Food & Nutrition Science

The Fundamentals of Plant-Based Cooking Oils for Nutrition and Wellness Professionals 

Edible oil has been the subject of debate by nutrition, gastronomic, and food scientists alike. 

It may also be an ingredient your clients commonly ask you about: Which is best for my health? Which will make my salads taste better? Can I cook with olive oil?

In this article, we’ve compiled the most relevant information about some common plant-based cooking oils used in the kitchen, including nutritional information, sensory qualities, and research behind their health properties. 

For each type of oil, you will find information on: 

  • Where it comes from: Different categories of oil within the same type may come from different parts of the plant. 
  • How it’s made: The quality and properties of the oil may vary based on the processing methods.
  • Nutrition facts, influencing fatty acid profile, vitamins and minerals, and phenolic compounds. 
  • Things to watch out for: potential toxins, variations, and adverse health effects. 
  • How to use it in the kitchen to make the most out of the oil. 
  • What the research says regarding the effects of regularly consuming this type of oil on your health.

With this information, you can be more prepared to make educated recommendations to your clients, dispel myths, and answer any questions they may have about how oils fit into a balanced diet.   

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Information About Plant-Based Oil Varies – Why Is That?

To make general claims about the “best” way to use different oils in the kitchen and whether or not to consume a certain kind of edible oil for health reasons, it is vital to have reliable and comparable information about oils. 

While there is some information about oil that is standardized based on average data of many samples, like macronutrient and micronutrient composition, other properties, like the burn point temperature, can vary significantly between different manufacturers. 

Unlike agricultural products, oil is a processed ingredient; oil isn’t found as oil in the environment. It is extracted from plants, whether through manual pressing or chemical extraction. With processing, inevitably comes variation. 

As long as manufacturers follow safe food processing guidelines and minimum standards established by national and international bodies like the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in the US or the FAO’s CODEX Alimentarius (“Food Code”) internationally, they can go to market. 

But food safety standards are designed to leave plenty of wiggle room for food processing and manufacturing companies to differentiate themselves from the competition, manage their ingredients and processing methods, and control costs. 

What does this mean when we want to evaluate the health and cooking properties of oils? Some properties will be closer to one another, while others will have significant variation. 

Some of the properties of different types of oil with less variation include:

  • Macronutrient profile
  • Micronutrient profile
  • Source
  • Manufacturing and quality standards (depending on the category from a food science standpoint, safety and manufacturing standards may have slight variation)

The properties that have more variation, even within the same type of oil, include: 

  • Burn point
  • Taste 
  • Aroma
  • The presence of additives
  • Polyphenol profile

Just like health and wellness professionals learn to cater their knowledge to the specific needs of different clients, we have similar flexibility if we want to understand cooking oils. To make a “Fundamental Guide,” it’s vital to point out the properties that all oils should have within a category and those that will inevitably vary. 

Notes Before Reading About Different Edible Oils

As you read through the summaries of the research on the impact of different edible oils on your health, it is crucial to keep some things in mind to keep the research in context and better understand key terms. 

Key Terms 

  • Edible vegetable oils: Food that is composed mostly of fats obtained from vegetable sources.
  • Cold-pressed oils: Obtained from plant sources by mechanical procedures like expelling or pressing without applying heat. They can only be purified by washing with water, settling and separating, mechanical filtering, and centrifuging. 
  • First-pressed oils: Oils obtained from the first extraction by mechanical pressing. 
  • Virgin oils: Obtained without altering the nature of the oil by mechanical procedures like expelling and pressing. The application of heat is permitted, but they may only be washed with water, settling, filtering, and centrifuging. 
  • Refined oils: Oils that undergo chemical processing to separate the lipids from the pulp and remove impurities, toxins, and undesirable characteristics. In many cases, refined oils are those which, in their natural state, have organoleptic features (taste, color, odor) that do not make them suitable for consumption.

A Note About Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratios

Evolutionary and historical research suggests that humans evolved to consume an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1 to 2:1. In other words, for optimal health, we should be consuming about the same amount of omega-6 fatty acids as omega-3 fatty acids. However, Western diets consist of an omega-6:omega-3 ratio of between 10:1 to 25:1. 

