Cooking With Fats and Oils
Here is a list of things to consider along with lists of fats to cook with and fats to avoid.
1. Type of fat content
The stability of an oil becomes very important when heating. This is because unstable oils will oxidize (break down) when heated which destroys the health benefits of the oil and creates free radicals. Free radicals from rancid oils is one way that fat (the bad kind!) actually does contribute to heart disease (source).
Saturated fats are the most stable, followed by mono-unsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are actually the most easily damaged (most unstable) fats and this is why oils such as flax or fish oil are recommended to be refrigerated and never used for cooking. Generally the more unsaturated an oil is, the more unstable it is when heated. However, most oils are not purely composed of one type of fat. For example, olive oil is composed of 70% oleic acid (mono-unsaturated), 15% linoleic acid (polyunsaturated), 13% palmitic acid (saturated), and a few other types of oils (source). Because olive oil is 70% oleic acid, it is considered a mono-unsaturated oil even though it contains some saturated and polyunsaturated fats as well. This makes olive oil a good choice for cooking! See a complete list of oils to cook with below.
In summary, saturated and mono-unsaturated fats are good to use for cooking while polyunsaturated fats are not.
2. Smoke point
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature in which the oil starts to burn (smoke). This can be used as a general guideline for cooking. For example, if you are baking something at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, you will want to choose an oil that has a smoke point over 350 F. However, just because an oil has a high smoke point doesn’t mean you should use it. Oils that have high smoke points are often high in omega 6. Smoke is not the only indicator that an oil is degrading; it is highly likely that these oils are oxidizing when heated over a long period of time (such as the oils used for deep frying).
You should choose an oil that has both a high smoke point and is mainly composed of stable oils (saturated fat or mono-unsaturated) such as avocado oil or coconut oil.
Which fats should you cook with?
You should cook with fats that are stable (saturated or mono-unsaturated) and have a reasonably high smoke point. These include:
Remember that all these oils should be as high quality as possible meaning grass-fed (if applicable), organic, cold-pressed, extra virgin, etc. Click the (affiliate) links for an example of what brands are high quality.
Which fats should you avoid cooking with?
You should avoid cooking with any oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats. These include:
- Safflower oil
- Canola oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Sesame oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Almond oil and most other nut oils
- Flax oil
- Hemp oil
- Fish oil
- Walnut oil
- Peanut oil
Which fats should you avoid all together?
Some fats and oils are unhealthy regardless if they are cooked with or not. These include:
- Hydrogenated oils such as Crisco and Margarines
- Trans fats (byproduct of hydrogenation)
- Most vegetable oils including soybean, corn, cottonseed, canola, peanut oil
- Nut and seed oils that have a poor omega 3 to 6 ratio (listed above)
- Oils from genetically modified crops, most notably soy, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils (due to their high pesticide concentrations)
Fats That Aren’t Meant For Cooking
Many polyunsaturated oils are healthy if eaten in their unrefined state without being heated (like as a salad dressing). These are mostly oils that contain significant amounts of omega-3 as it is a very delicate fatty acid.
- Fish Oils (salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, etc.)
- Cod Liver Oil
- Flax Oil
- Hemp Oil
- Walnut oil
- Any polyunsaturated oil that has an omega 3 to 6 ratio of 1:3 or better
To make things a bit easier, I made an infographic!
Thank you for reading this guide on fats and oils! I hope you found it helpful. If you have any more questions please leave them in the comments below!