What Are The Healthiest Oils & Fats To Cook With?

Remember a few years ago when food was all about “gluten-free”?

Today it seems like everywhere you turn the benefits of a high-fat diet are thrown in your face.  And this isn’t surprising…

Women who have instituted a higher fat / lower carb diet express more energy, better sleep, weight or fat loss and way fewer cravings for sugar or salt!

Following a healthy high-fat / low-carb diet is one of the best ways to improve your overall health AND ensure longevity.

Fat is your friend!  In case you hadn’t already heard. 😊

Health Benefits of Fat

Before I go on, I just want to make sure you understand that I’m talking about healthy fats.  Not unhealthy ones like hydrogenated oils, pasteurized and commercially sourced dairy, deep-fried anything, or pastries and baked goods.  Right?

Healthy dietary fat provides energy, supports cell maintenance, enhances nutrient absorption, and is essential for producing some important hormones.

Overall, dietary fat got a bad rap when it was blamed for increasing rates of obesity and heart disease. Now, thanks to science and the increasing popularity of fat-containing diets, like Paleo and Keto, we know fat is an essential nutrient and a critical component of a healthy diet.

And it does so many great things like boost fat loss, increase sleep and energy, ditch cravings for junk food and even reduce inflammation!

In fact, within 20 years of the “fat-free” craze, people discovered that zero fat diets were actually causing even more weight gain and health problems!

As I mentioned, not all fats are created equal. Some fats come with extra health benefits and some can be harmful to your health and should be avoided all together.

A Simple Way to Up Your Fat Ante

One of the best ways to include healthy fats in your diet is to use high quality cooking oils for most meals. But, it’s important to know which oils are best for cooking at specific heats!

If you’re like me, you were taught that polyunsaturated vegetable oils were great for cooking.  Turns out, these highly processed oils are most definitely NOT healthy choices!  This includes canola, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils. Even peanut oil!

The processes that produce these vegetable oils heats and reheats the oil until it eventually becomes rancid.  And, if they’re stored in clear, plastic containers, their rancidity increases.  So, these oils are already full of oxidative particles, trans fat and other inflammatory byproducts before they even reach your pantry.  When you cook with them, this makes the problems worse.

Oils that have a low smoke point or contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, like walnut and flaxseed oil, should never be used for cooking. That’s because heat damages the flavor and nutrition profile of these oils and causes the formation of unhealthy free radicals.

Inflammation:  Not Something to Ignore

Oxidative stress from free radicals increases your body’s natural inflammatory response.  In some cases, inflammation is a good thing, like when you cut your finger or break a bone.  Acute inflammation helps the body heal physical wounds.  So, yes, a good thing!

In many other situations, though, inflammation can turn bad.  Chronic low-grade inflammation happens to the best of us.  Our bodies’ inflammatory response is triggered from the wrong foods, environmental toxins, too much stress, exercise, and anxiety and worry.

Inflammation needs to be kept at bay as much as possible because it is at the heart of most of our degenerative diseases AND our hormonal imbalances.  Things like weight gain, sugar or salt cravings, depression, fatigue, poor sleep, PMS, hot flashes, miscarriages, and digestive issues are all related to inflammation. (And there are more I could list!)

Which is why it is important to not add to more inflammatory triggers to your life by eating the wrong oils!

How the Healthy Oils Stack Up 

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

You’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet, right?  And how it is one of the healthiest diets out there?  A lot of that is due to how much extra virgin olive oil is consumed!

The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are linked to reduced inflammation, decreased risk of heart disease, improved triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and more energy and vitality.

Olive oil is best for low-heat cooking, such as a quick sauté or baking at 350 degrees and below. It has a low smoke point, which means high temperatures will cause olive oil to degrade, so it shouldn’t be used in high heat roasting or frying.

Extra virgin olive oil can also be used to “finish” a dish – drizzle on top of salads, soups, pastas, and vegetables.

