What oils should we be using for cooking? | Nutrition | DR.VEGAN
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What oils should we be using for cooking?

What oils should we be using for cooking?

There is an increasing variety of oils and fats available for cooking and food preparation, but how do you choose which ones are the best for cooking?  Here our expert nutritionists explain the best oils for cooking.

A small amount of fat is a necessary part of a healthy, balanced diet and provides essential fatty acids, which the body cannot produce itself. However, as oils and fats are high in calories it's important to use them in small quantities. 

Types of fats in a diet 

To understand which oil is best for cooking we need to first look at the types of fats and 'smoke points' found in different oils.  The 'smoke point' is when the oil begins to burn and the beneficial nutrients begin to be lost. 

There are two main types of fat found in food - saturated and unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat includes mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Foods tend to contain a mixture of different types of fatty acids however they are classed by whichever type of fat predominates. 

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The structure of a fat makes a difference in its use in food preparation and cooking, and the impact on our health.

Vegetable or plant oils are derived from seeds, legumes and nuts, and they're liquid at room temperature. While they contain a mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, it is unsaturated fats that typically predominate.

There is lots of evidence that choosing oils high in unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, rapeseed and sunflower oils, can support a healthy heart by reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular risk.

What are the health impacts of butter and lard?

In contrast, animal fats like butter and lard, and certain tropical plant oils like coconut oil and palm oil, contain higher amounts of saturated fats than vegetable oils, and they are more solid at room temperature.

Having a lot of saturated fat in your diet is linked with raised levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, which can build up in your arteries. LDL can cause your arteries to become narrowed or blocked which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, so it's important to try to reduce the level of saturated fats in your diet.

Try our Miso Glazed Aubergine, Mushroom & Tofu Bowl recipe with sesame oil.

Dietary sources of fats and oils

Saturated fats

Butter, Ghee, Lard, Palm and Palm kernel oil, Coconut oil, Margarine and Dripping.

Monounsaturated fats

Canola/Rapeseed, Olive, Peanut and Avocado oils.

Polyunsaturated fats 

Soya, Corn, Safflower, Sunflower, Walnut, Rapeseed, Sesame and Flaxseed oils.

Cooking with oils

Oils provide an efficient mode of heat transfer during cooking, however they also get absorbed by the food. It is generally best to choose oils with a high smoke point and high in unsaturated fat.

The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to give off smoke, a sign it is starting to break down. A higher smoke point means that a fat is more stable and oils used for frying must be stable to withstand high temperatures and prevent a reduction in their quality.

Best cooking oils for health 

The best healthy cooking oils include sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, refined or virgin olive oil, and peanut or safflower oil. 

Comparison of fats in cooking oils

What types of fats impact heart health? 

Dietary guidelines advise cutting down on all fats in your diet, particularly reducing the amount of saturated fat and avoiding trans fats, as it is well established these fats can have a detrimental effect on raising blood cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. 

Learn more in our article 'How to keep your heart healthy'.

Are there any health benefits of cooking with coconut oil? 

The use of coconut oil in cooking has become increasingly popular in recent years and it is being heavily promoted as a healthy oil that benefits heart health, however there is little evidence of positive healthy benefits.

Although coconut oil has a high smoke point, it is also high in saturated fat which can negatively impact on cardiovascular health, so it is not advised to be consumed regularly.

Which cooking oil is good for health? 

There is strong evidence to suggest that replacing saturated fats with moderate amounts of unsaturated fats can promote a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease.

For heart health, it is advised to swap butter, palm oil, or coconut oil for olive, rapeseed, sunflower and soybean oil in cooking. It’s important to note that all fats and oils, whether saturated or unsaturated, are calorie-dense so should be used sparingly. You don’t need to avoid fats altogether, just remember only a small amount is required as part of a healthy balanced diet. 

We also recommend avoiding products which are derived from palm oil - one of our recommended sustainable hacks - because palm oil is a major driver of deforestation.

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Summary

To reduce the risk of developing heart disease and support a healthy-heart, swap saturated fats for unsaturated oils. When cooking or preparing food, choose plant oils including rapeseed oil, avocado oil, olive oil or sunflower oil, and avoid tropical oils such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oil, and animal fats including butter and lard.

