Which Cooking Oils are Healthier than Others?

toxic seed oils healthy oils

When it comes to using seed oils, the United States is the world leader: Americans consume about 20 percent of the world’s oils at a rate of approximately 19.7 billion barrels daily. Canada comes in at nearly 2.7 million barrels daily or 2.6 percent. Some of these cooking oils may be healthier than others. Do you know the difference and which oils are best for you?

What are seed oils? 

Most seed oils are highly processed polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) substances that are extracted from canola (rapeseed), corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, rice bran, safflower, soy, and sunflower. The seeds are exposed to extremely high heat, which in turn oxidizes the omega-6 fatty acids found in them. 

Read about everything you (actually) need to know about oils

This harmful process makes the oils even more unhealthy when they are repeatedly reheated, as they often are in restaurants. How long has the oil been reheated that your French fries or onion rings were cooked in? Consuming too many omega-6s can cause the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals and an imbalance of omega-3s to omega-6s, which presents significant health risks.

These processed seed oils also present other health concerns. Because they are typically derived from genetically modified crops, there are significant concerns about health risks, including allergic reactions, greater risk of cancer, and the development of antibacterial resistance. The long-term effects of consuming GMO foods are still being investigated.

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What is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio?

The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio reflects the amount of each of these essential acids to each other. Research indicates that the human diet originally evolved with a ratio of about 1:1, which is ideal. However, the current Western diet most people follow provides about 15 to 17 to 1. This means there is a significant deficit of omega-3s and excessive levels of omega-6s, a situation that promotes chronic inflammation and diseases associated with it (e.g., cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, infertility, and many others) and autoimmune diseases. 

Which seed oils are safe to consume?

Fortunately, the list of safe, healthy oils is long! You want to focus on unrefined and cold-pressed oils whenever possible, as these are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in PUFAs. These include almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, peanut oil, pecan oil, and walnut oil. You can cook with all of these except flaxseed oil and walnut oil. They should only be used as a finishing touch or as a dressing on a salad because they become toxic when heated.

cooking oils healthy or unsafe

One perhaps unlikely addition to this list is Malaysian sustainable palm oil (not to be confused with palm kernel oil). Be sure to choose Malaysian palm oil that has been produced on sustainable plantations. It is the richest source of vitamin E tocotrienols and pro-vitamin A carotenoids as well as provides a balanced fatty acid profile. 

Each oil has its own smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oils begin to be damaged and form unhealthy substances, such as trans fats and others. This damage begins before you actually see smoke!

Read about seeds of life: chia, flax, hemp, and pumpkin

If you are wondering about smoke points for healthy oils, here they are in Fahrenheit:

Almond oil 430
Avocado oil 520
Avocado (virgin) 400
Coconut (refined) 400
Coconut (unrefined) 350
Hazelnut 430
Macadamia nut 400
Olive oil (virgin) 420
Olive oil (extra virgin) 400
Pecan 470
Sustainable Malaysian Palm Fruit Oil 455
Walnut (refined) 400
Walnut (unrefined) 320

Bottom line

If you are like many people, you consume a lot of oils. However, be sure to choose healthy ones and use them properly. Drizzle healthy oils on your vegetable and grain dishes and cook only with those that can withstand the level of heat to which you expose them. When you take these steps, you help ensure you are eating only healthy seed oils. 

Barrell A. What are the pros and cons of GMO foods? Medical News Today 2019 Feb 27
Grisanti R. 8 toxic seed oils—what to know. Functional Medicine University 
Oil smoke points. Dr. Steven Masley
What is a palm oil? Malaysian palm oil
Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 2002 Oct; 56(8):365-79. 
Worldometer. Oil consumption by country. Worldometer
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Andrea Donsky, B. COMM is an international TV Health Expert, Best Selling Author, Nutritionist Podcast Host, and Founder of NaturallySavvy.com—a recipient of Healthline’s Best Healthy Living Blogs for 2019. As a pioneer and visionary in the health food industry, Andrea’s passion is to inspire people to make healthier choices. Andrea has combined her background and expertise as both a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and an entrepreneur ("She Boss!") to educate the public on living a healthy lifestyle through the creation of her businesses, books, articles, podcasts, videos, talks, and TV and radio media appearances. Andrea founded Naturally Savvy Media Inc. in 2007 in order to share her passion for healthy living, and love for natural products and companies. Among her numerous publications, Andrea co-authored Unjunk your Junk Food published by Simon and Schuster, a book that journalist, author and mother Maria Shriver endorsed: “Unjunk Your Junk Food has certainly made me more aware about the food that my children eat and the effects it has on our body and mind."</P. Andrea also co-authored two e-books entitled Label Lessons: Your Guide To A Healthy Shopping Cart, and Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid’s Lunch Box.