Cooking oils play a pivotal role in our culinary adventures, adding flavors and textures to our favorite dishes. However, not all cooking oils are created equal, and their health implications should be carefully considered. In this topic of the week, we’ll delve into the benefits and drawbacks of various cooking oils, highlighting the top three healthiest choices. We’ll also discuss the “Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB)” diet’s stance on oil consumption and explore the shift in perception towards canola oil. Lastly, we’ll touch upon the impact of cooking at high temperatures on the health properties of oils. In the end, we’ll recommend the top one or two oils to keep for cost and freshness.

The Top 3 Healthiest Oils and Why They Are Recommended:

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, extra virgin olive oil is renowned for its heart-healthy benefits. These fats help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Moreover, its antioxidants combat inflammation and oxidative stress, promoting overall well-being. For best results, use extra virgin olive oil in salad dressings and low-heat cooking (we will discuss more of this below).  This is our go-to STAPLE oil because of its versatility and taste profile and a drizzle of it is the starting ingredient to the majority of our EASY PLANT BASED RECIPES.

2. Avocado Oil: Extracted from the nutrient-packed avocado fruit, avocado oil is another excellent choice. It contains high levels of monounsaturated fats, potassium, and vitamins E and K. These nutrients support cardiovascular health and aid in nutrient absorption. Avocado oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, making it suitable for medium to high-heat cooking and frying.

3. Coconut Oil: While controversial due to its high saturated fat content, coconut oil offers unique health benefits. Its medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can be quickly converted into energy and may help boost metabolism. This is our favorite baking oil hands down, it elevates a baked good from tasty to exceptional. However, moderation is key due to the saturated fat content. 

The recommendation for Olive Oil and Avocado Oil come from the Healthline article “4 HEALTHIER COOKING OILS (AND 4 TO AVOID)” and the recommendation for Coconut Oil comes from the Healthline Article “10 EVIDENCE-BASED HEALTH BENEFITS OF COCONUT OIL.” These are both informative articles to check out.

The Whole Foods Plant Based Diet and Oil Consumption Philosophy:

The WFPB diet encourages a focus on unprocessed, whole plant foods to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. While oils like olive and avocado can have positive health impacts in small quantities, the WFPB diet suggests minimizing or eliminating their consumption. Whole plant foods contain natural fats and fiber that provide essential nutrients without the need for added oils. By avoiding oils, and substituting vegetable broth or simply water, individuals following the WFPB diet can reduce caloric intake and maintain a healthier lipid profile.  FORKS OVER KNIVES has some great information on the philosophy behind this concept and is a great resource.

Canola Oil: Once Recommended, Now Possibly Considered Inflammatory:

Canola oil was once touted as a healthier option due to its low saturated fat content and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. However, recent research has revealed concerns about its inflammatory properties. Canola oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can lead to an imbalance with omega-3s and promote inflammation in the body. As a result, health experts now recommend limiting the use of canola oil and opting for healthier alternatives like olive or avocado oil, but if used in very small quantities the drawbacks are probably not significant.

Impact of Cooking at High Temperatures on Oils:

Cooking oils have specific smoke points, the temperature at which they start to break down and produce smoke. Heating oils beyond their smoke points can alter their health properties, turning healthy fats into harmful compounds. Olive oil, for example, has a lower smoke point, so it’s best used in low to medium-heat cooking. For high-heat cooking, consider using oils with higher smoke points, such as avocado oil or refined coconut oil.

Choosing the right cooking oils can significantly impact our health. The top three healthiest oils – extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil (in moderation) – offer various health benefits, from reducing inflammation to supporting heart health. When cooking with oils, it’s essential to consider their smoke points to preserve their health properties. To keep things simple, extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are the top choices, offering a balance between health benefits, cost-effectiveness, and freshness.