The lowdown on oils: Which are the best and worst for you?

Do you know your olive oil from your canola oil or coconut oil? Here’s what you need you need to know – and which ones to avoid.

Oils have got a little complicated.

A few generations ago, the range of oils you could add to your diet were limited.

But peruse the aisles of your local supermarket or health food shop today and you’ll be overwhelmed by the choice of oils on offer.

But not all oils are equally good for us.

“Some oils contain saturated fats – they’re not good for cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Switching to unsaturated fat alternatives are better,” says Gabrielle Maston, of Dietitians Association of Australia.

“It’s also important to remember that more isn’t necessarily better.

“Fat has the highest amount of energy compared to carbohydrates and proteins and if you use a lot of fat – healthy or unhealthy – it can contribute to weight gain.

“About a tablespoon of oil per day is all we need.”

The healthy oils

Extra-virgin oil

One of the healthiest oils, the darker green the colour the higher the quality.

This is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and is high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and oleic acids, which reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk.

All this makes it a good choice for a salad or cooking.

Canola oil and flaxseed oil

These plant-based oils contain polyunsaturated fats.

Canola oil comes from the crushed seeds of the canola plant and contains omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid, which is believed to help reduce inflammation and be good for the heart.

Sesame oil

This oil has a nutty taste and can be used in salads, dressings and for cooking – especially Chinese and Indian dishes.

It’s low in unhealthy saturated fats and has a long shelf life. Studies say it may help lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.


Oils to avoid or use in moderation

Coconut oil

“There’s been a push to encourage us to use coconut oil, but it contains saturated fats that are linked to higher cholesterol and a higher risk of heart disease,” says Gabrielle.

Coconut oil comes from unrefined coconut milk.

Lard and ghee

Ghee is clarified butter and is popular in Indian cooking – but it’s high in saturated fat.

As is lard, which is usually made of pork fat and made up of about 40 per cent saturated fat.

Palm oil

This oil is mostly used commercially and in takeaway foods and is about 50 per cent saturated fat.

“It makes foods creamy inside and crispy outside so is used a lot in pastries and biscuits,” says Gabrielle.

Written by Sarah Marinos.