Cooking oils vary in nutrition and fat composition and this makes their health benefits unique. Selecting the best cooking oil for health depends on individual health needs.
Cooking oil may be used as a “healthier” alternative to animal-based fats like butter or lard. Why? Because unlike animal-based fats that are high in saturated fat, cooking oil contains a higher proportion of unsaturated fats. Studies have shown that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.1
Extra virgin olive oil
Popular in Mediterranean diets, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is made from pure cold pressed olives. It is less processed than other olive oils and retains more of its natural vitamins that can sometimes be lost during processing.
Extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants
Antioxidants can play a role in reducing the risk of developing cancers and type two diabetes.2 They protect vital tissues by reducing dangerous free radicals in the body that can cause oxidative damage.
One study tested the antioxidative power of olive oil on 200 healthy males. They observed that with increasing phenol (antioxidant) concentration in olive oil, there were significant decreases in fat oxidation (damage). They also observed an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which can contribute to a lowered risk for developing cardiovascular disease.3
Extra virgin olive oil may help prevent cardiovascular disease
A study followed 7,447 people who were at risk of cardiovascular disease and fed them a Mediterranean diet with EVOO or a control diet. The researchers noted any major cardiovascular events including strokes, heart attacks, or death from cardiovascular disease. 3.8% of those given EVOO experienced a cardiovascular event, while 4.4% of the control group did during the 4.8 year follow up period.4 The results suggest that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular events.
Walnuts may reduce risk for metabolic syndrome
According to studies, a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity.5 Omega-6 fatty acids have also been shown to increase inflammation of blood vessels6 and the risk for atherosclerosis.7 The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio may be helpful when deciding the best cooking oil for health.
One study tested the effect of walnut consumption on the omega-6:omega-3 ratio in rats. The rats’ diets were supplemented with or without walnuts for six weeks. The researchers found that those that consumed walnuts had a significantly reduced ratio compared to those who did not.5
Walnut oil may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
A study examined the effect of walnut extract on amyloid beta protein fibrillization. High levels of amyloid beta protein are found in Alzheimer’s patients, and may contribute to memory loss. Researchers observed that walnut oil can prevent fibrillization, which may help prevent Alzheimer’s progression.8 They also observed that walnut consumption in mice improved indicators of learning, memory, and anxiety.
Flaxseed oil is versatile
Flaxseed oil contains relatively high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. One research group tested how this high omega-3 content affected atherosclerosis in rabbits with high cholesterol. The rabbits given a diet containing flaxseeds showed significantly less plaque in their blood vessels than those without flaxseed, suggesting reduced atherosclerosis risk.9 Other studies suggest that flaxseed oil could help reduce the risk of diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease, and osteoporosis.10
Peanut oil contains approximately 75% of oleic and omega-6 fatty acids.11 Oleic acid, a monounsaturated acid, may help reduce inflammation and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
One study examined overweight and obese individuals on either a low-fat or moderate-fat diet. The moderate fat diet included monounsaturated fats where half of the fat was provided by peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil. At the end of the study, those on the moderate diet showed an increased ratio of HDL (“good”) cholesterol to total cholesterol compared to the low-fat group.12 There was a 11% reduction in total cholesterol and a 14% decrease in LDL. Both groups had similar weight losses over the study period.
High-Oleic Canola Oil
Canola oil, a vegetable oil, has one of the highest smoke points of cooking oils. This high smoke point makes it ideal for high temperature cooking like frying. One type of canola oil is high-oleic canola oil. Compared to regular canola oil, high-oleic canola oil contains slightly higher amounts of monounsaturated fats at 70% compared to regular canola oil’s 61%.13 It contains no trans fats.
