Health & Nutrition
October 20, 2020
• Updated on
30 Jun

Healthiest Oils To Cook With, According To Nutritionists

Oil gets a bad rap - in the 80s, when low-fat and no-fat diets were becoming popular, anything fried or made with oil was considered the enemy. And yes - too much oil is not a good idea. But fats are necessary for our well-being - but good fats. Trans-fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils are not good for us. Here is all you need to know about
healthy oils - heart-healthy oil, healthy oil for Indian cooking, healthy and tasty oil and much more. 

Different Oils For Different Uses

Which oil is healthy for cooking? Walking through an oil aisle in the supermarket can sometimes feel exhausting. All the labels seem to say “healthy oils,” but which one do you pick? With so many varieties, brands, and types available, it can be overwhelming to pick the best. The big question is - how does one differentiate between them all?

It depends on what you are making, and how you are making it. There is no clear winner for the “best healthy cooking oil” - it depends on the structure and composition of the oil.

heart healthy oils

While you can cook with most of the oils, not all oils are created equal. Some perform well at high temperatures, making them ideal for frying and sautéing. Whereas some are super flavourful and perfect for salad dressing (most healthy oils can be used for salad dressing). And, there are some oils that can turn rancid when heated. 

What Happens To Oils When Heated

When you are heating oil at a high temperature (at or close to 180*C), the molecular structures of the oil change. When heated, the oil undergoes a process called oxidation. The oil reacts with oxygen in the air to form aldehydes and lipid peroxides. Research has linked the consumption of aldehydes (even in small amounts) to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. So all oils are not good for cooking, especially vegetable oil.

healthy oil for indian cooking

Oils - and particularly healthy oils - are a category where food marketing is very strong. Usually, unhealthy oils are sold under the attractive yet misguiding tags of heart-healthy or digestion-friendly. Instead of sticking to only one oil, it is better to opt for “oil cycling.” Every oil has a specific benefit and purpose. So by rotating the oils, you can get the benefit of all the oils.

Also, all healthy oils are supposed to be used in a different way. Some are good for deep-frying while some are perfect for sautéing. Figuring that out, however, is the real challenge! But worry not - we are going to simplify this oil puzzle for you.

1. Mustard Oil

Produced from mustard seeds, mustard oil is the most common oil used in Indian households as well as cuisine.

Smoke Point: 249 degrees Celsius

Good facts: Presence of Omega-3s, high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and the presence of allyl isothiocyanate.

Benefits: Promotion of strength of bones, warming effect on the body, maintenance of health. Research has also revealed that the use of mustard oil also prevents colon cancer. It is also believed that it has anti-inflammatory properties, which may also help ease joint stiffness as it contains B-complex vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin. These may help increase the body’s metabolism. The oil also contains diacylglycerol that may contribute to weight loss.

Usage: In cooking

Ideal for: Sautéing, frying and cooking sabjis such as bhindi, karela, pumpkin and anything that goes with a pungent taste. In case you don’t like the pungent taste of the oil, you can add a little salt and lemon before cooking the vegetables.

best healthy cooking oil
Mustard Oil

2. Peanut Oil

Also referred to as groundnut oil or arachis oil, peanut oil is a vegetable-derived oil made from the edible seeds of the peanut plant.

Smoke point: 225 degrees Celsius

Good facts: The fatty acid breakdown of peanut oil is 20% saturated fat, 50% monounsaturated fat (MUFA) and 30% polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). The main type of monounsaturated fat found in peanut oil is called oleic acid, or Omega-9. It also contains high amounts of linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid, and smaller amounts of palmitic acid, a saturated fat. Moreover, peanut oil is a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant.

Benefits: Reduces LDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood sugar levels. Also helps in better secretion of insulin.

Usage: Sautéing, cooking, grilling and frying.

Ideal for: Any sabji preparation as it has got neutral flavour.

which oil is healthy for cooking
Peanut Oil

3. Ghee

It is a form of highly clarified butter that is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. It is typically made from cow’s milk. It’s a myth that ghee has more calories than oil. The truth is that both have equal calories. Above all, different fatty acids have a role to play and purpose in our nutritional spectrum.

Smoke point: 250-degree Celsius

Good facts: Packed with CLA, a fatty acid known to be protective against carcinogens, artery plaque, and diabetes. It also has a high smoke point.

Benefits: Rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K, and antioxidants, aids in digestion, strengthens bones, and decrease the risk of CVDs. It is also a rich source of butyric acid, which helps the bacteria of the gut.

Usage: Sautéing, frying and cooking

Ideal for: Dal tadka, roti, and parathas

which oil is healthy for cooking

4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This one is a really healthy and tasty oil. Extra virgin oil is processed the least, which means it is an unrefined oil. Because of the way it is procured, it has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. Plus, it contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.  

Smoke point: 180-degrees Celsius

Good facts: Antioxidants rich, high in monounsaturated fats and contains a modest amount of vitamins E and K.

Benefits: Protects heart health, improves blood vessels health lowers blood pressure, slows ageing and helps in reducing inflammation.

Usage: Use in salad dressing, drizzle over salads, or mix in dips.

Ideal for: Salads. But do not use the refined version of olive oil, which is ripped off all the benefits.  

healthy and tasty oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

5. Coconut Oil

It is made by pressing fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat called copra. While refined coconut oil typically uses copra, Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat

‍Smoke point: 177 degrees Celsius‍, because medium-chain fatty acids - Caprylic acid, lauric acid, and capric acid - are present. Around 62 percent of the oil in coconut is made up of these three healthy fatty acids, and 91 percent of the fat is healthy saturated fat.

Benefits: It is proven to be Alzheimer's disease natural treatment protects the liver from damage, boosts immune system, improves energy and endurance, aids in digestion and offers anti-aging benefits.

Usage: Oil pulling, cooking, and frying. You can also add it into your coffee.

Ideal for: Preparing South Indian dishes.

healthy oils
Coconut Oil

Ditch The Vegetable Oil!

The opposite of healthy oils? Vegetable oils! These are highly processed and refined, not offering any nutritional benefits. They is also high in Omega 6 fatty acids, which can increase inflammation as well as the risk of chronic disease. On cooking, they are easily oxidised. Beware - the following oils are to be completely avoided for frying and cooking purposes: safflower, canola, palm, rice bran, sunflower and soybean oil. Instead, opt for some of the natural healthy oils we’ve mentioned above. 

healthy oil for indian cooking
Vegetable Oil


What oils should you avoid?

You should avoid vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils which are highly processed and refined. 

What oils are good for your body?

Natural oils like coconut, mustard, peanut oil, extra-virgin olive oil are good for your body. 

What should you look for when buying oil?

Look for oils that are natural and unprocessed, preferably cold-pressed. 

Is it safe to re-use oil?

You can reuse oil that has been used for frying, but make sure those are high-smoke point oils. Every oil has a specific smoking point - the temperature where the oil starts breaking down and smoking. Since frying occurs at high temperatures, use oils with a high smoking point that won't easily break down.

How will I know if oil has gone off?

You can usually tell by the smell. Oils, of kept for a long time, can go rancid. Take a whiff of it and if it smells off - (like crayons) or completely unlike its natural smell - then it’s time to toss it. 

Lovneet Batra
Lovneet Batra is a clinical nutritionist with over a decade of experience treating patients and educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet. One of Delhi’s most sought-after nutritionists...
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