Debunked: Misconceptions About The Best And Worst Cooking Oils

If you frequently browse health websites, you’ve probably noticed that there are many contradicting articles on healthy cooking oils. These conflicts will make you wonder whether margarine is better than butter, or which kinds of fat matter.

While trends surrounding cooking oils often change, scientific studies don’t lie. Take a look at what researchers say about how healthy coconut oil is or how canola oil affects your body. Some of this information may contradict what you’ve heard before. Here are the hard facts behind the best and worst cooking oils for your health.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is One Of The Best Choices

Virgin olive oil is as popular as it is healthy. In 2017, researchers examined how olive oil impacts cholesterol levels. They found that olive oil increased the good cholesterol, HDL, which removed inflammation and acted as an antioxidant. According to their report in Circulation, the participants experienced better arterial health, which prevents heart disease.

Glass with olive oil and olives
Ralph Kerpa/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Ralph Kerpa/McPhoto/ullstein bild via Getty Images

For the best health benefits, buy an extra virgin olive oil. The phrase ‘extra virgin’ means that the oil wasn’t processed much. Because olive oil has a low smoke point, it’s best to cook it on low or medium heat.

Coconut Oil Isn’t As Healthy As Many People Think

Although many celebrities have endorsed the health benefits of coconut oil, the research doesn’t defend these statements. In 2017, the American Heart Association warned against saturated fats in coconut oil during an advisory statement. Most studies, such as in the 2009 issue of Lipids, conclude that coconut oil raises both HDL and LDL (the’bad cholesterol).

YouTuber Tati holding coconut oil
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Although it can aid weight loss, a few teaspoons aren’t enough to produce this effect. And over-consuming could be detrimental, according to the director of nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center. “It would be difficult to get your LDL cholesterol into healthy ranges eating a lot of coconut oil,” explains Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD.

The Controversy Of Margarine And Other Butter Substitutes

When margarine butter first came out, nutritionists advised people to forgo butter and choose margarine instead. Later, studies came out demonstrating that margarine also contains a lot of trans fat. But what does modern research say?

Glow-Spread margarine butter on a table
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Twitter/@flygirlNHM

The answer depends on which studies and which margarine you pick up. Two 2017 studies in Epidemiology concluded that substituting butter with margarine resulted in a lower risk of heart disease. In the 2010 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers noted that margarine lowers inflammation markers. While there are healthier oils out there, margarine doesn’t seem to be the worst.

You Won’t Believe It’s Not Butter

The debate between margarine and butter has raged for centuries. While both contain a lot of saturated fat, grass-fed butter contains more omega-3’s than omega-6’s and loads of healthy fatty acids and vitamin K12. Margarine has lost these nutrients through processing.

Wire for cutting butter.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In 2016, researchers conducted a systematic review of 60 studies surrounding butter in PLoS One. They concluded that eating butter has little to no effect on mortality, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. “Current dietary recommendations on butter and dairy fat are largely based upon predicted effects of specific individual nutrients (e.g., total saturated fat, calcium), rather than actual observed health effects,” the author clarified.

Canola Oil Is Healthier Than Most People Assume

Despite the misconceptions about canola oil, Harvard’s Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Guy Crosby, says that it is generally considered “healthy.” Like olive oil, canola oil has low saturated fat (7%) and high monounsaturated fat (63%) which reduces harmful LDL cholesterol.

Rod MacRae shows some of the Canola oils that have been genetically manipulated.
Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Tony Bock/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Some people have expressed concern over canola oil’s hexene content, a volatile solvent that’s quite reactive. A researcher from Washing State University’s Department of Food Service explains, “there is no evidence to substantiate any risk or danger to consumer health when foods containing trace residual concentrations of hexane are ingested.” So there is little health risk with canola oil.

Sesame Oil Isn’t Nutritious, But It’s Healthy

Sesame oil has a powerful flavor and high smoke point, so it’s great for high-heat recipes. In terms of fat content, it’s quite healthy. “Sesame oil is rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats,” explains Edwina Clark, RD, head of nutrition at Yummy.com. “These fats are ‘heart healthy’ and keep your cholesterol under control.”

A Taiwanese brand of sesame oil, which has been taken down the shelves by organic food store Health Aims following the government's ban on importing and selling all edible oil produced in Taiwan.
Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Sesame oil has far fewer vitamins than other choices like olive oil. It contains no minerals and small amounts of vitamins E and K. However, a 2013 study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research reported that sesame oil offers disease-fighting antioxidants.

