the healthiest (and least healthy) cooking oils

Dietitian Melissa Meier delves into the different types of cooking oils, revealing which ones you should steer clear from in the supermarket. 

Cooking oil is part and parcel of any home cook’s staple tool kit. With so many choices on supermarket shelves, however, choosing the right one can be pretty confusing, especially if you’ve got taste and good health in mind. So, to help you choose the healthiest ones (and understand what to actually use them for), here’s my guide to five of the most popular cooking oils.

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Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Jam-packed with good-for-you monounsaturated fats and disease-fighting antioxidants, extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO for short, is the bees knees when it comes to oil. As the primary fat in the Mediterranean diet, there’s a raft of scientific evidence proving just how good EVOO is for you.

Think you can’t cook with it? That’s an outright myth. EVOO has a relatively high oxidative stability, thanks to the phenolic compounds and Vitamin E it contains (in other words: it won’t go rancid at high-ish home cooking temps). So, don’t just reserve it for your salad dressing – use it for BBQ’ing, roasting and stir-frying, too.

Coconut oil

In contrast to EVOO, trendy coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, which, in case you missed the memo, is bad for heart health. In fact, 92% of coconut oil is saturated fat. Yikes! What’s more, coconut oil is very low on the antioxidant front. Put simply, it just doesn’t stack up against EVOO.

Advocates of coconut oil claim the type of saturated fat in coconut oil is different to the harmful saturated fat in animal foods. While it’s true that coconut oil has been shown to boost levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, at the same time, it also elevates ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol – so it’s not doing you any favours. If you must use coconut oil, I’d recommend keeping it to a small amount and using it only every now and then.

Canola oil

Although it is a refined oil, canola oil is a cheaper – but still healthy – choice, made up of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. It also provides a special type of fat called omega-3s, which are particularly important for a happy, healthy heart. With a mild flavour, canola oil can be used in many dishes but is particularly useful for high temp cooking. In fact, it was actually developed specifically for deep frying. All in all, it’s a healthier oil to have in your oil repertoire.

Peanut oil

Also rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, peanut oil offers a tasty nutty flavour, perfect for Asian-style dishes like stir fries and curries. It is a little higher in saturated fat than some oil varieties, so I wouldn’t make it my day-to-day pour. Nonetheless, if you do use it on the reg, I’d suggest buying a cold-pressed unrefined variety (and obviously, check for peanut allergies before using it if you’re cooking for a crowd).

Vegetable oil

My number one piece of advice with vegetable oil is to proceed with caution. Why? While it sounds healthy, vegetable oil can come from any type of seed or vegetable. It may contain just one type of oil, or be a mixture. If it’s olive and/or canola, for example, that’s totally ok – but it could contain far less healthy oils like coconut or palm (the latter of which is almost 50 per cent saturated fat). What’s more, some vegetables oils contain ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’, which should be avoided altogether due to the harmful trans fats they contain.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.