Which cooking oil should you be using?

We face a large amount of choice when it comes to buying cooking oil. It can be overwhelming knowing which cooking oils are best for your health.

What is oil?

Oil is essentially liquid fat. This term can be off-putting, but fat is an important part of a balanced diet. It is needed as an energy source, to provide the body with essential fatty acids (dietary fats that are vital for growth and cell functions but cannot be synthesised by the body), to allow for optimal functioning of nerves and the brain, and assist in the production of hormones that are essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.

Fats are broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats (mono, poly, and trans) – all of which have varying chemical structures and physical properties.

Saturated and unsaturated fats

Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature (found in meat, butter and coconut oil) and over the years have been attributed to heart disease. However, research in recent years has begun to find contradictory findings (1,2). It is recommended that no more than 10% of your total energy comes from saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats include poly (oily fish, nuts and seeds) and monounsaturated (avocado, olives and plant-based liquid oils eg canola) fats and trans fats. Both mono and poly have been associated with reduced instances of heart disease (3) due to their ability to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body. Artificial trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Giving foods a more desirable taste and texture. They are often used in the fast-food industry. It is recommended to consume no more than 2% of our dietary intake from trans fats because of the links with increased risk of heart disease (4).

Oils can be categorised by several factors including taste, processing method and smoke point – all of which provide the oil with its unique qualities and consequential uses.

Cooking oil smoke points

Smoke point refers to the temperature at which oil begins to burn and smoke. They vary from oil to oil based on the quality of it, the processing it has gone through and any impurities it may contain. Refined cooking oils are often neutral in taste and have high smoke points, whereas unrefined have low smoke points and tend to be more flavorsome. Heating oils beyond the smoke point should be avoided as it results in the production of fumes and free radicals that can have detrimental effects on our bodies.

Oils vary in the number of calories they provide. It is important to note as fat provides 9 calories per gram. Cooking oils are very energy-dense and the calories can quickly add up. As a result, it is important to be mindful of portion sizes, especially if you have a fat loss goal. In addition, they each have their optimal uses eg sesame oil is best for stir-fries, whereas it is not suitable for baking. 

The calories in cooking oil

We’ve given a round-up of the calorie contents of commonly used cooking oils below:

cooking oil calorie chart
  1. de Souza, R., Mente, A., Maroleanu, A., Cozma, A., Ha, V., Kishibe, T., Uleryk, E., Budylowski, P., Schünemann, H., Beyene, J. and Anand, S. (2015). Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ, p.h3978.
  2. Siri-Tarino, P., Sun, Q., Hu, F. and Krauss, R. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), pp.535-546.
  3. Clifton, P. and Keogh, J. (2017). A systematic review of the effect of dietary saturated and polyunsaturated fat on heart disease. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 27(12), pp.1060-1080.
  4. Sun, Q., Ma, J., Campos, H., Hankinson, S., Manson, J., Stampfer, M., Rexrode, K., Willett, W. and Hu, F. (2007). A Prospective Study of Trans Fatty Acids in Erythrocytes and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease. Circulation, 115(14), pp.1858-1865.
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