What Oil Should You Cook With?

Standing in front of the huge variety of oils on the supermarket shelf, you wonder: what oil is the healthiest to cook with? Or does it really matter? Well, actually, yes, particularly if you like to cook at high temperatures, like in woks.


Although you can classify oils in many different ways, lets look at saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils. The difference between them is molecular, relating to the bonds between the carbon and hydrogen atoms. This changes the way they behave when heated.

Saturated fats like butter and lard are usually solid at room temperature. They’re remarkably stable, and when used for cooking at low heat don’t create high levels of toxins. Ideal for cooking; not so ideal for your arteries and cholesterol level!

Polyunsaturated oils tend to change form when used for routine frying or cooking. They can generate high levels of toxic aldehydes that can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Therefore polyunsaturated oils should not be used for high temperature cooking, although they’re ideal cold as salad dressings.

Monounsaturated oils don’t produce toxic products when heated, because they have fewer reactive bonds between the molecules. They’re ideal for cooking, as well as used cold in salad dressings or to enrich mashed potato.


If you have room for only one oil in your cupboard, choose extra virgin olive oil. Its ideal for cooking, being monounsaturated, as well as having a delicious flavour to enhance salads. Why extra virgin? Because the first press of the olive provides valuable micronutrients like minerals as well. If you don’t like the flavour of olive oil, choose canola or safflower oil, also both monounsaturated.


Oils labelled ‘high smoke point’ means that you can heat them to a high temperature without worrying that they will change structure and potentially become harmful. Refined safflower oil or rice bran oil are ideal for deep frying, both having a high smoke points above 250?. In comparison, peanut oil has a smoke point of 160? and butter 177?. Flax seed oil, which is a great omega-3 supplement cold, is not so good to cook with, having a smoke point of only 107?


‘Vegetable oil’ in Australia contains a blend of different plant oils, which are usually not listed on the container. I don’t recommend it for healthy cooking in Australia, as you can’t tell what’s in there. The classification can be different in other countries; for example in the UK canola oil is often marketed as ‘vegetable oil’.

Happy shopping!

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