Even though omega-6 fatty acids are essential to the diet, those who follow a Western diet consume omega-6 oils considerably out of proportion. This exaggerated proportion of omega-6 oils can increase the risk of chronic disease

This a reminder that we cannot single out one food as a promoter of health or disease. It is essential to consider a person’s diet as a whole and see how different foods fit into that dietary pattern and overall health to establish nutritional goals. 

Quantity Is Important

Fat is an essential component of the human diet. Research has repeatedly shown that, in general, focusing on obtaining fats from plant sources has more benefits to health than consuming them from animal sources. 

However, it is vital to remember that fats are energetically dense and contain components that may interact with our metabolism and hormone health in large quantities. While there isn’t evidence that shows that consuming oils in trace amounts is detrimental, research has shown the harmful effects of consuming fat in significant quantities, especially saturated fat

Even so, any diet changes must be taken into consideration only after examining lifestyle factors and health status as a whole. 

Organic Oils: Do They Make a Difference?

Organic oils come from organic-certified seeds, and plants are produced using methods defined by the organic certification organization. In most cases, that means that the plants from which the oil is derived have not been treated with pesticides. 

When the oil is organically produced, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has a better fatty acid profile or more phenolic compounds, but you remove the possibility of consuming pesticide residue. 

Avocado Oil

Where It Comes From

Avocado oil comes from the pulp of the avocado fruit (Persea americana Mill.).

How It’s Made

Unlike other commonly used plants, there are currently no quality standards for olive oil that classify avocado oil into different types. Thus, the way avocado oil is made can vary significantly. One group of researchers has proposed different classifications of avocado oil based on how it is made. They propose the following classification. 

  • Extra-virgin avocado oil: Produced from a high-quality fruit, extracted with mechanical methods, using a temperature below 50°C, and without the use of chemical separation processes. 
  • Virgin avocado oil: Produced with fruit of lower quality, including areas of rot and physical damage, extracted by mechanical methods, using a temperature below 50°C, and without the use of chemical separation processes.
  • Pure avocado oil: The quality of the fruit is not relevant, but the oil is bleached and deodorized and infused with the natural flavor of herbs or fruits.
  • Mixed avocado oil: Combined with olive, macadamia, or other oils that have varied characteristics. 

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Content

One tablespoon of avocado oil contains:

  • Total Fat: 14.0 g (22%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.6 g (8%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 9.9 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.9 g  
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 134 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 1754 mg

Avocado oil doesn’t contain significant amounts of any other vitamin or mineral. 

Phenolic Compounds

When the avocado peel is processed in addition to the pulp, the phenolic compounds are enhanced. 

Some studies point to the avocado seed as having many bioactive phytochemicals, but the seed is excluded from most processes to yield oil. 

There are limited studies that characterize avocado oil’s phenolic compounds, as these can vary significantly depending on the extraction process manufacturers use. However, the tocopherols alpha-tocopherol and beta-sitosterol are generally considered the compounds found in the highest amounts. 

Things to Watch Out For

Avocado oil is the only oil on this list that has yet to have CODEX quality standards. Some others refer to the safety and manufacturing standards used for olive oil, but the qualities of avocado oil can vary greatly depending on the extraction technique, temperature, solvents used, maturity or ripeness of the fruit, and others. 

An independent evaluation of avocado oil quality in the market found that those labeled “extra-virgin” or “refined” are of poor quality, and many of the avocado oils in the market are adulterated. Poor quality products could mean that you are consuming an oil with limited nutritional value, derived from unhealthy fruits, and that may even have unhealthy levels of toxins. 

In other words, due to the lack of quality standards, some manufacturers produce low-quality or fraudulent avocado oils. Furthermore, there is no way to discern between a low-quality and high-quality avocado oil product only by looking at the label. 

Even though initial studies have pointed to potential nutritional and health properties of avocado oil in the diet, there is still a lack of knowledge about avocado oil and the health effects of consuming it regularly as well as of the adverse health effects of consuming low-quality avocado oil. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Avocado oil is generally a stable oil with a high smoke point, meaning that it can be readily used for grilling and sauteing. 

