4 best cooking oils for your health, according to experts

From avocado to walnut, our experts have pored over the options to give you the inside scoop on the healthiest cooking oils around.

Cooking oils are a kitchen staple, but selecting the right one can be a slippery business.

There’s a staggering variety to choose from these days, so it can be easy to feel a bit overwhelmed in the oil aisle.

Whether you’re frying, sauteing, or dressing a salad, these expert-approved oils will add some sizzle to your meals without sacrificing your health.

What makes a healthy oil?

Dietitian Leanne Elliston from Nutrition Australia says different oils have different impacts on your health.

“Some fats are harmful and some are helpful, so it’s important to choose an oil that contains good fats with a healthy fatty acid profile,” Leanne says.

According to Leanne, the healthiest oils contain poly and mono-unsaturated fats derived from nuts, seeds, avocado and olives, which can help to reduce harmful cholesterol in the blood.

She recommends avoiding oils that are very high in saturated fat, such as palm and coconut oil.

“Saturated fat increases the risk of cholesterol and heart disease,” she says.

“You’ll often find palm oil in vegetable blends, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of this when choosing a cooking oil.”

Are all oils created equal?

How oil is produced can impact its nutritional makeup.

Cold-pressed oils are produced by pressing the seeds or nuts to extract the oil without using heat or chemicals so the flavour and nutrients of the oil are preserved.

However, cold-pressed oils tend to have a lower smoke point and may not be suitable for high-heat cooking methods such as frying.

Cold-pressing is also expensive, which is why you pay more at the checkout for these types of oils.

“I’ll scrimp and save on some groceries, but not on my oils,” Leanne says.

“Paying extra for good quality, healthy oil is worth it.”

Refined oils, on the other hand, undergo extensive processing to remove impurities and create a clear, neutral-tasting oil.

Oils produced this way such as soya bean, canola, rice bran and grapeseed are cheaper and also more stable at higher temperatures.

Four healthiest oils

1. Extra virgin olive oil: best all-rounder

“This is hands down the healthiest cooking oil,” Leanne says.

“It’s got a healthy fatty acid profile and it contains lots of antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting and heart health properties, and you can cook and bake with it, use it in a stir fry, or in salads.”

Leanne says the fresher the oil, the better.

“I always recommend buying local or Australian, and not storing for too long, as the fresher the oil, the healthier it is for you,” she says.

2. Canola oil: best affordable option

Registered nutritionist Kristen Beck says canola oil is a great option for high-temperature cooking. 

“Canola oil is low in saturated fats, contains heart-healthy omega-3s and it’s a safe, stable oil,” Kristen says.

3. Avocado oil: best for frying 

Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve heart health. 

“It also contains antioxidants that can help protect against disease,” Kristen says. 

“Avocado oil has a high smoke point, which makes it suitable for high-temperature cooking like frying.” 

4. Nuts and seeds: best for salads 

Kristen says oils that contain mostly polyunsaturated fats, while healthy, tend to have a relatively low smoke point.  

“Flaxseed oil, walnut oil, pumpkin seed oil and sesame oil are all great for use in salad dressings, dips, smoothies and low-temperature cooking methods like sauteing and baking, but they are not suitable for frying,” she says. 

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Written by Dimity Barber.