4 healthy cooking oils that pack a nutritional punch


by Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN

Apr 4, 2022

Choosing cooking oils can be overwhelming due to the plethora of options available at the grocery store. While all oils can have different benefits, the most important factor to consider when picking one is what your goals are for cooking and for health. No oil is better or worse than the other, and all cooking oils and solids can play a part in a healthy diet.

What is key is using a variety of cooking fats to ensure you are getting different benefits. Fats are also essential for the body. Using oils when cooking can easily provide us with fat-soluble vitamins and heart-healthy fats, and they make food taste better which can help increase satisfaction after your meal.

Here are some of my favorite oils to cook with or use right now.

1. Canola oil: A good all-arounder

Canola is a mild-flavored, medium-high smoke point oil that is great to pan fry, sauté, roast or bake with. Canola oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which may decrease inflammation in the body and support heart health. Canola oil is affordable and easy to find in most grocery stores and convenience stores.

2. Olive oil: Flexible and flavorful

Olive oil is a tangy, flavorful oil with a low to medium (and sometimes high) smoke point. It is great for using in colder dishes like pesto or hummus, but can also be used to roast and sauté on medium heat. There are several grades of olive oil. Extra virgin is best used for cold dishes, while virgin can be used for pan frying and roasting.

Olive oil contains lots of unsaturated fatty acids, which are great for heart health, and contains plenty of polyphenols which are important for reducing free radicals and inflammation in the body. Olive oil can be more expensive than other oils, though typically virgin olive oil is more affordable than extra-virgin olive oil.

3. Sesame oil: A gift from Asia

Sesame oil is often used in Asian or Asian-inspired dishes. Non-toasted sesame oil tends to have a neutral and light taste and is suitable for sautéing, while toasted sesame oil has a richer and nuttier taste and is suitable as a dressing, in a marinade or for touch of flavor at the end of a dish (like a stir fry). Sesame oil, like all cooking oils, is high in Vitamin E, which is great for skin health and reducing inflammation in the body.

Sesame oils tend to be more expensive than other cooking oils; however, they are a great investment if you often cook Asian-inspired meals. While some grocery stores will carry one or two varieties, I recommend checking out specialty grocery stores to see if you can get a better deal and have more brands to choose from.

4. Peanut oil: The heart helper

Peanut oil is a nutty but mild cooking oil with a medium-high smoke point. Peanut oil can be great for higher heat foods like stir frying, pan frying or deep frying. French fries fried peanut oil are amazing! Peanut oil tends to be high in phytosterols which are known to promote heart health and lower cholesterol.

Peanut oil can be more expensive than other oils, so it may be an oil used for special occasions. Peanut oil has a long history in America, for which you can thank legendary scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, who developed more than 300 uses for the peanut, including this oil.

“Oil” things in moderation

Often times people are concerned with eating too much fat. When this concern is brought up by patients, I encourage variety in one’s food choices (taking into account if food is accessible here). Variety of food groups at meal time will ensure we are eating a balance of all the things we need in order to support a healthy body.

Oils are not something to feel nervous about using in the kitchen due to their nutrient density. Cooking oils can definitely be a part of one’s daily diet in a moderation that works best for the individual or family. If you have questions regarding fats or nutrition, get connected with a registered dietitian for advice.

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About the Author

Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.

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