It has a slightly nutty taste, which is why some people prefer to use it as their chosen salad and seasoning oil rather than on the stovetop. 

Avocado oil tends to be on the pricier side, especially when it is produced using the best extraction methods. For this reason, it may not make sense for some people to use it on the stove when olive oil may be an acceptable alternative with similar health properties. If this is the case, then your client may want to reserve avocado oil for salad dressings, soups, and smoothies instead of cooking with it. 

What the Research Says 

High-quality avocado oil has many functional properties, which is the main reason for its growth in popularity in the health and wellness field. Some researchers suggest that it can be used as a functional oil to help manage high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Additionally, regular consumption of high-quality oil may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Olive Oil

Where It Comes From

Olive oil is obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea sativa).

How It’s Made

There are seven olive oil categories based on how it is processed. As with most other oils, the way it is obtained has an impact on its nutritional properties. 

  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Obtained from the fruit of the olive tree using mechanical extraction methods, usually cold-pressed. The oil doesn’t undergo any alterations or treatments other than washing, filtration, decanting, and centrifuging. It has low oleic acid (lower acidity) content of 0.8 grams per 100 grams and the lowest natural trans-fatty acid content. No additives are permitted. 
  • Virgin olive oil: Virgin olive oil is obtained in the same way as extra-virgin olive oil but it has slightly higher acidity (maximum 2 grams per 100 grams of oleic acid) and slightly higher permitted natural trans fat content. No additives are permitted.
  • Ordinary virgin olive oil: Also obtained through mechanical means but with an even higher acidity than virgin and extra-virgin olive oil. Ordinary virgin olive oil has even higher acidity with a permitted 3.3 grams per 100 grams. No additives are permitted.
  • Refined olive oil: Olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial structure. When olive oil is refined, it removes chemicals that might be toxic or influence the stability of the oiI. It has a low free acidity of up to 0.3 grams per 100 grams—only slightly higher than extra-virgin olive oil. Safe chemicals may be used in the refining process. Tocopherol addition is permitted to restore that which is lost in the refining process.
  • Olive oil: Oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil suitable for human consumption. The acidity is not more than 1 gram of oleic acid per 100 grams, and its other characteristics correspond to those laid down for this category.
  • Refined olive pomace oil: Obtained by treating olive pomace (flesh) with chemical solvents after the mechanical press. In other words, after the extra-virgin olive oil is removed by pressing, the pulp can be treated with solvents to remove the oil that did not separate from the flesh mechanically. It has a maximum acidity of 1 gram per 100 grams.
  • Olive pomace oil: A combination of virgin olive oils and refined olive oils, with not more than 1 gram of oleic acid per 100 grams. 

Nutrition Facts 

Contrary to popular belief, the accepted fatty acid composition of all different types of olive oils, from extra-virgin to olive pomace oil, is largely the same. The biggest difference is in natural trans fats, where the upper limit for the more refined and processed oils is slightly higher

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Content

One tablespoon of olive oil contains:

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.9 g (9%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 9.8 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.4 g 
  • Total trans-fatty acids: Not evaluated  
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 103 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 1318 mg

Additionally, it contains

  • Vitamin E: 1.9 mg (10%)
  • Vitamin K: 8.1 mcg (10%)

Phenolic Compounds

The biggest difference in the nutritional content of different categories of olive oils is in the phenolic compounds. Extra-virgin olive oils, especially those that are cold-pressed, tend to have naturally higher levels of phenolic compounds than more-processed or heat-processed versions. 

Olive oil polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, antiatherogenic, antithrombotic, hypoglycemic, and anti-mutagenic properties. 

Things to Look Out For

The antioxidants in extra-virgin olive oil tend to become inactive after long periods of storage or during pasteurization. To get the maximum amount of antioxidants in your olive oil, make sure to store it in a cool, dry temperature and ideally in a dark cabinet; look at the manufacturing date and buy products that have not been on the shelf for long; and make sure to use the oil shortly after purchase. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Extra-virgin olive oil is touted for its pleasant aroma and taste and because it has a lower margin of defect. Many chefs and gastronomists recommend using extra-virgin olive oil raw to appreciate its taste and aroma. Raw olive oil will also retain its antioxidants better. 

