If you’re looking for a healthy substitute for vegetable oil, you’re not alone. Vegetable oils like canola oil are highly refined, and often contain excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. For alternative cooking oils that are more beneficial to your health, check out our list of suggestions below!
What’s Wrong with Vegetable Oils?
Vegetable and seed oils aren’t poisonous or anything, and sometimes they might still be preferred if you’re looking for a specific flavor or consistency when cooking, but for your standard go-to cooking oil, they’re not ideal. Seed and vegetable oils you may want to discontinue or greatly minimize using are as follows.
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Sunflower oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Cottonseed oil
Here are the reasons why you may want to minimize your vegetable oil consumption.
1. They Are Too High in Omega-6 Fats
Though omega-6 fatty acids are needed in our diets, most of us get too many of them. Omega-6s need to be balanced with our omega-3 fatty acid intake, and unfortunately in a modern diet, we get way too much vegetable oil and nowhere near enough fatty fish like salmon, halibut, and mackerel. An omega imbalance has been linked to diseases like obesity, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, and so decreasing sources of omega-6 fatty acids is important.
2. They Are Mostly GMO
Genetically modified foods (GMOs) like canola and corn have been engineered to resist pests and herbicides as they’re grown, and there is concern among scientists that this could lead to detrimental impacts not only on public health, but also on the environment, food safety, and crop contamination. Many will choose to avoid GMO foods as much as possible until more data on their potential health side effects is gathered.
3. They Are Highly Refined
Creating a product like canola oil involves exposure to chemicals and a high-heat environment. It is chemically bleached and deodorized, as are corn, soy, and palm oils. Because of this, they are often referred to as RBD oils: refined, bleached, and deodorized. Refining takes a lot of the nutrients out of these oils, like their vitamins and antioxidants, making them less beneficial than unrefined oils.
Cooking Oils That Are a Healthy Substitute for Vegetable Oil
What follows are healthier options for cooking oils that can be used as vegetable oil substitutes.
Extra virgin olive oil is at the top of the list because it may be the best substitute for vegetable oil. It is versatile, accessible, and cold-pressed instead of refined at high heat, which helps preserve its nutritional value. Made from the olive tree’s fruit, olive oil is full of healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help lower your risk for heart disease and help regulate your blood sugar.
There are reports that some of the Italian olive oils found in grocery stores are fake, and so when buying, it’s recommended you do a little bit of research if you want to make sure your olive oil comes from places like Puglia or Sicily. Short of that, however, olive oil can easily be substituted in for vegetable oils in marinades, in dressings, for sautéing, and even baking recipes (though watch out for its strong flavor in baked goods, as it’s more savory than sweet—think pizza more than cupcakes). Olive oil has a low smoke point, so when you need to cook something at high heat, it’s a great choice.
2. Coconut Oil
Extracted from the meat of coconut flesh, coconut oil contains healthier saturated fats than are often found in other foods, including lauric acid, which is a saturated fat that may help to raise your “good” HDL cholesterol levels (and is certainly preferable to trans fats). Coconut oil is solid at room temperature (much like the vegetable shortening Crisco), so melting it may be required if you need to use it as a liquid in your recipe as you would melted butter.
Coconut oil also can withstand high heat during cooking, and its vanilla-like flavor is often perfect for baked goods. If you prefer coconut oil but would rather do without its sweet taste, MCT oil is derived from coconut oil and in some ways can be more beneficial. MCT oil is a concentrated form of the medium-chain triglycerides contained within coconut oil, and has almost no flavor whatsoever (it can even be combined with water, or used as a base to make low-carb sauces and dressings).
3. Flaxseed Oil
Though you may have noticed it’s a seed oil, flaxseed oil derived from the seeds of the flax plant is a good source of soluble fiber, which has been linked to heart-healthy effects in patients with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. While it’s not heat stable and won’t work as well as coconut or olive oil for cooking over heat, it can be used to replace vegetable oil in salad dressings and marinades, and for use as a drizzle if you want to gain its health benefits.
Be sure when shopping that you get unrefined flaxseed oil. Fresh-pressed and unrefined, it’s a source of omega-3 fatty acids and has a yellow, golden color. Refined flaxseed oil is pale white, has no taste, and comes with trans fats you’ll want to avoid.
5. Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is cold-pressed from the avocado pulp and is comprised mostly of the healthy monounsaturated fat oleic acid. Avocado oil is a good source of antioxidants, may help lower blood pressure, and helps boost the absorption of carotenoids in salsas and salads (carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene, which have been linked to eye health).
With a buttery, creamy taste much like avocados themselves, avocado oil is delicious for grilling, baking, stir-frying, sautéing, and makes for a wonderful salad dressing. It too has a high smoke point, and though it may not be as available at your local grocery store as olive oil, it can still be found in health food stores or ordered online if you’re determined to give it a try. And we recommend that you do!
Other Non-Oil Substitutes
Vegetable oil isn’t just used on grills and in pans, and we’ve mentioned a few oils that do well in baked goods. However, when it comes to baking and sweet dishes, there are substitutions beyond oil that can be used in cake mixes, cookie recipes, and more. Unsweetened applesauce, fruit purée, and mashable fruits like pears, prunes, and bananas can all be used in baking recipes to help bind up your ingredients.
Substituting vegetable oil cup for cup at first, you can experiment more with texture, flavor, and combinations until you have a truly unique dish to share. Plain yogurt can be added to recipes, or flavored yogurt for that extra taste dimension. Not only will you be creating new flavor combinations, but you’ll also be able to make low-fat, low-carb, and even vegan and no-bake foods, which are fantastic recipes to make with kids, or that kids can make on their own without having to touch the stove.
Oil, Oil Everywhere
It’s pretty easy to phase vegetable and refined oils out of your diet, mostly because there are so many options you can choose from. Whether the goal is to lose weight, be more heart healthy, or just reduce the amount of chemicals and GMO foods that go into your meals, you can start right away. By and large, you’ll want to choose cold-pressed, organic, and unrefined oils, but don’t think you have to pick one and be done with it! Pick a selection of unrefined oils, use each to their own strength, and get creative when it comes to non-oil substitutions as well. That way you can enjoy a variety of textures, tastes, and health benefits.