Health conscious consumers are increasingly reaching for coconut oil rather than traditional oil varieties, or eliminating oil completely from their diet. Oils are fats which are essential to your overall health and should not be avoided. However, they are not all created equal – with endless varieties of oils available in the supermarket, which should you use for which style of cooking, which are generally the best oils to cook with?
How to choose the best oil
When selecting an oil to cook with, the oil’s nutritional content and smoke point as well as the dish’s cooking temperature, cuisine and flavour should all be considered.
The fat composition is what mainly distinguishes the healthy from the less healthy oils. The Heart Foundation currently recommends eating less saturated fats and replacing them with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. So, when selecting an oil look out for those which have a;
High monounsaturated fat content; these fats have consistently been shown to be heart-healthy as they lower LDL-C (“bad” cholesterol) levels in your blood
High omega-3 fat content; these fats have been shown to be heart healthy as they lower triglyceride (“bad” fat) levels in your blood
Low saturated fat content; these fats have been shown to raise LDL-C (“bad” cholesterol) levels in your blood and may increase your risk of heart disease
Smoke point and cooking temperature
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and break down, resulting in an unpleasant bitter flavour which may ruin your meal. Choose oils that have a high smoke point, such as canola, sesame and sunflower oil, when cooking at high temperatures (stir-frying and sautéing). Oils with a moderate smoke point, such as extra virgin olive oil, can be used for low-to-medium heat cooking (grilling, baking and roasting). Oils with a low smoke point, such as walnut, flaxseed and linseed oil, should not be used for cooking but can add flavour to salad dressings, sauces, marinades or dips.
Cuisine and flavour
Mediterranean flavours pair perfectly with extra virgin olive oil, while Asian flavours suit peanut and sesame oils. This doesn’t mean you should strictly stick to these pairings, it’s all about experimentation. Rotating the oils that you use in your cooking will provide your body with the different types of fats that it needs and keeps your meals interesting.
Consume healthy oils in small amounts as even though they provide necessary nutrition they are still high in energy (37kJ per g); pan-fry with small amounts, use sparingly over vegetables and in dressings
Choose ‘extra virgin’ and ‘cold pressed’ oils as these are richer in flavour and more nutrient-dense
Store oil away from sunlight, avoid cooking oil for long periods and do not re-use oil once it has been heated as sunlight and heat cause it to become rancid or ‘bad’
Don’t be swayed by the marketing terms ‘light’ or ‘lite’ and ‘cholesterol-free’; ‘light’ refers to the colour and flavour of the oil (not the fat content) and all plant oils are ‘cholesterol-free’
Check out the table below which compares the nutritional content of common oils; the best choices are highlighted in green and the one to use the least is highlighted in red
Type of Oil
Saturated Fat (g)
Polyunsaturated Fat (g)
Monounsaturated Fat (g)
Omega 3 (mg)
Omega 6 (mg)
Extra virgin olive
National Heart Foundation of Australia. Dietary fats, dietary cholesterol and heart health. Australia: National Heart Foundation of Australia; Date unknown. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Dietary-Fats-QA.pdf
Juarez-Lopez J, Klunder-Klunder M, Madrigal-Azcarate A, Flores-Huerta S. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce insulin resistance and triglycerides in obese children and adolescents. Pediatr Diabetes. 2013 Aug;14(5):377-83.
Best oils to cook with Posted by Genna Vlitas, BSc, undertaking MDiet. Nutritionist & Student Dietitian from Daley Nutrition
Daley Nutrition is a community nutrition team based in Melbourne Victoria, we run a range of nutrition based programs such as cooking demonstrations in Australia to raise people’s awareness of what they are eating and empower them to change certain eating habits.