What’s the Deal with Oil?

I get asked a lot of questions about cooking oils. What’s the best to use? What to avoid? What is the best for baking/cooking? I am going to try to explain it all in this post.

What's the Deal with Cooking Oil

Cold Dishes

Avocado oil –  Avocado oil is pressed from avocados and is 50% monounsaturated, which also makes this a heart healthy oil.  I often use avocado oil in cold salads.  It has a mild nutty flavor.

Flaxseed Oil – Flax oil is a no heat oil that is best used in cold dishes and dressings.  It is another oil with a high amount of heart healthy monounsaturated fats.

Olive oil – Olive oil is high in antioxidants and polyphenols.  Both of those have been linked to a healthy heart.  Olive oil is also a monounsaturated fat, which helps keep the bad cholesterol (LDL) low and it can give the good cholesterol (HDL) a boost.

Sesame oil –  Sesame oil is also high in antioxidants and it adds great flavor to any dish.

Hot Dishes

Avocado oil – Avocado oil also has a high smoke point and can be great for high heat cooking.

Coconut oil – Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and contains no cholesterol, so it can be a great alternative to butter.  It’s a great vegan option as well.  If you are worried about the taste coming through into your dishes, don’t be.  I have not noticed that a strong coconut flavor comes through at all.  It is also high in polyphenols, which protect against heart disease.  Coconut oil has a moderately high smoke point, so it is great for sauteing.

Grape seed Oil – Grape seed oil has a moderately high smoke point, so it is a good choice for cooking.  If you buy it, make sure it is cold pressed to assure you get the benefits.  Grape seed oil is high in vitamins C and E.  It also contains some beta carotene.

Hemp Oil – Hemp oil is another great source of omega 3 fatty acids.  It has a rich, nutty flavor.  I have not tried it myself yet, but it seems a healthy option.

Macadamia Oil – I have never used macadamia nut oil, but it does have a bold flavor and a medium high smoke point.  It is also a good source of monounsaturated fats, making it a heart healthy oil.

Peanut Oil –  Peanut oil is a high heat oil that has a healthy balance of fats.  However, it is technically a legume, and should be avoided by anyone on a paleo diet.  For others, it can provide great flavor to your Asian dishes.

Toasted Sesame Oil – Toasted sesame oils adds great flavor to stir fries and other Asian dishes.  I love that the flavor is enhanced and a little goes a long way.  It has a lower smoke point that sesame oil, so it is best for a quick saute, rather than a deep fry.

Walnut Oil –   Walnut oil is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.  It has a medium smoke point which would be great for light sauteing.


Coconut oil –  I love using coconut oil in baking.  Because it is partially solid at room temp, it is a great replacement for butter.  I am not saying butter is bad for you, just not vegan.  I don’t use it.  If you choose to use butter, please make sure that it is pastured – meaning it came from grass fed cows.  Very important since a lot of cows eat GMO corn.  I make sure to buy unrefined coconut oil.  I love Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil.

Grape Seed Oil –  As I mentioned above, grape seed oil has a fairly high smoke point, so you can use it in baking as well as cooking.

Walnut Oil – Walnut oil has a nutty flavor that is great in salad dressings as well as some baking recipes.  Be careful not to use it too much since it does have a higher amount of omega 6 fatty acids.  It is also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Oils to Avoid

Canola – Canola oil comes from rapeseed, which is one of the most genetically modified foods.  It is also very high in Omega 6 fatty acids which can sometimes promote inflammation.  Since canola oil is added into a lot of processed foods, most Americans get way more than needed.  This is what Natural News says about Canola oil.

In addition to the genetic modification, the process of making Canola oil is troubling. The procedure involves a combination of high-temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extract, usually using hexane. Hexane! Even after considerable refining, traces of the solvent remain. Like most vegetable oils, Canola oil also goes through the process of bleaching, degumming, deodorizing, and caustic refining, at very high temperatures. This process can alter the omega-3 content in the oil, and in certain conditions bring the trans fat level as high as 40 percent.