That being said, there is nothing wrong with using extra-virgin olive oil for cooking. It tends to have a lower burn point than refined olive oils, but it is safe to use. 

What the Research Says 

Many of the health attributes of olive oil are due to the phenolic compounds in extra-virgin and virgin variations. 

Some of the health attributes of the phenolic compounds in virgin olive oil varieties include: 

  • Lower LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides
  • Higher HDL cholesterol
  • Low microbial activity
  • Higher blood plasma antioxidant capacity
  • Lower inflammatory markers
  • Suppression of cell death
  • Improved bone formation

Additionally, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). A high, regular intake of MUFAs is associated with a reduction in the risk of certain cancers. 

In short, olive oil-rich diets may help protect humans from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, inflammation, and oxidative stress. 

Palm Oil

Where It Comes From

There are four different types of palm oil that come from different parts of the plant or are extracted differently. 

  • Palm kernel oil comes from either the kernel of the fruit or the oil palm.
  • Palm oil is derived from the fleshy part of the oil palm.
  • Palm olein is the unsaturated (liquid) part of fractionated palm oil.
  • Palm stearin is the saturated (solid) part of fractionated palm oil. 

How It’s Made

Palm olein is made through a process called fractionation. Since palm oil is about 50% saturated fats and 50% unsaturated fats, fractionation allows for a separation of the unsaturated fats, so there are minimal solid fats in the composition. Palm olein can be obtained through chemical processes or non-chemical processes like crystallization

Macro and Micronutrients

One tablespoon of palm oil contains:

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 6.7 g (33%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 5.0 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.3 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 27.0 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 1228 mg

It also contains 11% of the daily value of vitamin E. 

Phenolic Compounds

Crude palm oil contains health-promoting carotenoids, tocopherols, and tocotrienols. However, the processing procedures result in a loss of most of the phenolic compounds, leaving palm oil with fatty acids. 

Things to Watch Out For

There may not be a more despised oil than palm oil in the health and wellness industry. 

From an environmental perspective, oil palm plantations have had a devastating impact on plant and animal species, and they have caused an increase in human-wildlife conflict since the plantations displace animals out of large extensions of their environment. Additionally, human rights abuses are not uncommon on the plantations. 

From a health perspective, some experts look down on the fatty acid profile. The Western diet tends to be deficient in omega-3 acids, and we tend to consume too many omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6 fatty acids are important in the diet, the Western diet consists of  between 10 and 25 times what is considered healthy from an evolutionary perspective

Palm oil contains significantly more omega-6 acids than omega-3 acids. In the Western diet, omega-6 acids tend to be the main source of unsaturated fat, and in the quantities in which the general population consumes it, it can be pro-inflammatory

Additionally, some palm oil varieties contain significant amounts of saturated fat, which may also put some people with cardiovascular health issues at risk. 

In addition to the omega-6 and saturated fat content, palm oil contains high levels of palmitic acid, which researchers believe plays a role in the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. 

However, keep in mind that as with most other foods, its impact on your health depends on the quantity and frequency with which you consume it. At the same time, whether for environmental or health reasons, you may want to choose to limit your consumption of palm oil. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Palm olein and palm oil are usually marketed as vegetable oil, and they are commonly used for frying. They are also used as a filler in blended oils. They have a very high smoke point and a very mild flavor, which makes them a versatile cooking oil. 

Palm oil tends to be low cost, shelf-stable, has high safety standards, and is easily accessible for most families. Depending on your client’s health situation, palm oil varieties may be acceptable for most cooking methods in small quantities, like stir-frying, baking, and as an anti-stick agent. 

What the Research Says 

Palm oil does contain some nutritional properties that have the potential to promote inflammation and increase the risk of heart health issues in people with a predisposition to cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol. However, it is important not to exaggerate these effects when consumed in small amounts. 

