For as long as we’ve been told, staying healthy is achieved by eating well, getting enough exercise and sleep, and drinking plenty of water. But in recent years, more focus has been paid not just on our lifestyle behaviors and what we eat, but also our behaviors in the kitchen and how we cook what we eat.
It’s common knowledge that consuming fruits and vegetables and lowering amounts of sugars and simple carbs is important, but less emphasized is the careful consideration of even choosing basic ingredients like cooking oils.
If you count up every time you use a cooking oil—for sauteing meats and vegetables, baking, stir-frying, even just coating pots and pans—it likely adds up to several times per week. For something you use that often, it’s essential to know how different kinds can impact your health and overall well-being.
We now know that cooking with vegetable oils like corn or safflower oil can be a dangerous practice. According to a report in The Telegraph, “Scientists found that heating up vegetable oils led to the release of high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes, which have been linked to illnesses including cancer, heart disease, and dementia.”
A manufactured “vegetable oil” is actually a byproduct made from various grains, seeds, and beans, in which the oils are extracted from the solid material using hexane, a poisonous solvent. In so doing, it strips the nutrients native to the food and turns a large portion of their healthy polyunsaturated fats into inflammatory and damaging trans fats. Because of this, scientists often recommend olive oil, butter, and even lard before ever grabbing vegetable oil.
In the wake of all the discussion about cooking oils, olive oil has come out on top as the go-to for healthier cooking. And while it’s a great option—incredibly versatile and full of healthy fats—it’s also starting to find some competition with like-minded alternatives like avocado oil. Here’s where the two are similar and also what sets them apart.
More about olive oil
Olive oil is one of the most commonly used oils throughout the world. It has quite a long history, with evidence of use dating back to 2600 B.C., when it was a major part of commerce and trading in the Mediterranean region. By 2013, worldwide production rose to an impressive 2.8 million tons. This not only has to do with the fact that olive oil is heavily used in cooking, but also in making soaps, other personal care and beauty items, and pharmaceuticals.
Olive oil is created by cold-pressing olives to extract the liquid, but not all kinds are created equal. An important thing to know is that there are several different grades that are distinguished by the methods of processing.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Also sometimes called EVOO, this is the highest quality you can purchase. It’s the least processed with far less acidity and better taste.
- Virgin olive oil: Oil that is produced using no chemical treatments, but rather mechanical processes that make it more refined and filtered. This type generally has content with roughly 1.5 percent free acidity.
- Refined olive oil: This is a type of virgin olive oil that may be processed using charcoal or other unsavory ingredients to help refine the oil.
Benefits of using olive oil
Olive oil is considered to be one of the healthiest oils in the world due to its high amount of antioxidants and nourishing fatty acids known as medium-chain triglycerides. Those facets are even more pronounced in extra virgin olive oil, which is more nutrient dense since it hasn’t been refined.
Olive oil is also now understood as a component of weight loss when it’s included as part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, of which it’s a huge hallmark. The Mediterranean Diet is inspired by the healthy lifestyle and eating habits of people living in the sea region who have very little disease and longer lifespans.
Another potent compound inside olive oil is called oleocanthal, which behaves similarly to ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. It’s also been seen in reducing the risk of cancer.
Along with these helpful components, there are several vitamins and minerals found in olive oil, most notably high levels of vitamin E as well as vitamin K and iron, which help with skin health, bone health, and the development of red blood cells.
Because of this complex nutritional makeup, a number of studies have found additional benefits associated with olive oil consumption, including:
- Potential lower risk of chronic diseases
- Less pronounced risk of coronary heart disease
- Better balance of cholesterol levels
Some drawbacks of olive oil
One of the issues with olive oil is that it has a lower smoke point (the temperature at which an oil will start to smoke producing fumes and free radicals), which means it’s not ideal for frying foods or other cooking activities that require high temperatures.
Unfortunately, olive oil is also an industry with a lot of fraud (in fact, experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of bottles bearing the extra virgin title are actually cut with things like soybean oil or carry dyes and artificial flavorings). This is why it’s incredibly important to ensure your bottle is single sourced (farmed, harvested, and bottled in the same spot), and in a metal tin or dark glass container that can protect it from light damage. While this may make the product more expensive, it’s worth it when it comes to your health.
Recommended ways to use olive oil
Here are some more unique ways to use olive oil for a range of dishes and cooking applications.
