The Cooking Oil Conundrum

We see you there in the grocery store aisle, scratching your head as you stare at the ginormous selection of cooking oils, trying to make a healthy choice. There are so many options: vegetable, canola, avocado, palm, flaxseed, coconut, sunflower seed, peanut, and the list goes on. Some of the oils even breakdown into further categories like organic, extra virgin, light, unrefined, and cold-pressed. So which ones are best to cook with and which ones should you steer clear of?

What Not to Use
Most vegetable oils and seed oils are not a healthy option. Specifically, you should stay away from:

  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Rapeseed/Canola oil
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Grape seed oil

For the most part, these oils are extracted using harsh chemical processes including pressing, heating, industrial chemicals, and toxic solvents. Sometimes these oils are cold-pressed, a much less harsh method of extracting. But because they naturally contain much higher amounts of inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids, it’s best to stay away.

Healthiest Cooking Oil Options
Your best options for cooking with oil include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and nut oils.

Just make sure to read the labels and choose the ones that say cold- or expeller-pressed or unrefined. That just means the oil is literally squeezed out using intense force rather than using any of those harsh chemical processes we mentioned above.

There are also other cooking fats such as butter or ghee. Always choose real butter over margarine. Margarine is made with vegetable oils, artificial ingredients and colorings, and sometimes hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

Based On Your Cooking Method…
Some oils are good for roasting, some work best for flavoring and others work well when sautéing and baking.

  • High heat cooking (pan-searing, roasting) - avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, and virgin olive oil work well. They both have high smoke points* around 400°F and are made up primarily of the more stable* monounsaturated fats.
  • Medium heat cooking (sautéing, baking, stir frying) - butter, ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, or virgin olive oil will work. These fats all have smoke points* around 350°F and are comprised mainly of heat stable* saturated/monounsaturated fats.
  • Low heat cooking or for flavor (salad dressings, dips) - extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, or flaxseed oil. These oils offer great flavor and health benefits.

*Smoke point – the temperature at which the fats in oil break down and turn into smoke thus, losing their nutritional value

*Oxidative Stability – the more an oil can resist reacting with oxygen and breaking down, the better it is for cooking. Refinement lowers the oxidative stability of oils.


April Melancon, RD, LDN
Clinical Dietitian
Baton Rouge General Health & Wellness Center

(225) 819-1175

February 11, 2020