Published January 15, 2014
When it comes to choosing the right cooking oil, the variety of products on the market can be confusing. Selecting the right types of fats and oils to cook with can not only change the flavor profile of your meal, but can also make a difference in how healthy it is. It’s also important to not just choose the healthiest oils and fats – but to consider how you will use these products when you cook.
Different oils have different chemical make-ups, which make some of them better suited for higher-heat cooking than others. It’s important to know which oils can tolerate high heat, and which ones can't, because heating oils above their smoke point can produce harmful free radicals that can hurt your health. Here are some healthy oils that can easily be incorporated into any diet.
Grass-fed ghee (clarified butter)
Ghee is made by boiling off the water and milk proteins of butter, leaving a rich butterfat, which is free of casein and usually tolerated by people who can’t typically tolerate butter. It is traditionally used in Indian cooking and has wonderful health benefits. Grass-fed ghee is rich in the fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2 as well as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center may play a role in reducing tumors in certain cancers. Its high smoke point makes it ideal for searing, sautéing and even deep-frying.
This versatile oil goes well with both sweet and savory dishes and boasts many health benefits. Made up of medium-chain fatty acids, this oil is good for those trying to lose weight because the body can easily use this healthy fat for energy.
A large portion of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are made of lauric acid, which can serve as an antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial, helping to combat viruses and boost the immune system. Raw, virgin coconut oil can be used in low-temperature cooking or as a substitute for any fat in baking.
While refined coconut oil has less health benefits than raw unrefined, it has a higher smoke point and can be used in higher-temperature cooking, such as frying. Look for coconut oil that is not hydrogenated and has not been treated with hexane.
This oil also contains antibacterial properties, which may help protect against abnormal bacteria growth. According to the National Institutes of Health, regular consumption of sesame oil can help lower blood pressure, making it a good choice for those with hypertension.
The fat-soluble lignin, known as sesamin, found in sesame oil has also been found to inhibit the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cells including prostate, breast, colon and lung. Light sesame oil has a high smoke point and can be used for frying while dark sesame oil from roasted sesame seeds has a lower smoking point making it a tasty option for stir frying or making sauces.
This healthy little nut produces an oil containing a variety of minerals including selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iron and calcium, which help stabilize hormones. It also provides cardio-protective benefits thanks to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids.
Walnuts are also one of the best sources of antioxidants amongst tree nuts. Antioxidents can help counteract the effects of free radicals which are known to accelerate aging and cause cell damage. Its low smoking point means that walnut oil is best uncooked, and can add a distinctively rich flavor to dressings and sauces.
Different oils can provide different flavor profiles and change the entire taste of a meal. Rotating your oils can also keep your taste buds entertained even when you’re watching what you eat. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when deciding how to use a new oil is that generally the less refined the oil, the lower its smoke point. In other words, raw, unrefined oils should be kept away from high heat.