The Scoop on Healthy Oils

With so many different varieties of oils available—and so much misinformation around the health benefits of each—choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. That’s why I want to share with you the oils I consider the “essentials” and how to best use them for optimal flavor and health.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
This oil has deep flavor that can range from fruity to peppery depending on the variety. It’s also rich in antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Because extra-virgin olive oil adds quite a bit of flavor to foods, many varieties have a low smoke point, and it can be expensive, I like to use it to finish cooked dishes or in uncooked dishes, like in salads, drizzled on veggies, or in dips.

Pure or Light Olive Oil
“Pure” or “light” olive oil is ideal for cooking. This more refined olive oil has a high smoke point and more mild flavor. It is very economical and still a good source of healthy monounsaturated fat.

Canola Oil
Canola has a neutral flavor that earns top marks for versatility. I like to use it in dishes in which I don’t want added flavors, like an Asian stir-fry. Other flavorless oils, like soybean and vegetable, contain a high level of polyunsaturated fats, which can oxidize while cooking—but canola oil is mostly monounsaturated fats (the kind found in olive oil), making it a healthier choice when cooking over high heat.

Virgin Coconut Oil
The most buzzed-about oil on the list, coconut oil is gaining popularity quickly. However, keep in mind that some of the health claims being made about coconut oil are unproven—and in many are pure hype. But I still keep the virgin variety of this oil in my fridge and use it sparingly. Unlike olive oil and canola oil, coconut oil contains saturated fat, which has been shown to increase cholesterol levels. But research is beginning to show that the kind of saturated fat found in coconut oil may not be as bad for us as once thought. Virgin coconut oil contains antioxidants, and just a bit of it infuses any dish with rich tropical flavor. Virgin coconut oil does not take high heat well, so I use it mostly in rice dishes and stews, which cook at lower temperatures.