One of the most frequent questions I hear from folks is the one that has to do with oils. Which is the healthiest oil? Which oil should I use for cooking? Is coconut oil good for you? The question came up at the most recent grocery store tour this past weekend.
There are no straight answers to any of these questions. In some circumstances a very healthy oil is not one most chefs would use for cooking; and in some cases, a good cooking oil is not one a dietitian would recommend for health.
Oils that are suited for cooking have to withstand high heat. Certain oils, when heated, undergo changes that render them unstable and therefore not the best choices for cooking. Olive oil for example, (which is recommended for good health since it contains unsaturated fats, and has low levels of omega 6 fatty acids which tend to promote inflammation), is not well suited for frying. Olive oil has a low smoking point, meaning it will start to smoke at a lower heat than peanut oil for example. Olive oil is better used for dressings, marinades and baking. Conversely, palm oil which is a good frying oil scores low for health.
So that’s the dilemma.
After reviewing many sources, searching the internet and exploring nutrition and culinary references, I came across a chart that does a nice job in presenting the dichotomy between culinary and health preferences. It includes information about the nuances of different oils such as the level of refinement, the presence of omega 3 and 6, and even includes some information about genetic modification.
Click here to visit a blog post that explains how the chart was created. It is a quick read. The chart is linked to the blog post.
To read the chart: The chart is divided into four sections by two axes. The culinary considerations are on the X axis and the health component of the oils is on the Y axis. The further right you go on the X axis the better suited the oil in terms of cooking (higher temperatures). The further up you go on the Y axis the better the oil in terms of health. So you might see for example that although walnut oil is made from heart healthy walnuts which are high in omega 3 fatty acids, heating the oil compromises these, therefore it is not recommended for cooking but can be used as a ‘finishing’ oil in dressings, marinades and such.
I hope you find this chart as useful as I have and it is my wish that it answers some of your questions. Be well, stay well!
Julia is a corporate dietitian and nutrition educator with Affinity Health System.