Healthy Cooking Oils – A Beginners Guide
You have many options when it comes to selecting fats and oils for cooking. But it’s not just a matter of choosing oils that are healthy, but also whether they stay healthy after having been cooked with.
The Integrity of Cooking Oils
When you’re cooking at a high heat, you want to use oils that are stable and don’t oxidize or go rancid easily.
When oils undergo oxidation, they react with oxygen to form free radicals and harmful compounds that you definitely don’t want to be consuming.
The most important factor in determining an oil’s resistance to oxidation and rancidification, both at high and low heat, is the relative degree of saturation of the fatty acids in it.
Saturated fats have only single bonds in the fatty acid molecules, monounsaturated fats have one double bond and polyunsaturated fats have two or more.
It is these double bonds that are chemically reactive and sensitive to heat.
Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are pretty resistant to heating, but oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats should be avoided for cooking.
Alright, now let’s discuss each type of cooking fat specifically.
First Prize : Coconut Oil
When it comes to high heat cooking, coconut oil is your best choice.
Over 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated, which makes it very resistant to heat.
This oil is semi-solid at room temperature and it can last for months and years without going rancid.
Coconut oil also has powerful health benefits. It is particularly rich in a fatty acid called Lauric Acid, which can improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria and other pathogens.
The fats in coconut oil can also boost metabolism slightly and increase feelings of fullness compared to other fats. It is the only cooking oil that made it to my list of superfoods.
Fatty Acid Breakdown:
- Saturated: 92%.
- Monounsaturated: 6%.
- Polyunsaturated: 1.6%.
Make sure to choose virgin coconut oil. It’s organic, it tastes good and it has powerful health benefits.
The saturated fats used to be considered unhealthy, but new studies prove that they are totally harmless. Saturated fats are a safe source of energy for humans (Check out some studies HERE).
Second Prize : Butter
Butter was also demonized in the past due to its saturated fat content.
But there really is no reason to fear real butter. It’s the processed margarine that is the truly awful stuff.
Real butter is good for you and actually fairly nutritious.
It contains Vitamins A, E and K2. It is also rich in the fatty acids Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and Butyrate, both of which have powerful health benefits.
CLA may lower body fat percentage in humans and butyrate can fight inflammation, improve gut health and has been shown to make rats completely resistant to becoming obese ( Get the facts HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, AND HERE).
Fatty Acid Breakdown:
- Saturated: 68%.
- Monounsaturated: 28%.
- Polyunsaturated: 4%.
There is one caveat for cooking with butter. Regular butter does contain tiny amounts of sugars and proteins and for this reason it tends to get burned during high heat cooking like frying.
If you want to avoid that, you can make clarified butter, or ghee. That way, you remove the lactose and proteins, leaving you with pure butterfat.
Here’s a great tutorial on how to clarify your own butter. (If you’re in to that sort of thing)
Make sure to choose butter from grass-fed cows. This butter contains more Vitamin K2, CLA and other nutrients, compared to butter from grain-fed cows.
Third Prize : Olive Oil
Olive oil is well known for its heart healthy effects and is believed to be a key reason for the health benefits of the mediterranean diet.
Some studies show that olive oil can improve biomarkers of health.
It can raise HDL (the good) cholesterol and lower the amount of oxidized LDL cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream.
Fatty Acid Breakdown:
- Saturated: 14%.
- Monounsaturated: 75%.
- Polyunsaturated: 11%.
Studies on olive oil show that despite having fatty acids with double bonds, you can still use it for cooking as it is fairly resistant to the heat (Click here for the deets).
Make sure to choose quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has much more nutrients and antioxidants than the refined type. Plus it tastes much better.
Keep your olive oil in a cool, dry, dark place, to prevent it from going rancid.
Honorable Mention : Animal Fats – Lard, Tallow, Bacon Drippings
The fatty acid content of animals tends to vary depending on what the animals eat.
If they eat a lot of grains, the fats will contain quite a bit of polyunsaturated fats.
If the animals are pastured raised or grass-fed, there will be more saturated and monounsaturated fats in them.
Therefore, animal fats from animals that are naturally raised are excellent options for cooking.
You can buy ready-made lard or tallow from the store, or you can save the drippings from meat to use at a later time. Bacon drippings are especially tasty. (And my personal favorite)
Avoid at All Costs : Seed- and Vegetable Oils
Industrial seed and vegetable oils are highly processed, refined products that are way too rich in Omega-6 fatty acids.
Not only should you not cook with them, you should probably avoid them altogether.
These oils have been wrongly considered “heart-healthy” by the media and many nutrition professionals in the past few decades.
Avoid all of them:
- Soybean Oil
- Corn Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Canola Oil
- Rapeseed Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Rice Bran Oil
One study also looked at common vegetable oils on food shelves in the U.S. market and discovered that they contain between 0.56 to 4.2% trans fats, which are highly toxic.
It’s important to read labels. If you find any of these oils on a packaged food that you are about to eat, then it’s best to purchase something else.
How to Take Care of Your Cooking Oils
To make sure that your fats and oils don’t go rancid, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Don’t buy large batches at a time. Buy smaller ones, that way you will most likely use them before they get the chance to damage.
When it comes to unsaturated fats like olive, palm, avocado oil and some others, it is important to keep them in an environment where they are less likely to oxidize and go rancid.
The main drivers behind oxidative damage of cooking oils are heat, oxygen and light. Therefore, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place and make sure to screw the lid on as soon as you’re done using them.
Where to Go From Here
So now that you have the info, it’s time to devise a plan. Clear your pantry of anything that could be a harm to your weight loss or long term health and wellness. Buy in small quantities, store carefully, and best of luck in cooking up some tasty dishes 🙂
Riley Phelps, MS CSCS
P.S. – Special thanks to our friends at Authority Nutrition for this one!