The Healthy Cooking Oils You Should Have in Your Pantry

And when to use them.



The other day, I made my way to the Whole Foods oil aisle to restock on olive oil and, on my way out, I found myself in a grocery-cart traffic jam (damn you, Whole Foods). Waiting for the traffic to get moving again, I noticed just how many cooking oil options the the shelves surrounding me had to offer. I began to wonder: Should I be buying avocado oil instead? Or maybe coconut oil? Or hazelnut oil? I wonder if that tastes anything like Nutella …

I decided to stick with my trusty old cooking buddy, olive oil — mostly because I just wasn’t sure what the heck to expect from all the other options. And because I hate not knowing things, I decided to give Zach Breeding, registered dietician, chef, and owner of Philly-based personal-chef and nutrition-consulting company The Sage, a call to get to the bottom of my cooking-oil-aisle confusion.

As Breeding told me, his first rule when it comes to cooking oils is this: Moderation is everything. All cooking oils are high in calories — around 120 calories per tablespoon, for many — so no oil, no matter the health benefits, is a healthy oil when you’re downing a gallon of it every day, ya dig? That said, the health-minded chef does have some top picks when it comes to cooking oils. The three healthy cooking oils Breeding tells his clients to use — and when to use them — below. 

Healthy Cooking Oils

Best all-purpose oil: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Yes, yes, despite all the choices out there, the ol’ standby is still worth the investment. Breeding says if you’re only going to stock your kitchen with one cooking oil, your best bet is extra virgin olive oil. It’s loaded with tons of healthy monounsaturated fats, plus it’s the most versatile oil around: Whether you’re sautéing, roasting fish, or throwing together a salad dressing, olive oil will do the job and do it well.

Best healthy cooking oil for baking: Virgin coconut oil

Unlike common baking oils like canola, coconut oil is high in medium-chain fatty acids, a type of fat our bodies have a hard time converting into stored fat, and it’s lower in omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to heart disease.

When it comes to coconut oil, Breeding says he uses it when he’s looking to add a bit of a nutty flavor to a dish. Coconut oil makes a great vegan substitute for butter in baked dishes, or even spread on a piece of toast, as Breeding likes to do. It also has a higher smoke point than olive oil, meaning it burns at a higher temperature, so you can also use it when stir frying, but you run the risk of masking its natural flavor.

Best healthy cooking oil for frying: Avocado oil

Avocado oil, like whole avocado, is high in healthy monounsaturated fats, and helps to up your levels of good cholesterol. If your goal is simply to squeeze monounsaturated fats into your diet, you’re better off just eating an avocado, Breeding says. But if you plan on stir frying or deep frying something, avocado oil, which has a very high smoke point, is a healthier substitute for conventional oils like canola, peanut or soybean.

Just be warned: Avocado oil is not cheap. As Breeding says, “Because it’s on the expensive side, I tend to be more conservative with it.” If you’re looking to use a small dose of avocado oil, Breeding suggests finishing off a piece of seared meat or fish with a brush of it.

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