The oils aisle at the grocery store can be a bit overwhelming. With smoke points, refined, and unrefined, it can be hard to decide between olive, avocado, and coconut—just to name a few.
Each oil has unique health benefits, flavors, and uses. Understanding these will help you decide which oil works best for your diet and purposes.
What Is the Smoke Point?
The smoke point is the highest temperature oil can reach before it starts to burn. Once it burns, it denatures the oil and causes it to lose enzymes and other nutrients. Ingesting burnt oil creates free radicals in our body which can result in inflammation and signs of aging. It’s important to select the right oil for the job, based on its smoke point and how you want to use it.
Refined Versus Unrefined Oils
The refining process can drastically change the oil. Canola oil, for example, comes refined and unrefined. Refined canola oil has a smoke point of 400 F, but chemicals such as bleach or hexane are used to extract the oil. Most canola grown in North America is genetically modified. Organic, unrefined canola oil has a smoke point of 200 F, and steam is used to extract the oil. It’s also free of GMOs.
Types of Oils and How to Use Them
Avocado oil is made from the fleshy part of avocados and is now being used in products from mayonnaise to potato chips. It’s one of the few oils we can eat that doesn’t come from a seed.
Smoke point: 500 F (one of the highest smoke points for cooking oils)
How to use: You can use this versatile oil for everything. You can fry an egg, bake cookies, roast veggies, and stir-fry with it. It’s also delicious on salads.
Health benefits: We need fat in our diets, and it’s important to choose the right oils. We want “good fat” as opposed to bad fats like trans fats. Avocado oil is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Avocado oil promotes healthy blood lipid profiles and enhances the bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals from the avocado itself and other fruits and vegetables. It’s also good for cardiovascular health, is a great source of vitamin E, and it helps our body absorb nutrients like carotenoids that need fat to help with absorption.
This oil comes from the camelina sativa seed, an ancient oilseed grown in Saskatchewan, Canada. The seed is part of the brassica family—the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
Smoke point: 475 F
How to use: You can use it to roast vegetables, in soups, and drizzled on pizza. Its high smoke point means it’s also good for searing fish and topping pasta. It’s also cold-pressed, which means the oil isn’t heated when it’s produced.
Health benefits: Camelina oil is high in omega-3s and vitamin E. It contains a unique type of vitamin E called “gamma-tocopherol” that allows the oil to stay stable while cooking.
Canola is a popular vegetable oil is made from the rapeseed plant. It’s used in many packaged products as well as restaurants.
Smoke point: 400 F refined, 225 F unrefined
How to use: Canola is good to cook and bake with, but as we mentioned above, it’s important to purchase organic, unrefined canola oil to avoid chemicals and GMOs.
Health benefits: Canola contains omega 3’s and oleic acid and is mostly made up of monounsaturated fats.
Smoke point: 350–375 F
How to use: Eat it straight from the container with a spoon, put in your shakes, morning coffee or golden milk, or use in baking. It’s also delicious on popcorn.
Health benefits: Coconut oil is a good type of saturated fat that contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). It is being studied for heart and brain health, it increases our metabolism, and can lower bad cholesterol.
Olive oil, also referred to as “liquid gold,” is made from olives and comes from different parts of the world such as Greece, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, and Portugal. Italy is the largest exporter.
There are many different types of olive oil available at the grocery store: Extra virgin, virgin light, and pure. Stay away from olive oil that says “pure” on the label. It is the lowest quality and could even be mixed with other oils.
Extra virgin is the gold standard. It means there are no defects in the olives used to produce the oil. It is the least processed and contains the most nutrients (antioxidants, polyphenols, tocopherols, etc.). Make sure the oil is cold-pressed, which means it’s the least processed. If the oil smells rancid or like crayons, it has gone bad.
Smoke point: 350–420°F
How to use: Use expensive olive oil for dipping bread, dressings, dips, and cold dishes. Use less expensive olive oil for cooking things like kale chips, but still, make sure it is extra virgin or virgin.
Health benefits: It contains antioxidants that help to reduce oxidative stress that can come from those pesky free radicals. It has a compound called oleocanthal that mimics ibuprofen at reducing inflammation and pain, so it’s great for people who suffer from painful conditions such as arthritis.
Sunflower oil is made from sunflower seeds and should be used as a finishing oil since it has one of the lowest smoke points. Sunflower oil can be high in linoleic oil (a polyunsaturated fat) or oleic oil (monounsaturated fat). Polyunsaturated fats can cause inflammation, so look for sunflower oil that’s high oleic like this one from Dr. Mercola that contains higher amounts of monounsaturated fats.
Smoke point: 220°F
How to use: This oil is great in dips, topping your cold pasta, or on a bean salad.
Health benefits: As long as you get an oil that’s high in oleic, the monounsaturated fats make it similar to olive oil-good for your heart, anti-inflammatory, and high in vitamin E.
Lisa Roth Collins is a registered holistic nutritionist and the marketing manager at NaturallySavvy.com, which first published this article.