LOOK: The best and worst oils for your health as well as cooking

Published Jul 5, 2024


When it comes to cooking oils, it is essential to make informed choices based on scientific evidence. Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil are among the best options for cooking, offering health benefits and stability when heated.

On the other hand, vegetable oil, canola oil and palm oil should be consumed sparingly due to their potentially negative effects on health.

Fats play an essential role in your health. Incorporating healthy fats into meals and snacks can improve nutrient absorption, promote heart health, and help boost your food's flavour and satiety factor.

Choosing the right cooking oil is crucial for maintaining a healthy diet. While some oils provide essential nutrients and offer health benefits, others can be detrimental to our well-being.

Oil can be considered unhealthy when it undergoes certain processes that degrade its quality and nutritional value.

The best oils for cooking

Extra virgin olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is widely recognised as one of the healthiest oils for cooking. It is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and protect against heart disease.

A study published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” found that EVOO has a high resistance to oxidative damage when heated, making it suitable for various cooking methods, including frying and sautéing.

Avocado oil: Avocado oil is another excellent choice for cooking due to its high smoke point and nutritional benefits. It contains monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and antioxidants that promote heart health.

A study published in the journal “Nutrients” suggests that avocado oil’s high smoke point makes it suitable for high-heat cooking methods, such as grilling and roasting.

Coconut oil: Coconut oil has gained popularity in recent years, thanks to its unique composition of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are easily digested and converted into energy, making coconut oil a potential aid for weight loss.

The worst oils for cooking according to science

Vegetable oil: Vegetable oils, such as soya bean, corn, and sunflower oil, are commonly used in cooking. However, they contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which, when consumed in excess, can lead to inflammation and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

A study published in the “Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism” suggests that excessive consumption of vegetable oils may contribute to an imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, negatively impacting cardiovascular health.

Canola oil: Canola oil is often marketed as a healthy option due to its low saturated fat content. However, it is primarily composed of omega-6 fatty acids, which, as mentioned earlier, can cause inflammation when consumed in excess.

A study published in the journal “Nutrition and Metabolism” found that canola oil undergoes significant oxidative damage when heated, potentially releasing harmful compounds.

Palm oil: Palm oil is commonly used in processed foods and has a high saturated fat content. Consuming large amounts of palm oil has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

“Nutrition Reviews” suggests that palm oil’s high saturated fat content may raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, contributing to cardiovascular problems.

Why some oils are considered unhealthy

Exposure to air, heat, and light can cause oil to oxidise, leading to the formation of harmful compounds such as free radicals. Oxidised oil can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which are linked to various chronic diseases.

Refined and hydrogenated oils

The refining process involves high heat, chemicals, and filtration to remove impurities and increase the oil’s shelf life. However, this process also removes beneficial nutrients and antioxidants.

Hydrogenation, used to create trans fats, involves adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them solid at room temperature. Trans fats are known to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

High omega-6 fatty acid content

Some oils, such as soya bean, corn, and sunflower oil, have a high omega-6 fatty acid content. While omega-6 fatty acids are essential, consuming them in excess can lead to an imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

This imbalance is associated with inflammation and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

High saturated fat content

Oils with high levels of saturated fats, such as palm oil and coconut oil, are considered less healthy when consumed in excessive amounts. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

To maintain a healthy diet, it is important to choose oils that are minimally processed, low in unhealthy fats, and have a good balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

Opting for oils with higher monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil, is generally considered a healthier choice. Moderation and variety in oil consumption are key to a balanced and nutritious diet.