Vegetable Oil Is Actually Fatty Soybean Oil

Vague vegetable oil is a mixture of different types of oils. According to Robert Reeves, the president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, 85% of a vegetable oil bottle is pure soybean oil. Although these oils have low saturated fat, studies show that they still contribute to obesity.

Damaged bottles of Solemn vegetable oil
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Twitter/@scottdenyer

According to 2015 research in PLoS One, soybean oil prompts liver “ballooning.” This occurs when fatty acids build up in the liver, potentially causing damage. “Contrary to expectation, PUFA-rich soybean oil is more obesogenic and diabetogenic than coconut oil,” the writers concluded. In simpler terms, soybean oil is more likely to contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Cottonseed Oil Is Better Than Olive Oil

Cottonseed oil is made from refined seeds of cotton plants. In processing, the naturally-occurring toxin gossypol is removed, making it safe for cooking. In 2018, researchers from the University of Georgia discovered that cottonseed oil had more positive effects on cholesterol and triglycerides than olive oil.

Cottonseed oil can help you lower
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Twitter/@mnt

Published in Nutrition Research, the study credited cottonseed oil’s unique fatty acid, dihydrosterculic acid, for pushing the body to burn more fat. Although cottonseed oil has received a bad rep, this research concluded that it lowers LDL cholesterol over just five days. “To see this amount of change in such a short period of time is exciting,” says study author Jamie Cooper.

Let’s Remove The Bias From Corn Oil

Corn oil has received many conflicting reviews throughout the years. On the one hand, corn oil is easily digestible and provides healthy fatty acids, according to a 1990 study in the Journal of American College Nutrition. A 2018 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that corn oil has more positive effects of cholesterol than coconut oil.

A customer is choosing a corn oil product of Arawana brand in a Chinese supermarket.
Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images
Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images

On the other hand, corn oil is generally less beneficial than other choices. Research in the 2015 European Journal of Nutrition recorded that corn oil increased participants’ body weight. In 2018, researchers reviewed over 240 studies on oils and stated that corn oil isn’t as effective as other oils.

Avocado Oil Offers Numerous Benefits

Avocado oil has similar benefits to olive oil, but with a higher smoking point. According to a scientific review in Molecules, almost 70% of this oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. One 2017 study noted that people who incorporated avocado oil for six days had improved insulin, cholesterol, and inflammatory levels.

Woman happily eats an avocado in Lincoln, Nebraska
Unsplash/@noahbuscher
Unsplash/@noahbuscher

Further research in The Journal of Nutrition suggested that avocado oil can help the body absorb other nutrients. Both the fruit and the oil encouraged the absorption of lycopene (a disease-preventing antioxidant) and beta-carotene (vitamin A, which supports the immune system).

The Food And Drug Administration Warns Against Mustard Oil

Many health articles list mustard oil as being heart-healthy due to its low saturated fat and anti-inflammatory allyl isothiocyanate compound. However, in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released this alert: “Expressed mustard oil is not permitted for use as a vegetable oil.”

Pan of Mustard Oil, Oil Made Of Brassica Rapa
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to The Times of India, mustard oil contains 47% of erucic acid. In animal testing, this acid has developed lesions on the heart and increased the risk of anemia and lung cancer. Until scientists test the oil further, mustard oil is required to be labeled as “for external use only.”

If You Don’t Want Inflammation, Watch Out For Sunflower Oil

In terms of health benefits, sunflower oil is a mixed bag. It’s similar to canola oil in that it lowers LDL and triglyceride concentrations, according to a 2017 study in the Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, sunflower seed oil contains a much higher percentage of omega-6’s.

Green plate special dish with sunflower oil
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

According to Harvard Health Publishing, omega-6’s are perfectly healthy if they’re consumed at a one-to-one ratio with omega-3’s. However, sunflower oil is 70% omega-6’s. While omega-3’s decrease inflammation, omega-6’s increase it. If you use sunflower oil, moderate your use to every once in a while.

Grapeseed Oil Is Just Okay

Grapeseed oil is another oil that’s not terrible, but not perfect, either. Like sunflower oil, grapeseed oil contains more omega-6’s than omega-3’s. But in a 2013 study in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers reported that grapeseed oil lowers insulin and inflammation more than sunflower oil does.

Pouring grapeseed oil close up
Stanzelullstein bild via Getty Images
Stanzelullstein bild via Getty Images

Grapeseed oil has low saturated fat and high amounts of vitamin E. Since the oil has a high smoking point, it can withstand high-heat cooking. However, it has a high amount of polyunsaturated fats, which can conflict with frying.

