A Guide to Cooking Oils: The Good, The Bad and The Just Plain Nasty

Fats and oils have gotten a bad rap over the years. But thankfully the world is finally coming back to their senses about this important macronutrient. Fats play a crucial role in neurological function, hormone synthesis, nutrient absorption and so much more but it’s important to remember that not all fats are created equal. 

As with anything we put in our bodies, it’s important to consider quality, as even the healthiest sources of fat can have harmful effects if processed, prepared or stored improperly.When choosing which oils are best for cooking and which are better un-heated and which ones you should completely avoid, it’s important to consider a few key components. These include: source, smoke point, storage and processing. Here’s a rundown on why each of these categories matter.

Source

Obviously, the food the oil is sourced from will determine if the fatty acid profile is a healthy choice or is best to be avoided. For example: there is a huge difference in the fatty acids composition of olive oil (high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids) VS Margarine (high in pro-inflammatory omega 6 due to low quality oils & industrial/chemical processing).

Smoke Point

The importance of considering the smoke point of an oil goes far beyond the risk of setting off your smoke alarm or tainting the flavour of your 5 star dinner. When oil is heated to or beyond it’s smoke point, the chemical structure begins to break down, oxidize and create harmful free radicals. This is a big time no-no for our bodies.

Storage

Look for oils that are stored in dark glass bottles. Oils are susceptible to oxidization which occurs when exposed to light (hence the dark glass) and avoid plastic bottles as their toxic compounds such as polyvinyl chloride can leach into the oils which eventually ends up on our plate. = No bueno.

Processing

Even the healthiest of oils can had negative health effects when exposed to certain industrial processing methods.

AVOID any oils which have been:

  • refined
  • hydrogenated
  • partially hydrogentated
  • deodorized
  • Solvent/chemically extracted (hexane, octane…)

LOOK for oils that are unrefined, raw or cold-pressed.

[The Good]

My 5 Favourite Cooking Oils

Coconut Oil

Use for: Low-Medium- High heat cooking

Smoke Point: 375 degrees F

  • High smoke point makes it a great oil for high temperature cooking like roasting, frying, sautéing or baking.
  • Slight coconut flavour, so use with strong spices/flavours if coconut isn’t your jam.
  • Often sold as “refined” or “de-odorized” so make sure to check your labels.

Avocado Oil

Use for: Low-Medium-High Heat Cooking

Smoke Point: 520 Degrees F

  • High smoke point, neutral flavour and a great source of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Use for: Low-Medium Heat Cooking

Smoke point: 320 degrees F

  • Neutral flavour makes it a great choice for any dish
  • Avoid using for high heat cooking

Ghee (Grass-fed)

Use for: Low-Medium-High Heat Cooking

Smoke Point: 485 Degrees F

  • Ghee is simply clarified butter. It is made by slowly heating butter until the milk proteins separate from the buttermilk fats, which are then removed, leaving you with a golden liquid of buttery goodness. Since milk proteins are the compounds that burn at high heat, ghee is a great choice for higher heat cooking.
  • Dairy sensitivity? Because the dairy particles are removed, ghee is often well-tolerated in sensitive individuals.

Butter (Grass-fed)

Use for: Low-Medium Heat Cooking

Smoke Point: 350 Degrees F

  • Butter is delicious. I could probably end my argument there but it’s also important to consider the source here. Grass-fed butter is much higher in healthy omega 3 fatty acids and has higher levels of vitamins A,K,E, CLA and beta-carotene than conventional butter. Healthier (grass-fed) cows = healthier milk = healthier butter.

[the Bad-for cooking]

Healthy Oils That Should Never Be Heated

  • flax
  • hemp
  • chia
  • walnut, hazelnut or almond oil

*Use these oils in dressings, cold sauces, dips, pestos or as a drizzle after cooking.

[The Just Plain Nasty]

Oils you should NEVER eat! Ever.

  • Canola (GMO)
  • Margarine (not real food)
  • Vegetable oil (vegetable don’t make oil = not real food)
  • Soybean Oil (GMO)
  • Corn Oil (GMO)
  • Safflower Oil (High in inflammatory Omega 6)
  • Cooking spray (PAM…)

I hope this helps clarify the confusing world of fats and empowers you to confidently toss out that tub of margarine, grab some ghee and make friends with fats again. What confuses you the most when it comes to fats and oils? Leave a comment below.

In happiness and healthy fats,

Heather