If you enjoyed reading we think you'll also like Best Alternatives to Caffeine and Nutritionist advice for healthy weight loss.

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Further reading

We recommend you use the below table to help understand the health comparison of different cooking oils:

Oil

Type of fat

Ideal culinary use

Smoke Point

Sunflower 

Polyunsaturated

Salad dressings & cooking, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying.

High - 236°C

Avocado

Monounsaturated

Pan-frying, roasting, baking. 

High - 269°C

Safflower

Polyunsaturated

Salad dressings & cooking, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying

Medium-High (229°C)

Soybean

Polyunsaturated

Salad dressings & cooking, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying

High - 233°C

Peanut

Monounsaturated (& 30% polyunsaturated)

Salad dressings & cooking, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying.

High (233°C)

Corn

Polyunsaturated

Salad dressings & cooking, stir-frying, sautéing, deep-frying.

High (233°C)

Ghee 

Saturated

Light sautéing, low heat frying, low heat baking. 

High - 235°C

Butter

Saturated 

Sautéing, baking.

Medium - 167°C

Palm 

Saturated

Commercial frying

High - 226°C

Coconut 

Saturated

Commercial frying

Medium-High (170-235°C)

Extra Virgin Rapeseed (Canola)

Monounsaturated 

(& 30% polyunsaturated)

Low heat baking, salad dressings, light sautéing and drizzling. 

Medium (150-199°C)

Virgin Rapeseed (Canola)

Monounsaturated (& 30% polyunsaturated)

Multi-purpose frying. Mayonnaise & salad dressing.

Medium - High (200-229°C)

Extra Virgin Olive

Monounsaturated

Low heat baking, salad dressings, light sautéing and drizzling. 

Medium (150-199°C)

Virgin Olive

Monounsaturated

Dressings, stir frying, baking, sautéing, simmering 

Medium - High (200-229°C)

Regular & Refined Olive & Rapeseed (Canola)

Monounsaturated

Cooking at high temperatures. Deep frying. Roasting. 

High (>230°C)

Refined Sesame 

Monounsaturated (& 40% polyunsaturated)

For stir-frying, searing and deep frying.

High (>230°C)

Refined Walnut

Polyunsaturated

Making dips, dressings, drizzling and stir-fries. 

Medium (150-199°C)

Flaxseed

Polyunsaturated

Making dips, dressings and drizzling.  

Low (<150°C) - heat sensitive 



References: 

    1. Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutr Rev. 2016 Apr;74(4):267-80. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuw002. Epub 2016 Mar 5. PMID: 26946252; PMCID: PMC4892314.
    2. Jayawardena R, Swarnamali H, Lanerolle P, Ranasinghe P. Effect of coconut oil on cardio-metabolic risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020 Nov-Dec;14(6):2007-2020. doi: 10.1016/j.dsx.2020.09.033. Epub 2020 Oct 13. PMID: 33096510.
    3. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/different-fats-nutrition/ 
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    5. Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Vadiveloo M, Hu FB, Kris-Etherton PM, Rebholz CM, Sacks FM, Thorndike AN, Van Horn L, Wylie-Rosett J. 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2021 Dec 7;144(23):e472-e487. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001031. Epub 2021 Nov 2. PMID: 34724806.
    6. Sacks FM, Lichtenstein AH, Wu JHY, Appel LJ, Creager MA, Kris-Etherton PM, Miller M, Rimm EB, Rudel LL, Robinson JG, et al; American Heart Association. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;136:e1–e23. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510  
    7. Foster R, Williamson CS & Lunn J (2009). BRIEFING PAPER: Culinary oils and their health effects. Nutrition Bulletin 34: 4–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2008.01738.x
    8. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/images/0215-2.pdf 
    9. EUFIC Review (2014) How to choose your culinary oil. https://www.eufic.org/en/whats-in-food/article/how-to-choose-your-culinary-oil 
    10. Comparison of the fatty acid profile of the main culinary oils. Source: MAFF (1998); USDA (2008), Taken from British Nutrition Foundation (2009). Culinary oils and their health effects.

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