"Cooking oils are fats used in recipes to add flavour and enhance nutrient availability, particularly fat-soluble fats like vitamins A, E, D and K and antioxidants such as lycopene," says Cristina Montoya, a registered dietician who lives with arthritis.
"Cutting out fats from your diet could be detrimental to your overall health." Rather, she says people living with arthritis should focus on adding more polyunsaturated (like omega-6 and omega-3 fats) and monounsaturated fats (like avocados, nuts and seeds) in their diets to support immune system function and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. "It's best to decrease your intake of saturated fats from both animal and vegetable sources," says Montoya.
Components that make up a good cooking oil include extraction and procession method, smoke point (the temperature at which an oil starts to smoke and create harmful free radicals when it's heated) and nutrient content.
Discover the healthiest oils to try for arthritis, ranked in three categories:
- Oils to use regularly
- Oils to use sometimes
- Oils to use sparingly
Oils to use regularly
Classic or light olive oil
This mild-tasting oil may also be labelled as "basic" or "pure" olive oil. It's a mix of extra-virgin olive oil (which is minimally processed; the olives are crushed to extract the oil) and refined olive oil (which is exposed to heat as part of the processing). It's high in monounsaturated fatty acids. Light olive oil has a high smoke point, making it great for grilling, sautéing, roasting, baking and pan frying.
Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats and has a sweet aroma. If the label says "cold-pressed" that means it's less processed and therefore it's higher in antioxidants. Avocado oil has a higher smoke point, making it a great alternative to olive oil for high-heat cooking and baking.
Extra-virgin olive oil (sometimes named "evoo" in recipes)
Expect a strong fruity and tangy flavour in extra-virgin olive oil. The stronger the taste, the higher the anti-inflammatory polyphenols (antioxidants) and vitamin E content. It's minimally processed and naturally extracted by cold-pressing the olives. It's a good source of unsaturated fatty acids. Enjoy it drizzled over salads, veggies or bread, for dipping, or in marinades and vinaigrettes. Extra-virgin olive oil can also be used for low-heat sautéing.
Oils to use sometimes
This oil has a mild nutty flavour and is great for stir-frying because it has a medium-high smoke point. It contains heart-healthy phytosterols (natural compounds found in plants).
A good all-purpose oil for cooking, baking and stir-frying, grapeseed oil has a mild flavour. It's high in omega-6 fatty acids which can increase inflammation when consumed in excess, so it should be used sometimes rather than as a go-to.
Flaxseed oil is the best oil source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation, lower "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol), prevent blood clotting and benefit overall health. However, it should not be heated — in other words, use it in salad dressings, dips and marinades instead. Keep it refrigerated. Chia seed oil is a comparable plant-based oil.
Like flaxseed oil, hemp oil contains omega-3 fatty acids. It's also high in polyunsaturated fats. It has a medium smoke point and can be used for cooking with medium heat, but is also good for marinades, dressings and dips. It should be kept refrigerated.
This oil is extremely versatile and has a neutral flavour. Canola oil contains some omega-3 fatty acids, and has a medium-high smoke point, so it works well for higher temperatures.
Sunflower oil is naturally high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega 6s. Great for browning, searing and deep frying due to its high smoke point. It's neither the best nor the worst oil; it's all about balance. Alternating use with other oils high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive and avocado, would be preferred.
Oils to use sparingly
Some common sources of oils and fats that should be used less often in a healthy diet are lard, butter, coconut oil, ghee and palm oil. However, some of those oils may have benefits to consider.
"Coconut oil is the most controversial oil out there. Despite the hype about cooking with coconut oil over other plant oils, coconut oil still has a high proportion of cholesterol-raising saturated fats. Both refined and unrefined coconut oils have the same fat profile. Enjoy it but use it sparingly," notes Montoya, adding that coconut oil has been used traditionally throughout the Caribbean.
Mainly used in South Asian cooking, ghee, or clarified butter, is made by slowly melting butter while allowing the water to evaporate. "Ghee has been promoted to reduce inflammation based on animal studies, but more research is needed," she says.
Palm oil has traditionally been used throughout Africa. Red palm oil (which, as the name suggests, is a reddish-orange colour) is less processed than regular palm oil, and has carotene and other beneficial plant chemicals, says Montoya.
What's the main thing to remember about cooking oils?
"The healthiest cooking oils to try contain primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats," says Montoya. "Increasing your omega 3 fatty acids consumption has been proven to help reduce cardiovascular risk and overall inflammation."
Article written in collaboration with Cristina Montoya, registered dietician.