What is the healthiest cooking oil, and which to avoid?

healthiest cooking oil

There are many different dietary oils to choose from, and I often get asked about which oil is “best” for health. When choosing an oil as part of a healthy diet, it is important to consider whether it is refined or unrefined, has a low or high smoke point, and the type of dietary fatty acids it contains (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated). The most common cooking oils include olive, canola, corn, grape seed, peanut, and safflower oils.

Refined vs. Unrefined – Refined oils are filtered to remove particles and resins, but this also removes nutrients and flavor. Although lower in nutrients, refined oils are better for high-heat cooking. Unrefined oils are more fragile and have a low smoke point, and are best used unheated for salad dressings, dips, or to drizzle over foods.

Smoke Point – Consideration of the smoke point of each oil is most important for health, since oil heated above this point is subject to oxidation and at risk of catching on fire. See the smoke points of the different oils in the table below.

Cooking Oil Smoke Point (Degrees F)
Unrefined Canola


Unrefined Safflower


Unrefined Corn


Extra Virgin Olive


Unrefined Peanut


Refined Canola


Virgin Olive


Grape Seed




Refined Corn


Refined Peanut


Refined Safflower


Extra Light Olive



Types of Oils

Olive oil is by far the most commonly used for home cooking. There are many different types of olive oil including extra-virgin, virgin, extra-light, and refined. Extra-virgin olive oil is considered the healthiest of these types, as it is the extracted using the first cold pressing of the olives with no heat or chemicals applied. It is higher in monounsaturated fatty acids and rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins E and K, chlorophyll, and carotenoids.

Canola oil is also widely used, and is extracted from rapeseed in the mustard family. It is light and neutral tasting, making it popular for cooking and baking. It is lower in saturated fat than olive and soybean oil and thus often recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Corn oil is commonly used in margarine and may also be used in salad dressings and in dips with strong savory and spicy flavors. Corn oil has a low smoke point and should not be used for high-heat cooking.

Grape seed oil is rich in antioxidants and is greenish in color, with a herbaceous flavor. It is best used in salad dressings, marinades, or brushed on meat or poultry for grilling.

Peanut oil is also rich in monounsaturated fat, and has a light, nutty aroma. It is stable at higher temperatures and is known for not absorbing or transferring flavors, making it an excellent choice for sautéing and stir frying.

Safflower oil is flavorless and odorless, and refined safflower oil can be used at very high temperatures for deep frying foods. Unrefined safflower oil has a very low smoke point and is best used for salad dressings and sauces.

The oil you choose as part of your healthy diet depends on how you will be using it and your health goals. If you would like to lower your cholesterol, choose oils lowest in saturated fat and keep them to a minimum to create a lower fat diet. If you primarily use your oils for salad dressing and low heat cooking, unrefined oils with a lower smoke point will add flavor and nutrients to your meals. If you frequently cook stir-fry dishes and tempura, oils with high smoke points are more appropriate.

For additional information about oils, print the Smoke point of various fats for a quick reference guide.


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