Healthy salad dressing
If you enjoy the mild and distinct flavor of olive oil, it can be a healthy alternative to calorie-packed Caesar and thousand island dressings.
If you aren’t keen on marinara sauce, try a splash of olive oil, some Parmesan cheese, and a little garlic for a lighter option to coat your noodles.
Dip for bread
In a shallow bowl, place a few tablespoons of olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and some Parmesan cheese for a delightful appetizer to any bread, even the healthy kind.
To make marinades and sauces
Adding olive oil will give marinades and sauces a creamy texture and decadent taste while also imparting a number of health benefits.
Substituting olive oil for some or all of the butter called for in a recipe will make it a more heart-healthy choice.
More about avocado oil
Like olive oil, avocado oil is one of only a few cooking oils that’s actually extracted right from the pulp of the fruit (instead of having to chemically extract the liquid from the seed). It’s made in a similar fashion by mashing fruits to extract the oils.
While avocado oil has long been used in cosmetics and self-care products like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, it has also become an increasingly popular addition in many kitchens. The great thing about avocado oil is that it has a very high smoke point (up to 520 degrees Fahrenheit), so it can be used for any high-heat cooking situation, such as frying foods and sauteing meats.
It also has a more buttery (and less bitter) flavor than olive oil, and more creamy texture, which can be used to enhance a number of dishes. Some vegan cooks have even used it to replace butter and dairy in many recipes.
Benefits of using avocado oil
While avocado oil has a similar fatty acid profile as olive oil (it’s roughly 75 percent fat with a substantial dose of good-for-you monounsaturated compounds), there’s also a few other key nutrients that elevate its health status:
- Very high levels of vitamin E (25 percent more than olive oil), which helps nourish skin and hair and fight free radical damage—rub a small amount of avocado oil into the skin in dry areas to provide relief; even some cases of psoriasis have been helped with a topical treatment
- Has more potassium than even a banana; this mineral helps to stabilize blood pressure and promote heart health
- Nearly triple the amount of carotenoids as olive oil. These soluble antioxidants help fight cancer growth, protect the eyes from macular degeneration, and halt the physical signs of aging
- Lutein, a plant compound that helps to preserve eyesight
- Roughly 23 percent of the daily recommended amount of folate, a B vitamin that’s important during pregnancy to support the development of a healthy fetus
In general, studies have shown that those who eat avocados regularly are healthier than those that don’t—and avocado oil is just as effective as the raw fruit. Those that ate one serving of avocado every day, in fact, found these benefits:
- 22 percent lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
- 11 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol
- Significant reduction in total cholesterol levels
- 20 percent less blood triglycerides
Some drawbacks of avocado oil
Though avocado oil is a great choice for use in the kitchen (or beauty routines), there are a few hindrances. For one, it’s not as readily available in mainstream marketplaces, and as such, the cost may be higher. The taste is slightly more significant than olive oil as well so it may not work as a substitute in all recipes.
Recommended ways to use avocado oil
Here are some more unique ways to use avocado oil for a range of dishes and cooking applications.
As a base to make fresh popcorn
You’ll never go back to microwave after trying popcorn this way. Coat the bottom of a large pot with a couple tablespoons of avocado oil, then top with the same amount of popcorn kernels. As it cooks and pops, the corn will absorb the subtle flavors of the oil, meaning you probably won’t even need to add salt.
A milder ingredient for baking
Some baking recipes just don’t taste as good using olive oil (or coconut oil for that matter); with a more mild taste that absorbs well at high temps, avocado oil can make those cookies taste just as good as if you used a stick of butter.
Adding some healthy fats to smoothies
If you want to get a good dose of healthy fats, and all the other nutrients, add a spoonful of avocado oil to the blender when making your morning smoothie. It is a fruit after all!
On top of avocados
It would make sense that avocado oil pairs great with avocados. Get double the dose of vitamins and minerals by drizzling your avocado toast or avocado-based salad with the oil.
A final word on avocado oil and olive oil
Both types of oils do have positive qualities (like good-for-you fats and tons of vitamins and minerals) and both are much better for your health than vegetable oil or even lard. Which one you choose mostly comes down to personal preference and cooking method since the smoke points are so drastically different. If you’re using a high temperature to sear meats or stir-fry vegetables, opt for avocado oil. On the other hand, olive oil could be a better choice if you’re making salad dressings or looking for a light, traditional taste that’s been trusted for centuries.