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Which Oil Is the Best Oil?

It’s being called new research, but it is something nutritionists have known for years: Coconut oil is not a health food. The oil is naturally high in saturated fat, which has been proven to increase the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

“I think coconut oil has so many advocates right now because it’s plant-based and has a good cooking quality,” says Julie Metos, RD, a dietician with University of Utah Health. “However, earlier nutrition research showed its high saturated fat content. The new warning from the American Heart Association is a reiteration of what we already know.”

If coconut oil isn’t the miracle food it has been touted to be, then what is the best oil to use? According to Metos, the answer is all of them. Use mono or polyunsaturated oils like olive or canola for cooking when you don’t want a heavy flavor. Use sesame oil for stir-fry. Use butter for baking. And even use coconut oil in recipes where it will add the flavor you want – like in Thai food. “The most healthful thing is to use a variety of oils,” Metos said. “The real problem is when Americans get hung up thinking a single thing is the best. That’s when nutrition gets out of balance.”

There is one fat that Metos wants you to leave out though: margarine with trans fats. Trans fats are found in products called partially hydrogenated oils – which are the base of some margarines. These fats not only raise your LDL cholesterol but also lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Eating high levels of trans fats do not only raise your risk of heart disease but also your risk for diabetes. “Margarines with trans fats are worse than any of the oils we have talked about,” said Metos.

Of course, people aren’t only crazy about using coconut oil for cooking. It is popping up in hair products, lotions, and other beauty products. There are many bloggers and beauty gurus who swear by applying it straight from the jar to skin and hair to moisturize. Metos said those applications are just fine.

“Put all you want on the outside,” she said. “Just limit how much you ingest.”