Canola oil may help regulate blood sugar levels
One study gave healthy women two diets, one high in saturated fatty acids and the other high in monounsaturated fatty acids. The study used low-erucic acid rapeseed oil (canola oil) as the main fat source in the monounsaturated fat diet. After a three-week period, the group that ate the high monounsaturated fats had much higher rate of blood sugar disappearance than the group who consumed saturated fats. Total cholesterol was 29.5% lower in the group who consumed monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fats.14
Avocado oil is relatively high in saturated fats compared to other cooking oils at 14%.15
Avocados may reduce risk for metabolic disorders
A study under the U.S. National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey interviewed over 17,000 U.S. adults on their diet habits. Some were avocado consumers, and some were not. The relative diet quality, vitamin E and K intake, dietary fibre intake, and polyunsaturated fats were found to be significantly higher in avocado consumers. HDL (“good”) cholesterol was significantly higher in in avocado consumers and total BMI and waist circumference was lower than those who did not include avocados in their diet. The odds for avocado consumers to develop metabolic disorders was found to be 50% lower than those who did not eat avocados.16
Although these health benefits have been associated with eating avocados, it is important to note that studies have not confirmed this for avocado oil.
The best cooking oil for health really depends on individual needs. Cooking oils should be selected based on potential health benefits and individual health requirements. It is also important to consider if certain cooking oils can be sustainably incorporated into daily life, whether in salad dressings or a stir fry. It is always best to consult a dietician when deciding which cooking oil is best for you.
- Li, Y. et al. (2016). Saturated Fat as Compared With Unsaturated Fats and Sources of Carbohydrates in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 66(14): 1538-1548. Doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.055
- Montonen, J. et al. (2004). Dietary Antioxidant Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care; 27(2): 362-366. Doi: 10.2337/diacare.27.2.362.
- Covas, M. et al. (2006). The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine; 145(5): 333-341.
- Estruch, R. et al. (2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. The New England Journal of Medicine; 368: 1279-1290. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.
- Zec, M.M. et al. (2020). Omega-6/Omega-3 Decrease in High-Fructose-Fed Wistar Rats. ACS Omega; 5(43): 28136-28145. Doi: 10.1021/acsomega.0c03784.
- Toborek, M. et al. (2002). Unsaturated fatty acids selectively induce an inflammatory environment in human endothelial cells. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 75(1): 119-125. Doi: 10.1093/ajcn/75.1.119.
- Hennig, B. et al. (2001). High-energy diets, fatty acids and endothelial cell function: implications for atherosclerosis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition; 20(2 Suppl): 97-105. Doi: 10.1080/07315724.2001.10719021.
- Chauhan, A. and V. Chauhan. (2020). Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Nutrients; 12(2): 550. Doi: 10.3390/nu12020550.
- Dupasquier, C.M.C. et al. (2006). Effects of dietary flaxseed on vascular contractile function and atherosclerosis during prolonged hypercholesterolemia in rabbits. American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology; 291(6): H2987-2996. Doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.01179.2005.
- Goyal, A. et al. (2014). Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food. Journal of Food Science and Technology; 51(9): 1633-1653. Doi: 10.1007/s13197-013-1247-9.
- Campos-Mondragon, M.G. et al. (2009). Nutritional composition of new Peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) cultivars. Grasas y Aceites; 60(2). Doi: 10.3989/gya.075008.
- Pelkman, C.L. et al. (2004). Effects of moderate-fat (from monosaturated fat) and low-fat weight-loss diets on the serum lipid profile in overweight and obese men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 79(2): 204-212. Doi: 10.1093/ajcn/79.2.204.
- Classic and High-Oleic Canola Oils. Canolainfo.org. Accessed on May 22, 2021.
- Uusitupa, M. et al. (1994). Effects of two high-fat diets with different fatty acid compositions on glucose and lipid metabolism in healthy young women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 59(6): 1310-1316. Doi: 10.1093/ajcn/59.6.1310.
- Flores, M. et al. (2019). Avocado Oil: Characteristics, Properties, and Applications. Molecules; 24(11): 2172. Doi: 10.3390/molecules24112172.
- Fulgoni, V.L. et al. (2013). Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutrition Journal; 12(1). Doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-1.
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