It is important to note that research shows that palm oil doesn’t post risks for heart disease when it is consumed in realistic amounts

In fact, researchers use the case of palm oil as an example of manipulation of the data in the interest of some industries. In the US, national campaigns in the 1980s had consumers replace palm vegetable oil with hydrogenated vegetable oils like soy, increasing their trans-fatty acid intake. Trans-fatty acid is now known to have a much greater negative impact on health than tropical oils like palm oil. 

However, there is no question about the negative environmental or human rights impact of most palm plantations. Since it is low cost, demand for palm oil is growing, so international organizations are pushing oil palm producers to adopt sustainable methods of growth with new ethical and environmental certifications.  

Rapeseed Oil (Canola Oil) 

Where It Comes From

Rapeseed oil comes from the seeds of the rapeseed or canola plant (Brassica napus L.), which is a flowering plant that originated in Mediterranean Europe

How It’s Made

Rapeseed oil, also known as canola oil, is produced from the oil-bearing seeds of the rapeseed plant, specifically those with low erucic acid content. By definition, it cannot contain more than 2% erucic acid. 

Varieties of the oil that are indifferent about the erucic acid content of the seeds are generally not marketed as canola oil. 

Rapeseed oil is generally extracted chemically from the seed using chemical solvents and then refined.  

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Composition

One tablespoon of canola oil contains: 

  • Total Fat: 14.0 g (22%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.0 g (5%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 8.9 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 3.9 g 
  • Total trans-fatty acids: 0.1 g 
  • Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids: 0.0 g 
  • Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids: 0.1 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 1279 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 2610 mg

Additionally, it contains 12% of the %DV of vitamin E and 12% of the %DV of vitamin K. 

Phenolic Compounds

Rapeseed oil contains significant amounts of phytosterols, a component that helps reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the body. 

The seeds of the rapeseed plant have a variety of phenolic compounds and properties, but some of those properties may be lost in the refining process. Even so, antioxidant tocopherol content tends to be retained, as research has shown an increase in tocopherol levels in the blood with regular canola oil consumption. 

Things to Watch Out For

One of the reasons that canola oil has gotten a bad reputation is because of the use of the chemical solvent hexane during extraction. It is important to note that there is no evidence of risks to your health of the trace and residual concentrations of hexane found in commercial rapeseed oil. 

Cold-pressed oil will retain more of the phenolic compounds, but cold-pressed rapeseed oil tends to be expensive and hard to find. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Canola oil is a mild-tasting oil that is versatile in the kitchen. It has a high smoke point, so it contains minimal amounts of trans fats even after frying for a long time. It can also be used in baking, salad dressings, and marinades. 

What the Research Says 

Canola oil, like olive oil, is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fats. It also contains an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of about 2:1, which is generally considered acceptable. 

In fact, research shows that the regular consumption of canola oil can reduce the risk of heart disease

A systematic review of the impact of canola oil on health found that the regular consumption of rapeseed oil helps to reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, increase tocopherol levels, and improve insulin sensitivity when compared to other dietary fat sources. 

Sunflower Oil 

Where It Comes From

Sunflower oil comes from the seeds of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.).

How It’s Made

Sunflower oil is made from the oily part of sunflower seeds. 

The two varieties of sunflower oil include a high-oleic acid variety and a general variety. The high-oleic acid sunflower oil must contain at least 75% oleic acid. 

Sunflower oil is generally obtained through pressing and then refining processing with chemical solvents in safe amounts. 

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Composition

The nutritional properties of sunflower oil vary significantly based on their processing methods and compositions. 

One tablespoon of standard sunflower oil contains: 

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.2 g (6%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 7.7 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 3.9 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 5.0 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 3905 mg

Additionally, it contains 28% of the %DV of vitamin E. 

However, manufacturers also make high-oleic (70%) sunflower oil with the goal of providing more omega-3 fatty acids per serving, and lowering the content of omega-6 fatty acids. 

One tablespoon of high-oleic acid sunflower oil contains: 

  • Total Fat: 14.0 g (22%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.4 g (7%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 11.7 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5 g  
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 26.9 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 505 mg

Additionally, it contains 29% of the %DV of vitamin E. 