Corn Oil –  Corn oil is almost always genetically modified unless labeled organic or non GMO verified.  That alone is a good reason to avoid it.  GMO corn is designed with it’s own pesticide built in.  That is pretty disturbing to me.  If you eat processed foods, you diet contains high amounts of corn oil, because it’s in everything!

Safflower oil –  Safflower oil is another oil that is very high in omega 6 fatty acids without a lot of omega 3 fatty acids to balance it out.  Again, safflower oil is used a lot in processed foods, so you may already be unknowingly getting it in your diet.

Soybean oil –   Another big GMO offender.  Soybean oil should be avoided as well.  In processed foods, soybean oil is often partially hydrogenated making it a trans fat.  Trans fats should be avoided at all costs.

Sunflower oil – While sunflower oil can be a good source of vitamin E, it is very high in omega 6 fatty acids.  In order to balance those omega 6 fatty acids out, you will need to make sure you are getting enough omega 3 fatty acids in your diet as well.  I choose to not use it at all.  If you look at the labels in processed foods, many of them contain sunflower oil, so you may be already getting too much in your diet.

Vegetable Shortening –  Vegetable shortening is shelf stable and has a long shelf life.  It is dangerous because it can often contain trans fats if the oils have been partially hydrogenated.  I would avoid this all together.

I hope that has cleared up some of the confusion.  I definitely learned a few new things writing this post.


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127 thoughts to “What’s the Deal with Oil?”

  1. Are organic sunflower and safflower oils still bad for you? Also was wondering, I found some organic tortillas with unrefined safflower oil. Would that be ok if its unrefined?
    1. Unrefined oil is the best to use. I would avoid safflower and sunflower oils as much as possible. IF you are only eating it in tortillas, then that is probably okay.
  2. Deep frying and high heat cooking is an integral part of my cooking.I have used olive oil n recently moved to sunflower oil.Which oil will you recommend for making curries and chicken fry? Many thanks
    1. Some are more versatile than others when using cold, low, medium or high heat. The smoke point of the oil determines how high the heat can be, before it starts to break down, smoke and become less nutritious or potentially harmful. Some smoke points to consider: Extra Virgin Olive - 320°F Coconut - 350°F Grape seed - 392°F Sesame - 410°F Almond - 420°F Virgin Olive - 420°F Rice bran - 450°F Pomace Olive - 460°F Extra Light Olive - 468°F Avocado - 520°F source: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Information/CookingOilTypes.htm
      1. Since frying usually takes place at or above 400, Coconut would not be suggested. (Sorry). Coconut is one of my favorites, but not for frying; would be safe for other cooking or baking needs, up to 350°F. I would use one of the others on the list I provided.
        1. Thanks for the info but if the only consideration is boiling points than sunflower oil should be a good option. That s exactly the reason I switched to it....Its all very confusing
  3. What would you suggest roasting veggies at? I have been using safflower/sunflower oil thinking it was good because it's a 'high heat' oil. Thanks!
      1. Roasting, is usually done at high temps, similar to frying. Roasting temps usually start at 375, up to 500, so again would suggest referring to the frying oils list. If you are staying at the lower limit, closer to 350, coconut may work fine. However, you may find a smokey oven if you use temps much higher. A regular run of the mill (not Extra) Virgin Olive Oil or light olive oil should work fine, without smoking or altering the food flavor in a negative way.
  4. Hi Melissa! Great info here. I know to aviod vegetable shortening, but what healthy alternative could I use. My daughter absolutely loves apple pie in the fall and our family recipe calls for shortening in the crust. I just cringe when I watch her eat it. Help! :)
    1. I use the crust recipe for this pie. https://mywholefoodlife.com/2013/11/16/grain-free-pecan-pie/ It only calls for 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. It is not as flaky as traditional crust, but it's very good! You can use another flour in place of the almond flour. Also, if you eat butter, you can use that in place of shortening. Just make sure is is pastured butter.

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