Healthy Cooking Oils Buyer's Guide
Tips and recommendations for choosing the best cooking oils.
With the large array of cooking oil choices at the supermarket, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Here’s a guide for choosing healthful oils, plus which oils you should always have on hand.
Choosing Healthy Fats
All food sources that we think of as "fats"—we’re talking butter, shortening, oils—are made up of fatty acids. These fatty acids have specific chemical shapes that affect both how the fat performs in cooking (or baking) and how the fat affects your health. These chemical shapes generally are classified as saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. All fats contain all three types but are classified by the type of fatty acid that makes up most of the fat. For example, since butter consists mostly of "saturated" fatty acids, it’s considered a "saturated fat."
Examples: butter, lard, shortening
How to spot them: They’re solid at room temperature.
Health notes: A diet high in saturated fat has been linked with elevated cholesterol levels and increased risk for heart disease, so it’s best to limit use of them.
Examples: canola oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil
How to spot them: They’re always liquid—even if you put them in the fridge.
Health notes: When used in place of saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can help to improve blood cholesterol levels, thereby reducing risk for heart disease. "Omega-6" and "omega-3" are other terms used to describe specific types of polyunsaturated oils. Although both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are essential for good health, omega-3s also have additional heart-health and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Examples: olive oil, peanut oil
How to spot them: They’re liquid at room temperature but become semi-solid (or cloudy) in the refrigerator.
Health notes: When substituted for saturated fats, monounsaturated fats can help to improve blood cholesterol levels, thereby reducing risk for heart disease.
In short, you should choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—olive and canola oils, for instance—over saturated fats, like butter and lard, to minimize your risk for heart disease. And a well-stocked kitchen includes a variety of different oils for a variety of reasons: what you’re using them for, their nutritional benefits you and how much they cost.
Our Top 3 Oil Picks
If you have limited pantry space and a limited budget, these three oils will cover your basic cooking and baking needs.
In addition to being a source of monounsaturated fats, extra-virgin olive oil is also high in antioxidants called polyphenols that have been linked to heart health. ("Pure" olive oil—in other words not virgin—doesn’t contain these "bonus" antioxidants.)
Best uses: Use in dishes that will benefit from olive oil’s rich flavor—drizzle on steamed vegetables and use to make salad dressing or to sauté vegetables.