It’s an ingredient you keep on hand at all times and probably use in most of your recipes – but oil comes in many forms, and not all are created equal! Dietitian Melissa Meier takes the reins to provide the final word on which is healthiest for your daily cooking.
Choosing oil is no longer as simple as olive or vegetable. There are dozens of varieties on supermarket shelves, all with different culinary applications and nutritional values – so deciphering the healthiest one can be a little confusing, especially when there are so many conflicting opinions flying around cyberspace. While some swear by the old faithful olive oil, others are happy with cheaper vegetable oils and the health-conscious tend to opt for coconut oil thanks to the hype from trendy wellness gurus.
So, if you’re after the final word on oils, here’s your dietitian-approved ranking of the most popular oils on the market. As a general guide, EVOO takes first place in my books, while coconut oil comes last (*gasp*). The remaining oils are harder to differentiate, and each have their pros and cons.
Keep in mind that as pure fat, all oils contain a similar amount of calories gram for gram. What really sets them apart is their makeup of unhealthy saturated fat vs. healthy monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats.
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1. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 3.1g sat fat, 14.2g MUFA, 1.7g PUFA
EVOO is the fresh juice pressed straight from the olive, and there’s a stack of scientific research proving that it’s is oh-so good for you. Not only does it contain a favourable fatty acid profile that’ll support your heart and brain, it’s also packed with beneficial antioxidants that fight disease. Forget what you’ve heard – EVOO can be used for stir-frying, baking and BBQing, not just salad dressings. It’s an excellent all-rounder.
2. Avocado oil
Per 20mL: 18.2g fat, 2.6g sat fat, 13.8g MUFA, 1.8g PUFA
With a very similar fatty acid profile to EVOO, avocado oil is another good choice, although it’s not as widely researched as EVOO, so we don’t know the full extent of its health benefits (yet!). Nonetheless, it can also be used for stir-frying, baking, BBQing and in salad dressings, so give it a try for something a little different.
3. Canola oil
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 11.9g MUFA, 5.7g PUFA
Canola oil is another option with a blend of healthy MUFAs and PUFAs. It also contains a special type of healthy fat called omega-3s, which are very beneficial for heart health. Canola oil has a very mild flavour, so it can work well in many types of dishes.
4. Sesame oil
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 3g sat fat, 7.8g MUFA, 8.2g PUFA
Rich in flavour, a little bit of sesame oil goes a long way. Offering a relatively even split of MUFA and PUFA, sesame oil is another good option for heart health. Use it in Asian-style dishes like stir fries or soba noodle salads to add a flavour punch.
5. Peanut oil
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 3.6g sat fat, 8.8g MUFA, 6.7g PUFA
Also suited to Asian-style dishes, peanut oil can offer a slightly nutty flavour, depending on the brand. Although it is a little higher in saturated fat than other oil varieties, it is still predominantly healthy MUFAs and PUFAs, so is deserving of a place in your pantry.
6. Vegetable oil
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 2.2g sat fat, 7.9g MUFA, 8.7g PUFA
Despite the name, vegetable oil isn’t made from vegetables! It is usually made of a blend of canola and soybean oil, but other varieties like palm and coconut oil can sneak in, so it’ll pay to read the label. Simply scan the ingredients list to know what types of vegetable oils you’re getting.
7. Coconut oil
Per 20mL: 20g fat, 18.9g sat fat
The vast majority of coconut oil (more than 90 per cent!) is unhealthy saturated fat. It actually has more ‘bad’ fats than butter! While coconut oil has been shown to boost healthy HDL cholesterol, it will also boost unhealthy LDL cholesterol at the same time, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it’s use on a day-to-day basis. Don’t be fooled by wellness gurus on Instagram – coconut oil is by no means a ‘health food’.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her at Honest Nutrition or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.