4 Healthy Cooking Oils

Piggybacking on the "food as medicine" and "fat is your friend" movements, oil love has exploded, says Geeta Maker-Clark, M.D., an integrative family medicine physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Illinois. And it now involves way more than the reigning health champ, olive oil. Get to know these other slick picks.

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Sesame Oil

The Buzz: The seed-extracted oil helps stave off diabetes and thwart cavities; it can even help prevent sunburn.

The Bottom Line: Its unique antioxidants, coupled with compounds called lignans, may help control blood sugar as well as lower "bad" LDL cholesterol. When used in "oil pulling"—i.e., swishing it around your mouth for 10 minutes—sesame oil might halt plaque buildup. Rubbing some on your skin could help ward off sun damage. . .but never use it as an SPF sub.

Your Move: A few times a week, use 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of unrefined toasted sesame oil while cooking with low to medium heat—up to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Or drizzle the same amount on roasted veggies or Asian-style dishes.

More: Benefits of Olive Oil

Avocado Oil

The Buzz: The silky fruit oil helps fight joint conditions and promotes soft skin.

The Bottom Line: As with olive oil, avocado oil packs anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA's), which help protect your skin from the inside out by slaying free radicals. Eaten on the reg, it can also act like a tiny dose of natural ibuprofen, though research shows it works only for acute joint pain when combined with soybean oil in a supplement.

Your Move: It's expensive. You're better off skipping the oil and eating actual avocados (extra perk: fiber). If you do feel like splurging, refined cold-pressed avocado oil can make an effective dry skin moisturizer when applied topically.

PLUS: 5 Reasons to Eat More Avocadoes

Walnut Oil

The Buzz: It's the new fish oil, and it can help improve your body's reaction to stress—minus the marine-life aftertaste.

The Bottom Line: It's true that walnut oil, like fish oil, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Its particular kind, alpha linolenic acid (ALA), serves as a building block for the healthy fats that help regulate your immune and nervous systems. Studies show walnut oil may also help keep your stress levels—and blood pressure—in check, protecting your heart.     

Your Move: Cooking with heat may eliminate its health properties, so always use it cold. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold-pressed walnut oil over pasta, veggies, or salad greens. And along with sesame oil, store this one in the fridge; it can go rancid—fast.        

More: 5 Oils for Everyday Use

Coconut Oil

The Buzz: This antioxidant-rich uberoil has nearly unlimited potential; eating it will make you a health superhero.

The Bottom Line: Coconut oil's star power comes from lauric acid and saturated fatty acids called medium-chain triglycerides (MCT's). Some docs believe that lauric acid makes the oil an effective oral rinse or topical antimicrobial. But it's the MCT's that show the most promise: Studies indicate they could balance cholesterol, improve digestion, even reduce belly fat.

Your Move: Swallow 2 to 3 tablespoons, max, per day. (Most of these oils pack 120 calories per tablespoon.) If you like it chilled—e.g., in smoothies—buy expeller-pressed virgin coconut oil. Use a refined type for medium- to high-heat cooking.

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Lively, fun and provocative, the Women's Health brand addresses 360 degrees of life for the new generation of contemporary, confident, ambitious women. By connecting with our readers in the frank, irreverent voice of a trusted girlfriend, the clever, service-driven content transcends the title, making the brand a true one-stop lifestyle resource for millions of women who are making their mark.

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