Cooking with oil: What you need to know


June 28, 2016

A registered dietitian answers some questions about cooking with oils.


Olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil … the list goes on. When it comes to cooking with oils, you’ve got a lot of options. We checked in with Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s health educator Melinda Mahoney, R.D., for some expert insight on cooking with oils.


Why is it beneficial to cook with oils?

Fat is one of the many nutrients our bodies need. Fats support cell growth, protect our organs, produce important hormones, help absorb certain vitamins, and provide essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t make on their own.


Do you have a favorite oil to cook with? 

My top two favorite oils to recommend are canola and olive oil because they are budget-friendly and have great fat profiles with mild flavors — making them very versatile.


Which oil is the healthiest to consume/cook with?

There is not necessarily one “healthiest” oil for everyday use. The key takeaway is to replace saturated or solid fats like butter and shortening with oils when cooking. Another great strategy — to shift from less saturated fat to more oils — is to replace some meats and poultry with seafood and nuts, which contain healthy oils.


Can oils be swapped in recipes?

Not all oils are interchangeable in recipes since flavor profiles vary drastically. If substituting oils, aim for using neutral oils as much as possible for a recipe (such as canola oil).


What should people keep in mind when cooking with oils?

Oils have high and low smoke points, which is the ability to withstand heat without destroying the nutrients and breaking down the oil. Depending on what food you are preparing, choose an oil with a high smoke point for sauteing and pan frying and a low smoke point for dressings, sauces or drizzling.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, once an oil starts to smoke while cooking it should be discarded.

Oils with high smoke points and good for frying or high-heat stir frying include vegetable, peanut and sesame. Oils with low smoke points, that work well for salad dressing and dips, include flaxseed and walnut.


Looking for tasty dinner ideas? Check out our healthy recipes.