Phenolic Compounds

Sunflower seeds are rich in phenolic compounds, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. However, some of these properties are lost in the refining process. 

Cold-pressed sunflower oil retains more phenolic compounds than the refined and chemically processed kind. However, some industrial varieties add natural antioxidants to improve stability and to improve the health properties of the oil. 

Things to Watch Out For

Since commercially available canola oil is chemically refined using solvents, some people tend to try to stay away from it. However, the residues of the solvents are present in small amounts. 

Cold-pressed sunflower seed oil is produced, but it tends to be more expensive than standard sunflower oil, and it is much harder to find.  

From a nutritional perspective, sunflower oil, especially high-oleic acid sunflower oil, is high in the monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid (omega-9). The type of sunflower oil that is not high in oleic acid tends to be higher in omega-6. In the West, diets with too much omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory. 

Even though sunflower oil has a high smoke point, the oil composition isn’t stable in high heat cooking and may result in the oxidation of aldehydes in cooking fumes. Aldehydes in fumes are potentially toxic and may cause DNA damage.

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Sunflower oil has a neutral flavor and has a high smoke point. 

It can be used for marinating, stir-frying, and baking. Even though it has a high smoke point, it can release potentially toxic compounds at very high temperatures, like in frying. 

What the Research Says 

Several small studies have revealed the potentially positive effects of sunflower oil on health. High-oleic acid sunflower oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and some studies suggest that it may help to reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease

The studies that have convincingly pointed to the connection between the consumption of high-oleic acid sunflower oil and other products with a similar composition have led the FDA to approve high-oleic sunflower oil to include a claim that it helps to reduce the risk of heart disease. 

Even so, some evidence is inconclusive, and as the health status of the general population transforms over time, it is important to reevaluate the applicability of these claims. 

Sesame Oil

Where It Comes From

Sesame oil, or sesame seed oil, comes from sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum L.).

How It’s Made

Sesame oil is usually made in six major steps. First, the seeds are cleaned to remove debris. Then, they are softened at a high temperature. Next, the seeds are rolled to flake the seeds so that it is easier to separate the oil from the fiber. The flaked seeds are then steam cooked and pressed to separate the oil. Finally, the oil is filtered to remove impurities. 

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Composition

One tablespoon of sesame oil contains:

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.9 g (10%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 5.4 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 5.6 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 40.5 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 5576 mg

Sesame oil doesn’t provide significant amounts of micronutrients. 

Phenolic Compounds

Sesame oil has a high total phenolic content, including tocopherols, lignans (sesamin), sesamolin, and seaminol. Sesame oil also contains vitamin E, which is an antioxidant vitamin. 

Things to Watch Out For 

Sesame is an allergen, and while only about 0.2% of the population is allergic to sesame, those who are allergic tend to have very severe allergic reactions. 

Like with most oils that promote low blood pressure, significant amounts of sesame oil together with medication for high blood pressure could cause your blood pressure to drop too low

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Sesame oil retains the characteristic sesame flavor. While sesame oil can safely be used for cooking at relatively high temperatures, it is mostly used as a flavor enhancer. The foods you cook with sesame oil will very likely have a hint of sesame flavor. 

What the Research Says 

Sesame oil has almost equal parts polyunsaturated fatty acid to monounsaturated fatty acids. The lignans in sesame oil are likely responsible for many of the health properties. Research shows that regular consumption of sesame oil could help lower blood pressure, decrease lipid peroxidation, and increase antioxidant status in people with high blood pressure. 

A literature review found that initial research demonstrates the potential of sesame oil to decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol, while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol. 

Coconut Oil

Where It Comes From

Coconut oil is derived from the kernel of the coconut (Cocos nucifera L.).

How It’s Made

Coconut oil is produced by pressing fresh, soft coconut meat or dried coconut meat. 

Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat and is mechanically pressed or removed with steam or heat. It may have some impurities and is generally less stable than refined coconut oil. 

Refined coconut oil is filtered to remove impurities and bacteria and generally uses solvents to separate the flesh from the oil. 

