In general, the choice generally comes down to either extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is a very natural oil that is pressed from olives. Even when pressed in factories, olive oil is still minimally processed. Though olive oil is a fat, and therefore something to be consumed in moderation, it’s rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (called MUFAs).
According to the Mayo Clinic, a diet high in MUFAs – and low in unhealthy saturated fats – may lower your risk of heart disease. MUFAs may lower total cholesterol and normalize blood clotting. In addition, MUFAs may even help control blood sugar levels.
However, relative to other oils, extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point. Once an oil reaches its smoking point, it starts to breakdown and the health benefits quickly deteriorate. You’ll want to use olive oil for lower temperature recipes with cooking temperatures under 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Virgin olive oil, as compared to the extra virgin variety, has a slightly higher smoke point and is a good alternative for cooking.
It’s important to note that light, air and storage temperature can also affect the stability of olive oil. Keep olive oil in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months of opening.
Vegetable oil is an umbrella term that usually involves the industrial solvent extraction of oil from plants. Most commonly, a petroleum-derived chemical called hexane is used to quickly and cheaply extract the oils for high yields. Soybean oil is the most popular, but other vegetable oils include palm, rapeseed and sunflower.
While many vegetable oils are also high in MUFAs, the industrialized processing of these oils makes them a less desirable choice for health-conscious consumers. Nonetheless, refined soybean oil has a smoke point of 460 degrees Fahrenheit making it a better option for high temperature recipes. Moreover, some consumers prefer vegetable oils because they don’t transfer as much taste and flavor during the cooking process.
The bottom line: Olive oil is the clear winner from a healthy perspective – but it really depends on the recipe and cooking temperature!