Which oil is best?

which oil is bestShould you cook with olive oil or coconut oil? Grapeseed? Walnut?  It really depends on what you’re after.

Oils that are lower in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are more stable, both at room temperature and high heat. If you’re looking for omega-3s on the other hand, those oils will, by definition, be higher in PUFAs.

Whether saturated fat is something to be minimized or maximized depends on your dietary philosophy (and, perhaps, your cholesterol levels).

And we haven’t even touched  the culinary pros and cons!

A healthy (and tasty) diet will include a variety of fat sources, just like it should include a variety of protein sources. To help you vet your choices, here’s a chart showing the fatty acid profile of several common options. Click on any column to sort by that nutrient. (Cool, huh?)

What's in your oil?

Amount of fatty acids in grams per 100 grams of oil.
Type of oilSFAMUFAPUFAOmega-6Omega-3
Rice bran19.739.33533.41.6
Safflower (high oleic)7.575.212.812.70.1
Sunflower (high oleic)9.883.
Sunflower (regular)

If there’s another oil you’d like me to add to the chart, leave a comment below.

24 thoughts on “Which oil is best?

  1. I know “bad oil” and “good oil” is oversimplifying things, but even so, maybe you could color the column of “bad” oils in red, and “good” oils in green? (Leaving black for any that might not really be good or bad.)

    1. Well, that’s sort of the point of this post. An oil might be a good choice in some dietary and/or culinary contexts and a bad choice in others. Often, you’re trading one advantage (such as a high omega-3 content) against a disadvantage (such as a relatively high PUFA content), so it depends on your nutritional priorities and what you’re using it for.

      About the only thing that corn and peanut oil have going for them is that they’re quite low in saturated fat (although many people think saturated fat is not the villain it’s made out to be).

      On the other hand, they’re very high in PUFAs, which make them unstable at both room temperature and high heat. They are also high in omega-6, the PUFA that we tend to get too much of.

      Because there are many other oils, such as high oleic sunflower, olive, and avocado, which are low in saturated fat AND low in PUFAs and omega-6 (and taste better), I don’t see much use for peanut or corn oil.

      If you don’t care about saturated fat, coconut oil is a good choice for high heat uses (but it’s not very useful in salad dressing!).

    1. Not really. Ghee is clarified butter, meaning that the water is simmered off and the milk solids are removed. Ghee is close to 100% fat, while butter is about 81% fat (the rest being water and a bit of protein), but the proportion of different fatty acids will be about the same.

  2. I use a lot of macadamia nut oil in baking, could you please add it? And then what changes in the profiles if an oil is refined for cooking at higher heat?

    1. Another vote for Mac oil! Taste great and with it’s high smoke point, can be used for frying. Although for frying, I wonder if saturated fats (butter/ghee, coconut) have even less of a chance of burning/oxidizing.

      On a somewhat relared note, what do you think of those 1-tbsp oil fryers (Actifry, Airfry, etc)? Are they healty or are they doing something strange to the oil/meats (HCA, PAH, etc)?

  3. Hi Monica,
    Thanks for the great primer on oils.
    I’ve been following you off and on for about the last 5 years (maybe longer).
    It’s amazing how you’ve continued to put out such consistently high quality info.
    I’ve taken the liberty of linking to this article from my facebook page and newsletter.
    Hopefully some of my subscribers will become a fan of yours like I am!
    Thanks again,

  4. Hallo Monica,
    Thanks for the info on oils. But I´m still not sure what to do. Some docs say no to use any oil (Fuhrman, Esselstyn…), some promote just their own oils (Erasmus…) and others recommend to use mainly saturated (animal&plant) fats (Dr. Peat, Weston Price, Paleo…). It´s really difficult to find out who is right or wrong. But I think the FAT question is really important. Here in Germany we have our own nutrition wars going…high fat vs. high carb, low fat…high protein vs. low protein…vegan vs. omnivore… danke für deine Antwort…

  5. I use olive oil and sometimes butter for cooking. But what do you think is the best choice for salad dressing that I want to be able to store in the refrigerator and stay liquid? I’ve used canola oil, but I think there are probably better choices. I just purchased some walnut oil for this purpose, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you!

    1. Walnut oil will give it a nice nutty flavor. If you wanted something more neutral, you could try grapeseed oil. But canola works well too!

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