Oils may be used for sautéing, baking and as a drizzle or salad dressing – and there are almost endless choices when it comes to cooking oils.
Oils can vary quite significantly in their taste, as well as their suitability.
So which oil is the healthiest and how exactly can you choose the best one for you?
It can be difficult to know where to start when selecting an oil, so we have put together this helpful guide to identify the healthiest types of oil.
Things to consider when choosing a healthier oil
When you are deciding which oil to use, there are a few factors which you should take into consideration:
Choose the right kinds of fat
There are two main types of fat which are considered to be unhealthy: saturated fat and trans fat.
Saturated fat usually comes from animal sources, whilst trans fats are made from oils during food processing. Both can raise cholesterol levels.1
Instead you should look to replace these with healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Including more of these fats in your diet may actually help to improve your cholesterol levels.2
Healthier food grade oils which contain more of these good fats and less saturated and trans fats include olive oil, peanut oil and soybean oil.
Avoid the smoke point
An oil’s smoke point is the point at which the oil starts burning and smoking during cooking.
Heating oil past this point means that the flavour will deteriorate.
Not only this, but a lot of the nutrients which the oil contains will also be lost.3
Worse still, not only will your oil be low in nutrients following burning but it will also start to release free radicals.
Free radicals are unpaired electrons which try to seek other electrons in the body to become a pair.
This seeking can cause damage to cells, DNA and proteins and free radicals are also associated with a number of diseases in humans.4
The best types of oil for cooking at high temperatures include avocado oil, almond oil and grapeseed oil as all of these oils have a high smoke point.5
Stick to pan frying
Deep fat frying is considered to be less healthy than pan frying because the food that you are deep frying is likely to absorb more of the fats contained in the oil and so will become higher in calories.6
You can avoid deep fat frying by sticking to other cooking methods such as stir frying and pan frying.
Some oils which are perfect for stir frying include sesame oil, thanks to its nutty flavour, coconut oil which has been used in South East Asian cuisine for years, and grapeseed oil thanks to its high smoking point.
Which oils are the healthiest?
So now that you know what you should be looking for in an oil, it is time to find out what some of the healthiest oil choices are:
Olive oil is a big player in the Mediterranean Diet, which is rich in vegetables, legumes and lean protein such as salmon.
The diet has been hailed for its weight loss and it is thought that anyone following this diet has a reduced risk of disease.7
You should look for an extra virgin olive oil as this is the least refined and processed type of olive oil and therefore has more vitamins and antioxidants than regular olive oil.8
Olive oil makes a great drizzle for salads or a dip for bread. It is better used in cold dishes as it has a low smoking point compared to some other oils.
Avocado oil has a high smoke point, a high level of healthy monounsaturated fats and a low level of polyunsaturated fats.
In fact, out of all oils, avocado oil has one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fats.9
Because of its subtle buttery flavour, avocado oil is great as a salad dressing, a dipping sauce and for use in cooking.
Flaxseed oil is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential to our health and have lots of other benefits, including supporting heart and brain health as well as contributing to normal blood cholesterol levels.10
Because it has health benefits, you could add a tablespoon of flaxseed oil to smoothies or shakes as well as using it in salad dressings, sauces or dips.
However, you should avoid cooking with flaxseed oil as it has a very low smoke point.
It can be used in stir fries and curries as it adds extra flavour to these dishes.
There are also lots of other uses for coconut oil including as a moisturiser, lip balm and hair mask.
Last updated: 17 December 2020
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.