the expensive side.
- Best for: Grilling, searing, baking, sautéing, dipping bread into, salad dressing.
- Not ideal for: Deep-frying.
- Smoke point: 480 to 520°F
Sesame oil is rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils. "It resists oxidation, so it's going to be more stable and will keep longer in the pantry," according to registered dietitian Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., though scientists aren't exactly sure why. It's also packed with antioxidants and has been shown to lower blood pressure, Moon adds. This is particularly true when you combine it with rice bran oil, according to research.
- Best for: Toasting spices, sautéing.
- Not ideal for: Dishes that wouldn't pair well with a sesame taste (the flavor can be strong).
- Smoke point: 350 to 410°F
Flaxseed oil is a rare plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for brain health. A tablespoon contains 7 grams of omega-3s but only about 10 to 15% are converted into active forms in the body. "That works out to about 700 mg per serving, which is a decent portion of the gram per day that conveys benefits according to research on heart and brain health, including mental health,” Moon says. Heat can alter the properties of flaxseed oil, changing the nutritional value.
- Best for: Adding into smoothies, salad dressing, drizzling on top of pastas, adding to dips or sauces.
- Not ideal for: Anything high-heat.
- Smoke point: 225°F
"Almond oil has a distinctive nutty flavor and is high in monounsaturated fatty acids," Ayanwola says. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties, which also benefit the skin when used cosmetically. "It has been used to improve complexion and skin tone through its emollient (skin-softening) properties," she adds. The fat makeup is similar to olive oil and helps lower bad cholesterol.
- Best for: Frying, roasting, baking, grilling, baked goods that would benefit from a nutty flavor.
- Not ideal for: When unrefined, it won't do well with high heat.
- Smoke point: 430°F
"Like flaxseed oil, walnut oil is a great source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains antioxidants and small amounts of vitamin K," Davis says. When exposed to heat, walnut oil can become bitter.
- Best for: Drizzling over cooked foods, salad dressings, dipping bread into.
- Not ideal for: High heat.
- Smoke point: 320°F
"Peanut oil contains up to 50% monounsaturated fats and is a great source of vitamin E," Davis says. The antioxidant vitamin E and the healthy fats may protect against heart disease, according to some research. "This oil has a higher smoke point, making it a great option for cooking." It also adds a peanut taste to any dish.
- Best for: Peanut butter cookies, sautés, stir-fries, cooking popcorn.
- Not ideal for: Dishes that wouldn't pair well with a peanut taste (the flavor can be strong).
- Smoke point: 450°F
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.