I personally prefer to use olive oil cold, like on a salad or over a pasta dish, because I worry that the heat I’m using may be too high.  I see a lot of recipes that tell me to cook with olive oil over medium heat – I don’t; instead, I used avocado oil or coconut oil because of their higher smoke points.

AVOCADO OIL

This is one of my favorite cooking oils lately! (Plus, it’s a rare day when I’m not seen eating something with fresh avocado in it.)

Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, avocado oil may also help improve cholesterol levels. It’s the cholesterol ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ that’s important!

Unlike olive oil, avocado oil has a high smoke point and can be used for frying and roasting. It has a mild flavor that makes it a good choice for us in baked goods as well.

COCONUT OIL

Ah, the most controversial oil around!

Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature and liquid oil when heated. It has a medium smoke point, making it another good choice for everything from sautés to baking. Coconut oil is a great vegan alternative to butter in baked goods.

(Psst – need an energy boost in the afternoon?  Stir coconut oil into hot water and enjoy!  Much better for you than coffee! J )

There’s some disagreement over the health benefits of coconut oil since it’s high in a certain type of saturated fat, with 12 grams per tablespoon.

High intakes of saturated fat are linked to increased risk of heart disease, but some experts say the fatty acids found in coconut oil are not metabolized or stored the same way as saturated fat from animal products.  And this different type of saturated fat – lauric acid – shows more health benefits than bad.

Some health benefits found from consuming coconut oil regularly include faster fat loss and an increase in the good (HDL) cholesterol levels in the blood.  Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and are used as quick energy by the liver.

(Of course, take any studies you read about with a grain of salt…the Heart and Stroke Foundation and cardiovascular surgeons love to tell us how bad coconut oil is for us…because they benefit from people having heart issues!  Always look for 3-5 reputable sources before believing everything you read online!)

We do need some saturated fat in our diets, but too much can be harmful.

The bottom line? Like most things, coconut oil is fine for most people in moderation.  If you’re unsure, always speak to a health practitioner or nutrition expert first.

Where possible, always choose virgin organic coconut oil over refined variations.

GRASS-FED BUTTER OR GHEE

While in my hormonal fat loss nutrition practice, too much dairy can hold women back from losing stubborn weight, if you love butter, a little bit once in a while won’t hurt.

Choose grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter) products for an extra dose of omega-3 fats.

Butter is best used for lower heat cooking and baking. Ghee can be used for higher heat cooking, since the milk solids that are prone to browning and burning have been removed.

And, if given the choice between butter or margarine, always choose butter first!  Margarine is still highly processed, despite what the container may say about being ‘trans-fat free’!

RED PALM OIL

An alternative to coconut oil for sautés is red palm oil, which comes from the oil palm tree.  This oil is 50% saturated, 40% monounsaturated and 10% polyunsaturated.

Due to its red color, red palm oil contains antioxidants and vitamins.  The darker the red color, the more healthy and unprocessed the oil.  Studies show that populations who consume red palm oil have lower cholesterol levels and less oxidative stress.

FLAXSEED OIL

Like I said earlier, flaxseed oil is best consumed cold.  Always choose refrigerated varieties stored in dark glass containers.

This powerful oil is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are the EFAS that really help reduce inflammation.  It may also improve skin health and prevent cancer cells from growing.

What’s Your Best Oil Option?

No matter the occasion, there is a healthy oil available for you to cook with!

In fact, to reap the benefits of all these amazing oil, make a variety of dishes so that you increase your nutritional intake and reduce that chronic low-grade inflammation!  Experimentation and diversity are key!

 

REFERENCES

Healthline: Healthy Cooking Oils — The Ultimate Guide

Time Magazine (online): The 10 Best and Worst Oils for Your Health

 

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Daina Gardiner
Daina Gardiner

Health & Wellness Contributor (C.H.N.), Owner at Mind Body Healthy Calgary

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