Oil is largely present in most people's diets, through cooking methods (sautéing, frying, roasting and baking) and as an ingredient. It provides many nutrients essential to the diet including fat, vitamins and antioxidants. Various oils have different properties such as smoke points and foods they’re best suited to, but which oil is the healthiest? In this post we will discuss and compare 4 popular cooking oils - Olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil. However, it's important to recognise that the type of oil in your diet may have a small influence on your health over a long period of time but the whole picture must be taken into account regarding the rest of your dietary intake.
It's important to note - when cooking at a very high heat, you should consider the ‘smoke point’ of your chosen oil. This is the temperature at which the oil begins to degrade, releasing potentially harmful chemicals. This temperature varies widely between oil types so may be worth considering if you're using a cooking method involving high heats.
Olive oil has long been the favourite choice in kitchens across the globe. It’s versatile and can be used for baking, sautéing, or cold dressings. Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant. The primary fatty acid in olive oil is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Monounsaturated fats are considered healthy fats and are favoured for their anti-inflammatory properties to protect against coronary heart disease. Along with these benefits it’s important to note that olive oil contains a lot of calories. With 1 tbsp of olive oil holding 120 calories.
Sunflower oil is primarily composed of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat, and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Sunflower oil also contains the antioxidant vitamin E. This composition is associated with a lower risk of heart disease in comparison to saturated fats. On the whole, olive oil and sunflower oil are quite similar, although sunflower oil has a higher smoke point so is preferable for high heat cooking. With 1 tbsp of olive oil holding 120 calories.
Sesame oil has a similar profile to olive oil. Sesame oil works well for sautéing, general-purpose cooking, and even as a salad dressing. Sesame oil also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which are essential fatty acids (meaning they can’t be made by the body) and both of which are polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. 1 tbsp of sesame oil has 120 calories.
Coconut oil varies from the other oils mentioned as it is composed of predominantly saturated fat. So, if improving your heart health is a particular goal of yours, limiting your coconut oil intake would be a good idea, as saturated fat is linked with increasing the risk of heart disease and has the opposite effect of the liquid fats mentioned above (olive, sesame or sunflower oil), that are rich in mono & polyunsaturated fats. That said coconut oil is a great alternative to be used in baking instead of animal fats (butter) or trans fats (vegetable oil). There are 117 calories per tbsp of coconut oil.
In summary, although oil is high in calories, it is an essential part of the diet offering vitamins and antioxidants with beneficial anti-inflammatory properties. All the above mentioned oils have a health benefit but should be consumed in moderation, particularly, coconut oil due to its saturated fat content.