Compare olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil for cooking, and find out which ones are the healthiest for cooking, and why.
By Jennifer Barrows:
Years ago, fats were “bad” and were to be avoided. Now fats are “good for you” and can actually help you lose weight. The key here is to stop avoiding all fat and concentrate on healthy fats.
One of the easiest ways to add healthy fat to your daily diet is to cook with oils, but you have to know which oils are healthy and which ones can handle high-temperature cooking without becoming rancid, creating free radicals and causing damage to your cells. Free radicals are a byproduct of oxidation, and when you consume them, they work inside your body to create cellular damage and can lead to inflammation and chronic disease.
There is a lot of conflicting information on cooking oils and whether or not they are safe at high temperatures. Here are profiles on five popular oils, and how to cook with them:
1. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a very healthy oil that is high in polyphenols. A staple of the Mediterranean Zone, olive oil is pressed from the fruit rather than the seed and is low in Omega 6 fatty acids that promote inflammation. It contains healthy monounsaturated fat and because the smoke point of olive oil is between 380 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be used safely as a frying oil without compromising its healthful benefits. Olive oil is believed to have the following benefits:
- It may reduce the risk of breast cancer
- It may reduce the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- It may help with weight management and reduce belly fat
- At room temperature, the polyphenols in olive oil can help fight cancer
There are two camps when it comes to cooking with olive oil. Some believe that it will compromise the integrity of the oil and create free radicals, while others believe that it is perfectly safe to cook with it as long as you don’t surpass the smoke point. If you are using refined olive oil, it is good for cooking because you won’t compromise its polyphenol content. If your goal is to reap the benefits of the polyphenols, using unrefined olive oil such as Dr. Sears Extra Virgin Olive Oil (available seasonally) is best at room temperature because adding any heat at all will destroy the polyphenols. One healthy way to enjoy unrefined olive oil is to pour a little bit on an already cooked meal or salad to enhance its flavor and healthful benefits.
2. Coconut Oil
Some studies show that coconut oil has health benefits. They include benefits for the skin, hair and heart. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids. It is also anti-microbial and anti-fungal. The smoke point of coconut oil is 350 degrees Fahrenheit and is safe for cooking. Coconut oil is believed to have the following health benefits:
- It may support heart health
- It may help with weight loss
- It may help boost immunity
- It may support healthy digestion
There is controversy among health experts about the benefits of coconut oil. Some think of coconut oil as unhealthy for the heart because of its high levels of saturated fats, and other say it is heart healthy because of the lauric acid it contains which can help with cholesterol levels. Dr. Sears says that literature does not support the health benefits of coconut oil.
3. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is a slightly nutty tasting oil that is very healthy for cooking. Like olive oil, it is pressed from the avocado fruit rather than the seed. It contains monounsaturated fats which makes it healthier than oils containing saturated fats. Its profile is similar to unrefined Olive Oil, but has a much higher smoke point (520 degrees) which makes it even more ideal for cooking than olive oil. This means that you can heat the oil to a very high temperature and not cause the formation of free radicals. Some of the benefits of avocado oil include:
- It may lower blood pressure
- It may be healthy for your teeth and gums
- It may help heal psoriasis
- It supports heart health and may lower cholesterol
- Used at a low temperature, it has beneficial polyphenols
Because of its very high smoke point, it remains stable during cooking and is safe for deep frying foods, however, like unrefined olive oil it is high in polyphenols. If you are looking for the benefits of polyphenols in your avocado oil, it is better to drizzle it on foods and use it at room temperature as heating it will destroy the polyphenols. Avocado oil is a lesser known oil, but is fast becoming popular. It is a bit more expensive than the other oils, but its health benefits are worth the extra money.
4. High Oleic Safflower Oil
High oleic Safflower oil is a vegetable oil that contains monounsaturated fats which makes it stable for cooking at higher temperatures. It comes from a tall plant with spiky leaves and orange or yellow flowers. The flowers were used in ancient Egypt as a color dye. High oleic safflower oil’s smoke point is 459 degrees Fahrenheit. When choosing safflower oil for cooking be sure to choose the high oleic variety. High linoleic safflower oil contains polyunsaturated fats and is not stable for cooking. Research is still in its early stages, but it seems that high oleic safflower oil has potential to lower cholesterol. Other benefits include:
- It may contain some antioxidants
- It can be used as a moisturizing oil
- It can be a carrier oil for scented essential oils
One healthy way to use high oleic safflower oil is to use it in a veggie stir fry.
5. High Oleic Sunflower Oil
With a smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit, High oleic sunflower oil is another vegetable oil that is a good choice for cooking. It is made from pressed sunflower seeds and is low in saturated fat. It has a long shelf life because of the high monounsaturated fat it contains. High oleic sunflower oil may help keep cholesterol levels in check. Other health benefits include:
- It may have heart healthy properties
- It may help prevent cancer
- It may help with skin health
- It may protect against asthma
Healthy ways to use high oleic sunflower oil include stir fry dishes, and as a healthy substitute for shortening in baking.
There are many other cooking oils that are healthy, and the main thing to watch out for is the smoke point. Once an oil is heated past its smoke point, health benefits as well as taste become compromised. The oils become oxidized when heated beyond the smoke points and create free radicals which cause chronic inflammation and lead to disease.