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Cooking with Oils: Selecting the Best

Posted on September 7, 2016 at 10:38 AM by Lia Bahls, RD

Knowing what oils to use for cooking can be challenging. We all know olive oil is healthy, but there are so many other oils in the grocery aisle, which are beneficial to use and for what type of cooking?


Below we break down the different types of oils, including their smoke points. Why is this important to know? Because the smoke point is when the oil breaks down and is no longer effective and could even lead to disease-causing elements.


Refined oils have the highest smoke points due to their processing and removing the heat-sensitive impurities. A high smoke point is one above 375 degrees and oils with high smoke points would typically be used for roasting and some baking. For sautéing and searing, use oils with a lower smoke point and some flavor.


Canola oil

Canola, due to its high smoke point (400 degrees) and neutral flavor, is able to be used in many different cooking styles including sautéing, roasting and baking. Canola is low in saturated fat and while it is chemically processed, it is not an unhealthy choice.


Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

EVOO has a low smoke point (around 325 degrees) and is not a great option for roasting or baking. This oil is full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and is a very flavorful option for salad dressings and low heat cooking. 


Pure Olive Oil

This oil has a very high smoke point and can be used for most cooking styles. It is chemically processed causing it to have a more neutral flavor and less healthy fats. 


Coconut Oil

Miracle oil? Probably not. Coconut oil is high in saturated fats, which is why you usually find it hard when you pull it out of the cupboard (same reason for butter being hard at room temperature).  While it is not a weight-loss cure and you should try to avoid eating it by the spoonful, it is an option for cooking.  Be aware, however, that it does have a low smoke point so all those recipes suggesting you roast your veggies with coconut oil, think again. 


Avocado Oil

For those looking for more “clean” oils this is a great option. It’s full of monounsaturated fats and has a high smoke point, which makes it a healthy option for roasting vegetables. It is a more expensive option, but works as an alternative to some of the more processed oils.


Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is very similar to canola oil when it comes to cooking; however, the chemical processing it goes through depletes it of most of its nutritional content making it a less healthy option.


Safflower Oil

This is an alternative to canola and vegetable oils. It has a high smoke point and is low in saturated fats.  You can find safflower oil chemically processed or cold-pressed; both have the same smoke point.


Peanut Oil

This is a very flavorful oil and is great for stir-fry and any other foods you would enjoy with a peanut flavor. It has a high smoke point and is chemically processed.


Sesame Oil

Another very flavorful oil, sesame can be used in place of peanut oil. It is cold-pressed instead of chemically processed so it does not have a high smoke point.


Flaxseed Oil

This oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids (think walnuts, salmon and avocados).  This oil is very sensitive to heat and should not be used for cooking. It oxidizes (breaks down) easily with heat so you will want to avoid purchasing big bottles that you can’t use quickly and make sure to store it in a cool, dark place. It is a great option for salad dressing.

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