Know Your Cooking Oils

Know Your Cooking Oils

Get the best health, flavor, and cooking benefits from the oils you use.

Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT with A to Zinc Nutrition, LLC

On any given day in the “what’s best” amidst the media stream, you might hear about an oil that has newly discovered health properties or newly published research that makes it rise to the top as the preferred oil. We must be careful about following such claims. There are many factors to consider when deciding on the oils to use in food preparation.

In general, oils are not healthy. While olive oil is considered one of the healthiest, it’s not perfect. No oil is better than the whole food it was derived from, and all oils are processed to varying degrees. Additionally, no oil fits neatly into one specific category of saturation; they are all a mix of mono- and polyunsaturated and saturated fats, each with their unique benefits or detriments.

So, what’s a chef to do when cooking healthy is the goal?

Keep the cooking heat as low as possible.

Heating oils beyond their smoke points causes damage to the oil. The damage causes the loss of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E or phytonutrients. Without phytonutrients, the oil loses its characteristic colors, smells, and flavors.


Overheating oils can also cause the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells that promote illness and aging. When cells are damaged, it causes further oxidative stress in the body.


Lastly, exceeding the smoke point of an oil can form other unwanted substances such as PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that can lead to chronic illness and possibly even cancer. Yikes. The bottom line:  use the minimum amount of heat required to cook your food selections.

Choose the appropriate smoke point.

The smoke point is the natural property of unrefined oils that reflects their chemical composition where an oil can be heated up to a certain temperature that allows it to remain stable. The more refined an oil is, the higher its smoke point; the less refined, the lower the smoke point. Increasing smoke points is the main reason manufacturers refine oils. Here are a few examples:

Safflower, unrefined 225*F
Safflower, refined 450*F
Sunflower, unrefined 225*F
Sunflower, refined high oleic 450*F
Olive oil, extra virgin <200*F
Olive oil, refined 425-450*F



Each category of refinement has similar temperature guidelines among the various oils but do pay attention to the manufacturer guidelines. Generally, unrefined oils are the best choice for foods made to be served cold while high temperature oils are used for frying, baking, roasting, etc.

Pick the oil has the greatest health and flavor value to you.

Once you have decided what you need for temperature, consider health and flavor value next. For example, if you must cook at high temperatures, consider using an oil such as avocado oil that has a naturally high smoke point. This oil needs less refinement to support high heat cooking. The less refined an oil is, the better for your health.


Unrefined oils tend to have high antioxidant value, especially olive oil. Olive oil is primarily monounsaturated fat that helps reduce your risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses as long as it is not heated. Olive oil can be used in cold food dishes or added to heated foods after they are done cooking.


Olive oil is often chosen over other oils because it is rich in flavor. Try adding a little extra virgin olive oil to your steamed green beans just before serving! Or mix it with a blend of apple cider vinegar and mustard for a tasty salad dressing. Other unrefined oils such as walnut, almond, and sesame have unique flavors that pair well with a variety of dishes.

Cook without oils.

If figuring out which oil to use is just too much, or you really want the healthiest method of cooking, consider cooking in broth instead of oil. This method is called the healthy sauté method and can be used for just about any type of food preparation without harmful health side effects.

To learn more about optimizing your food plan, health, and cooking methods, schedule a free Discovery Call:

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