Macro and Micronutrients

One tablespoon of coconut oil contains: 

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 11.7 g (58%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 0.8 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.2 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: no official data
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 243 mg

It doesn’t contain significant amounts of any micronutrients. 

Phenolic Compounds

Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil, is one of the few oils that is touted because of its antioxidant activity. The main phenolic acids it contains are ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid, which have a potent antioxidant activity. 

Things to Watch Out For

Unlike the different varieties of olive oil, those of coconut oil are not regulated and all fall under the same category of oils. Therefore, there is no difference in the regulation of products labeled with terms like “virgin,” “extra-virgin,” or “refined.” Ultimately, this could increase the risk of adulteration or misleading labels. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Refined coconut oil is generally flavorless and odorless and has a high smoke point, generally making it more versatile for cooking. 

What the Research Says 

Not too long ago, coconut oil was touted as one of the healthiest oils out there. The result was a long-lasting debate among nutritionists, doctors, and food scientists alike. In principle, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. However, the saturated fat comes from medium-chain fatty acids, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats.

A recent meta-analysis of twelve studies found that compared with animal oils, it had a better lipid profile. However, in comparison with other plant oils, a high-coconut oil diet significantly increased both HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. 

Coconut oil may be a therapeutic addition to the diet in different cases. The metabolism of coconut oil, for example, may support the metabolism and cell repair of the brains of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease. It may also be an appropriate ingredient in foods and formulations to recuperate the nutritional status of people with malnutrition

Coconut oil is easily digestible and is easily accessible in many parts of the world. It may also be the primary choice of fat for cultural or culinary reasons. 

Corn Oil

Where It Comes From

Corn oil, or maize oil, comes from the germ or center of the maize plant (Zea mayz L.).

How It’s Made

Corn itself is not high in oil, so the kernels go through many processes before a usable corn oil is produced. It is first pressed, then washed with a hexane solvent, deodorized, and then goes through a process called winterization, where the saturated fats are removed. The final product has an acceptable odor and ideal properties for cooking. 

Fatty Acid and Micronutrient Composition

One tablespoon of corn oil contains: 

  • Total Fat: 13.5 g (21%)
  • Saturated Fat: 1.7 g (9%)
  • Monounsaturated Fat: 3.7 g 
  • Polyunsaturated Fat: 7.4 g 
  • Total trans-fatty acids: 0.0 g 
  • Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids: 0.0 g 
  • Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids: 0.0 g 
  • Total Omega-3 fatty acids: 157 mg 
  • Total Omega-6 fatty acids: 7224 mg

It also contains 10% DV of vitamin E. 

Phenolic Compounds

Corn oil contains small amounts of phytosterols, tocopherols, tocotrienols, and carotenoids. It also contains a high level of linoleic acid (a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid), which is important for metabolic function. 

Antioxidants might also be added to the oil during processing to help stabilize the oil and lengthen its shelf life. 

Things to Watch Out For

Animal trials found that a diet high in corn oil stimulated the carcinogenesis of subjects with mammary cancer. This doesn’t mean that corn oil causes breast cancer, and it is not clear whether it has the same effect on humans. It may suggest, however, that people at high risk of developing breast cancer or who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer should generally minimize the consumption of corn oil. 

How to Use It in the Kitchen

Corn oil is commonly used for frying, sautéing, and baking. It is generally low cost, widely available, and versatile with a mild flavor. 

What the Research Says

Corn oil is not very well known for its health properties, but it has a handful of pro-health properties. 

For example, commercial corn oil contains phytosterols, which help to block cholesterol absorption

Main Takeaways

In general, liquid plant oils are considered healthier sources of fat than animal fats and hydrogenated fats. However, there are dozens of sources of plant oils, each of which is produced differently and contains a variety of properties. 

You can use this guide to learn about specific health and nutritional properties of different oils and to answer your clients’ questions about the use of specific oils. In general, there isn’t a clear answer to the question, “which oil is healthiest?” because it largely depends on the health of the individual and their general diet. 

If you work with your clients so that they follow a healthy and balanced diet, it is important to become familiar with the variety of oils and the research on the known effects on human health so that you can make specialized recommendations, where relevant. 

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