Ask the experts: Healthy cooking oils

Q: "I was told grape seed oil is the best cooking oil. Is it true? How about rice bran oil? What is the best?'


A: Dietitian Amanda Johnson responds:

"Grape seed oil is a light oil that is ideal for cooking. It has a relatively high smoke point, which means the temperature at which it starts to break down and burn is higher than some other oils, so it is suitable for frying and it can also be used in salad dressings, in mayonnaise and for baking. It has little flavour so is great for cooking subtly-flavoured foods such as fish. It contains around 60% polyunsaturated fats along with some monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturates are effective at reducing both total cholesterol and the harmful LDL-cholesterol. Monounsaturates can also help to lower blood LDL-cholesterol.

Rice bran oil is another oil suitable for frying, as it has a high smoke point. It can also be used in baking and in salad dressings. It contains both monounsaturates and polyunsaturates and may have cardiovascular health benefits; recent studies have shown that replacing your normal cooking oil with rice bran oil can help to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Specific components of rice bran oil that are thought to be beneficial include phytosterols, triterpine alcohols, tocopherols and tocotrienols and research now suggests that it may be these compounds, rather than the fatty acid composition, that are responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects of the oil.

Oils high in both monounsaturates and polyunsaturates are a good choice for use in recipes and for cooking, rather than fats such as butter and lard, which are high in the saturates that can raise blood cholesterol levels. Other oils containing monounsaturates that you might like to try are olive, canola and peanut oil. Oils high in polyunsaturates include sunflower, soya bean and corn oil.

Choose the oils with the flavour you like best, store them in a cool dark place to retain their goodness, and don't forget that all oils are high in fat, and therefore high in kilojoules, so make sure you don't use too much when you prepare, cook and serve food."

First published: Sep 2006

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