Peanut Oil Weakens Your Energy And Packs On Weight

Also known as Arachis oil, peanut oil has faced some contradictory studies in the past. Peanut oil contains high levels of vitamin E, which reduces inflammation and strengthens the immune system, according to the Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal.

The peanut oil is brought to 350 degrees before the turkey is lowered inside.
David Kamerman/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
David Kamerman/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

On the flip side, research in the 2006 issue of Nutrition stated that peanut oil weakened energy and increased weight in participants. A 2015 study in Nutrients recorded the same results and added that peanut oil only improves inflammation in large doses. If you’re concerned about your energy level or weight gain, steer clear of peanut oil.

Combat Cancer With Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed provides substantial omega-3 fatty acids. The MD Anderson Cancer Center reports that omega-3’s inhibit oxidation and reduce cancer-causing inflammation. On top of that, flaxseed regulates insulin to prevent tumor growth, according to a 2014 review in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.

Capsules of flaxseed oil by Nature Made
Getty Images
Getty Images

While flaxseed oil provides many benefits, it shouldn’t be used for cooking. It has a low smoking point and requires a low-temperature location. “I use [flaxseed oil] for dressing,” recommends Liz Weinandy, a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Walnut Oil Helps The Body Cope With Stress

Walnut oil has a nutty flavor and low smoke point, so it’s often drizzled on desserts and pastries. Along with providing a healthy level of both omega-6’s and omega-3’s, walnut oil also helps the body cope with stress.

Homemade walnut oil sitting next to a bowl of walnuts
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In 2010, Penn State researchers studied how omega-3 fatty acids influence stress levels. They found that consuming walnut oil (and plain walnuts) lowers blood pressure levels while a person feels stressed. Another study in the 2016 International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism recorded that walnut oil decreases blood sugar levels.

You Have Better Choices Than Palm Oil

Like coconut oil, palm oil has high amounts of saturated fats. According to the American Heart Association, consuming more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day raises blood cholesterol, which endangers the heart. One tablespoon of palm oil offers 7 grams of saturated fat.

Palm seeds harvested to make palm oil for cream, lipstick, and soap
Twitter/@World_Wildlife
Twitter/@World_Wildlife

A review of 27 studies suggested that “palm oil has a similar effect on lipid profile as the monounsaturated fat oleic acid that is currently recommended.” In other words, it isn’t that bad for your heart. While palm oil is better than coconut oil, it still isn’t the best cooking oil out there. And harvesting palm oil contributes to deforestation.

Healthy Safflower Oil Helps With Inflammation

Safflower oil is rich in unsaturated fats along with vitamins A, D, E, and K. Several studies have observed how safflower oil reduces inflammation. In 2011 research in Clinical Nutrition, participants with obesity and type 2 diabetes improved inflammation and blood health with eight grams of safflower oil a day.

Person uses safflower oil for healthy cooking
YouTube/Swanson Health
YouTube/Swanson Health

Although safflower oil provides 120 calories per tablespoon, the study did not record any differences in weight. Safflower oil also has a higher smoke point than sesame and canola oils, and it’s safe to cook at high temperatures. You can even fry food without destroying safflower oil’s nutrients.

To Lower Cholesterol, Invest In Rice Bran Oil

Rice bran oil is a popular oil in Asian cuisine and comes with several health benefits. Gargi Sharma, a Nutritionist and Weight-Management Expert, says that rice bran oil has a great antioxidant called oryzanol. “It helps decrease cholesterol absorption and increase cholesterol elimination,” she explains.

Rice bran oil for ants on Reddit

In 2005, research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that rice bran oil lowers cholesterol more effectively than fiber. A 2012 study by the American Heart Association added that rice bran oil decreases blood pressure, which makes it a healthy oil for the heart. As an oil with a high smoke point, rice bran oil can effectively stir fry foods.

Hazelnut Oil Is A Healthy Nut Oil

As a nut oil, hazelnut oil provides many fatty acids, vitamins, and fiber. According to a review of 385 scientific papers in Nutrients, hazelnuts contain lipids that promote heart health. The oil lowers LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL cholesterol, which is the best formula to create healthy cholesterol levels.

Bottle of hazelnut oil on a restaurant table
Twitter/@hazelnutstas
Twitter/@hazelnutstas

Although hazelnut oil improves cholesterol, it does not influence weight loss, according to a 2017 study in Clinical Epigenetics. Hazelnut oil has a high smoke point similar to canola oil, but it can degrade if not used quickly. Overall, it’s praised as a healthy cooking oil.