What is the best cooking oil for health?
Supermarket shelves are filled with cooking oils. With so many choices, and so many trends in the health food community, it’s hard to know which is the healthiest cooking oil to put in your shopping trolley.
“There are ‘health halos’ associated with some cooking oils and opposite perceptions about others, not all of which are warranted,” says Kris Sollid from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). A health halo is the impression that a specific food is really good for you despite a lack of factual information to back up the idea. Where these beliefs stem from is anyone’s guess,” Sollid says.
With this in mind, which cooking oil should you reach for when prepping a meal? There are several things to keep in mind for your health: the oil’s smoking point (the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, making it unhealthy), the type of fat it contains, and its flavour.
And just to be clear, all cooking oils are 100 per cent fat. “Just like with any food that contains fat, all cooking oils contain a blend of different types of saturated and unsaturated fats,” he says. “While some cooking oils are higher in certain types of fat, no oil contains only one type. A cooking oil is considered healthy if it’s high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats.”
Our food experts weigh in with multiple options.
Canola oil as one of the healthiest cooking oils because it offers blends of heart-healthy fats (as do olive and soybean oils).
“Canola oil is also a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs),” says Sollid. “Compared to olive oil, canola oil contains less MUFA but less saturated fat and more alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 fat. Canola oil has the least saturated fat and the most ALA omega-3 fat of the common cooking oils.”
According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, ALA is an essential fatty acid. This means that your body can’t produce it and it must be consumed through what you eat and drink.
The smoke point of canola is 200°C, which makes it ideal to use when cooking something at a high temperature.
When you’d like your oil to add a little flavour to your food, olive oil is one of the most recommended options. But it’s important to keep in mind that its smoke point is lower than canola oil, so consider how you’ll be using it.
“Olive oil varieties have a lower smoke point but provide bigger flavour, so they are best suited for direct consumption in things like salad dressings and in lower temperature cooking techniques like sautéing, pan frying and baking,” says Sollid.
He also notes that olive oil is known for its high MUFA content, but also provides a small amount of ALA, the plant form of an especially beneficial type of polyunsaturated (PUFA) omega-3 fat.
One thing to remember, just because an oil is deemed ‘healthy’ doesn’t make it a health food. “Cooking oils are calorie dense – one tablespoon contains about 500 kilojoules,” says Sollid. Therefore, even the healthiest oils should be used in moderation.