With so many different types of oil on the supermarket shelves, can we be sure which are the healthy and unhealthy oils and which is best for cooking?  I have to confess that I too have become blinkered with the plethora of bottles and mentions on the internet of so called ‘healthy’ oils.  At the end of the day, they all have saturated fats and should be used sparingly, as part of a healthy diet.

With all this in mind, I did some general research and picking apart some of the most popular oils.  One thing I did discover was something called a ‘flash point’ in all oils.  This is new to me, but something of great importance when you choose which oil to cook with.  If you read on through my article, you will see what this is all about and it is not a fuss for nothing.

The table below will give you some perspective of where the oils sit in terms of the different types of fat.  I have put butter on the end, for a comparison with oils.

Nutrition *

Carrington Farms
Coconut Oil
Vegetable Oil
Tesco Pure
Sunflower Oil
Mr Hughes Extra
Virgin Rapeseed Oil
Chosen Foods
Avocado Oil
Filippo Berio
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Beurre D'Isigny
* values given per 100ml

Choosing a healthy oil

Most of us now know that some fats and oils are better for us than others:

  • Bad – saturated fats too much helps raise cholesterol, leading to heart disease and stroke.
  • Good – unsaturated fats  can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels as part of a healthy balanced diet, beneficial for heart health (cardiovascular) and circulation.

Fats explained

Fats and oils are defined as saturated or unsaturated depending on which of these it contains the most of.

All fats and oils will be made up of a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat, but one type usually dominates, for example rapeseed oil is mostly made up of monounsaturated fat (good fats that can be found in avocados and nuts), whereas butter is mostly made up of saturated fat.

  • Saturated fats  (also described as saturates) such as butter, or the fat that remains on the baking tray a long after the Sunday roast has been enjoyed, tend to be solid at room temperature.
  • Unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (also known as essential fatty acids: omega 3, 6, and 9) such as rapeseed oil or olive oil, are typically called vegetable oils and and tend to be liquid at room temperature.

Rapeseed oil and why it is a healthy choice

Rapeseed oil (also referred to as canola oil) has a favourable balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats:

  • Less unhealthy saturated fat than all other cooking fats and oils – e.g. 50% less than olive oil.
  • High in mono-unsaturated fats.
  • It is also a rich source of vitamin E (within normal levels a natural antioxidant; disables the production of damaging free radicals in body tissue).
  • Contains plant sterols (at certain levels can reduce cholesterol in the blood).

There are two types of rapeseed oil in the supermarket – both are a healthy choice with great cooking properties – so get them added to your shopping list:

  • Standard/Refined – often just labelled vegetable oil – produced on a large scale using heat and solvent extraction and a series of refining processes.
  • Cold-pressed – sometimes labelled premium, virgin or extra virgin – produced on a smaller scale using presses and mechanical extraction and therefore deemed purer than the above standard process.

The bottom line is this…wherever possible buy and use organic, unrefined, cold-processed vegetable oils.  Use olive oil in salads.  Use avocado oil for cooking as this oil has a very high smoke point (see below) by comparison to other cooking oils.  It will not burn or smoke until it reaches around 270°C, which is ideal for searing meats and frying in a Wok.  Rapeseed is more balanced, but has less saturated fat than all the other oils and 50% less than olive oil.

bas gurner hob

Smoke or flash point

Below are some of the oils and the safe temperature at which they can be used while cooking, before they start ‘smoking.’  This is seen as the maximum heating point at which volatile compounds (free fatty acids) within the oil start to break down and can be seen by a blueish haze being given off.

270C/520F smoke point of avocado oil

204C/400F smoke point of rapeseed oil

232C/450F smoke point of sunflower oil

204C/400F smoke point of coconut oil (virgin)

160C/320F smoke point of extra virgin olive oil

NB: The actual temperatures do seem to be debatable.  What is true, however, is that different oils have different temperatures at which they should be used safely.  I have used wikipedia as a reference point.  So, choose wisely when you are applying them to your cooking, rather than reaching for the first bottle from the cupboard.

I have thrown away so many ‘fancy oils’ and now concentrate on just a few in the larder.  Avocado oil, although expensive, is the best for heating at high temperatures (such as wok cooking and frying).  Rapeseed (canola) oil I use for general cooking and baking (also has a lovely golden yellow colour).  Extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings (richer flavour) and sesame oil for some stir frying and Asian cooking that requires that unique taste.  Personally I have stopped using coconut oil from such high saturates.  I am sure some research will come along, refuting this, but in my mind, I know what oils I wish to use.

One final point worth mentioning is that if you have lots of oils, just sitting in your cupboards for long periods of time and unused (check the use by dates), is they can break down over time and the taste will be far from great, if nothing else.  So remember, replace them regularly.

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