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Don't Let Your Healthiest Cooking Oils Go Up in Smoke

Don't Let Your Healthiest Cooking Oils Go Up in Smoke

These five oils are good choices for cooking meat and vegetables over high heat.

Olive, canola, peanut, sesame, grapeseed—these five heart-smart plant oils have one terrific thing in common: They're rich in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats, which have cholesterol-lowering benefits. But overheat them and those health perks may go up in smoke.

Cooking at high enough temperatures to set off smoke means the oil is breaking down, losing nutrients and releasing potentially carcinogenic free radicals. Plus, when oil hits its "smoke point,” it can affect the taste of your food.

But that doesn't mean you should ditch these healthful oils when you’re sautéing, roasting or grilling. Just choose what you use carefully. Here's how.

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Experts used to think EVOO was too heat-sensitive to use for cooking at high temperatures—but that belief has changed in recent years. In 2018, a study published in Acta Scientific Nutritional Health found that EVOO remained the most stable at high heat compared to nine other commonly used cooking oils, including canola oil and regular (non-virgin) olive oil. This is likely due to EVOO’s high monounsaturated fat content.

So, go ahead and use it to prepare your food. EVOO is particularly good for sautéing vegetables in a hot pan or slowly roasting them in the oven. Try it with carrots, potatoes, broccoli or Brussels sprouts for starters.

Canola oil
Superb for cooking, canola oil has the least saturated fat of any vegetable oil, and about half that of olive and peanut oils. That’s good news, since too much saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease.

But that’s not all. Canola oil is virtually flavorless, too, so you can use it to make just about anything. Its high smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit means it’s perfect for high-heat cooking, including stir-fries and sautés.

Peanut oil
Also known for a high smoke point—around 440 degrees Fahrenheit—peanut oil is another good option for making meals. If you’d rather avoid any distinctive taste, choose refined peanut oil. If you want the yummy, peanutty flavor that makes Southeast Asian dishes so delicious, add a few drops of roasted peanut oil just before serving; it’s a specialty oil typically used to finish dishes rather than cook foods.

Sesame oil
Refined light sesame oil has a high smoke point of about 450 degrees Fahrenheit, making it terrific for stir-fries, though it doesn't add much flavor. For that, choose dark sesame oil or toasted sesame oil. Both are ideal for drizzling on Asian-style noodle dishes or miso soup.

Grapeseed oil
Though it’s a tad pricier than most grocery-store plant oils, grapeseed oil's neutral flavor won't overwhelm even the most delicate fish or vegetables. Its relatively high smoke point of about 420 degrees Fahrenheit means it's fine for brushing on fish or vegetables before grilling, too. Bonus: Grapeseed oil is low in saturated fat and high in vitamin E, as well.

Medically reviewed in December 2019. Updated in August 2020.

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