Spoiler alert: There’s no such thing as low calorie cooking oil.
Coconut oil is technically the lowest calorie oil to cook with, providing a little less than 117 calories per tablespoon. But the majority of popular oils — like olive, canola, and grapeseed — contain a similar 120 calories per tablespoon.
Since cooking oil is a high fat ingredient, it contains more calories per gram (9 calories) compared with high carb or high protein foods (4 calories). But just because oil is higher in calories doesn’t make it bad. Your body needs calories for energy!
Still, if you’re wondering how many calories are in different cooking oils, here’s the nutritional breakdown of various oils. Plus, the best ways to cook with them!
While olive oil isn’t low in calories, it is high in monounsaturated fatty acids— a healthy fat that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” one) and reduce the risk of heart disease. Oils rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, like olive oil, add vitamin E to your diet.
Choosing between extra virgin and regular olive oil will also affect the flavor and nutrient profile. Regular olive oil is further processed and refined to remove any impurities. This can wind up eliminating some vitamins and polyphenols.
A tablespoon (14 grams) of olive oil contains:
|saturated fat||about 2 grams|
|monounsaturated fatty acids||10 grams|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||1.5 grams|
When it comes to the calorie and fat content, canola oil is similar to olive oil. But it contains fewer saturated fats and more polyunsaturated fats.
Oils that contain polyunsaturated fats provide you with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential fats that your body needs, but can’t make itself. Therefore, they need to come from food sources.
Canola oil is known for being cheap and has a neutral flavor. Its smoke point is one of the highest on this list, sitting at 468°F (242°C) so it can take high heat cooking.
A tablespoon (14 grams) of canola oil contains:
|saturated fat||1 gram|
|monounsaturated fatty acids||about 9 grams|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||about 4 grams|
Similar to actual avocados, choosing avocado oil will add heart healthy fats to your diet in the form of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The nutrient breakdown is similar to olive oil, but with a little less saturated fat and vitamin E.
While the flavor isn’t quite like diving into your favorite green fruit, it does have a slightly mild, nutty flavor. Avocado oil doesn’t have quite as high of a smoke point as the others (about 386°F or 197°C), but it’s still a great choice for higher heat cooking.
A tablespoon (14 grams) of avocado oil contains:
|saturated fat||about 1.5 grams|
|monounsaturated fatty acids||about 10 grams|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||about 2 grams|
When it comes to calories, grapeseed oil is comparable at around 120 calories per tablespoon. Nutritionally, it’s higher in polyunsaturated fats compared with monounsaturated fats, plus it provides vitamin E and polyphenols.
Grapeseed oil is made from leftover winemaking grape seeds without heat or chemicals, so this helps keep the healthy properties of the oil.
Similar to canola oil, grapeseed oil has a neutral flavor, which makes it a great all-purpose oil for cooking. It’s also perfect for high heat cooking, with a smoke point of 445°F (229°C).
A tablespoon (14 grams) of grapeseed oil contains:
|saturated fat||1 gram|
|monounsaturated fatty acids||3 grams|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||10 grams|
Coconut oil is the lowest calorie oil on this list at around 117 calories (so barely). Refined and unrefined coconut oil have similar nutritional values and both offer lauric acids, medium-chain triglycerides, and saturated and unsaturated fats. But using unrefined coconut oil may offer more like vitamin E and antioxidants.
Hold up, what about that saturated fat!? There’s a lot of conflicting info around saturated fat. A 2018 research review said that until the health effects are crystal clear, try sticking to the USDA’s recommendation of keeping saturated fat under 10 percent of your total daily calories. But a 2016 research review, also found coconut oil *might* help reduce your risk of health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Refined coconut oil’s neutral taste makes it great for baking, and its smoke point is closer to 400°F (204°C) so you can use it for high heat cooking like sauteing and frying. Unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoking point at 350°F (177°C) so you can use it for baking if you want more flavor, but you’ll want to cook low and slow for stovetop cooking.
A tablespoon (14 grams) coconut oil generally contains:
|saturated fat||about 12 grams|
|monounsaturated fatty acids||about 1 gram|
|polyunsaturated fatty acids||less than 0.5 grams|
Regardless of which oil you go with, none of them are actually considered low calorie. But again, calories aren’t a bad thing!
But if you’re looking for a low cal alternative, try these low calorie cooking oil substitutes:
- Chicken or veggie stock. While chicken or veggie stock won’t provide the same flavor as oil, it will help soften and cook any vegetables or meat you’re sauteing.
- Oil spray or margarine. If you’re looking for a similar oil flavor with fewer calories, give oil flavored margarine or spray a shot. Some brands of vegetable oil spread mixed with olive oil contain about 60 calories per tablespoon. And most nonstick olive oil sprays contain 0 calories per spray.
- Applesauce (for baking only). While you don’t want to use unsweetened applesauce for sauteing or roasting foods, it can be an alternative to oil in baked goods. Foods like cakes, brownies, or muffins often include oil in their recipes to keep it moist. Applesauce can provide a similar texture and enhance the sweetness of the baked goods.
- Vinegar. If you’re looking to use oil as a marinade or dressing, you can add flavor with very few calories by using vinegar instead. Try balsamic, apple cider, and red wine vinegar. They can have as few as 2 calories to 14 calories per tablespoon.
If you’re heavy handed when it comes to pouring oil into your pan, the total calorie and fat count can add. While many of these oils are great for your health, it’s possible to overdo any good-for-you food.
If you’re trying to be mindful of you cooking oil portions, try these tips:
- Brush. Channel your inner Picasso and paint your oil onto foods using an oil brush (also called basting brush). You’ll use a smaller amount to cover the entirety of your meats or veggies compared to pouring it on.
- Spray bottle. Creating your own oil spray is another great way to portion out oil. Just make sure that you don’t go heavy on the spritzing, or it defeats the purpose.
- Nonstick pans. Using good quality nonstick cookware can help cut down the oil needed to cook meat or veggies. You’ll still want to use a little oil to help brown your food, but you won’t need to continue to add oil to prevent sticking.
- Measuring cups and spoons. Pull out those handy dandy measuring cups and spoons, and you’ll know exactly how many servings of oil you’re using in a recipe.
- Roast instead of fry. If you often pan fry foods, try roasting instead. Oven roasting foods with vinegars, spices, or lemon can add flavor with minimal calories added calories.
While there’s really no such thing as a low calorie cooking oil, coconut oil is technically the lowest calorie oil (but only about a 7 calorie difference).
It’s important to remember that just because oils are high in calories, it doesn’t mean their unhealthy! Oil is a great way to add flavor and texture to your foods, plus many of them contain heart healthy fats.
If you’re worried about using too much oil, you can try alternative low cal swaps or implement strategies to manage your portions, like measuring spoons or nonstick cookware.