How to Choose Healthy Cooking Oils

Let’s face it: Healthy cooking involves a lot of decisions, some easier to make than others. While choosing kale chips over potato chips is pretty simple, deciding which oils to cook with, which ones to drizzle over your salad and which ones to stay very, very far away from is trickier – especially with so many labels make confusing health claims.

Fear not – choosing healthy cooking oils doesn’t need to be complicated. Just follow this handy guide to choosing the best oil for each culinary adventure you embark on in your kitchen!

Types of Fats and Cooking Oils

Fats come in chains of varying lengths and are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. One way fats are distinguished from one another is by their double bonds – whether there are no double bonds, one double bond or many double bonds between the carbon molecules.

The categories of fats include:

Saturated Fats

Bond Type: None

What Are They?

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and turn to liquid when warmed. They mostly come from animal sources (like butter) and tropical oils like coconut and palm oil. Contrary to popular belief, not all saturated fats are bad. For example, coconut oil is anti-microbial, aids digestion and reduces inflammation, while ghee has a wealth of nutrients that support our health. Yes, saturated fats should be limited, but they aren’t the evil devils that cause multiple ailments, as some would like us to believe.

The man-made hydrogenated saturated fats are the ones to avoid, but the good quality saturated fats are very beneficial.

Mono Unsaturated Fats

Bond Type: One Double Bond

What Are They?

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, but will harden when put in the refrigerator. These kinds of fats have been made popular by the Mediterranean diet (which are full of them) and are well-known for lowering your risk of heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Bond Type: Multiple Double Bonds

What Are They?

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid no matter where you store them. They have many double hydrogen bonds in their fat chains, and they are extremely sensitive to heat, light and air. Some of the most well-known polyunsaturated fats are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have gained attention for their ability to reduce inflammation, build cell membranes, improve brain health, reduce heart disease and more.

Omega-3s and omega-6s are essential fats that our bodies can’t make, so we need to gather them from our diet. Both of them are necessary, however we need a very specific ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, and that’s 1:2 to 1:4. Most people have absolutely no problem getting omega-6, as they are typically overflowing in our diets – in fact, in the average North American diet we are getting about 1 omega-3 to 15 omega-6s. Too much omega-6 throws our bodies into a pro-inflammatory state.

Trans Fats

Hydrogenated oils and trans fats are produced by companies that take polyunsaturated oil and transform it into a solid, so it lasts longer on the shelves and is easily spreadable (think margarine). When single and double bonds are hydrogenated, they are more shelf-stable and consistent.

These are made when, under unnaturally high heat, those single and double bonds in the mono and polyunsaturated fats are saturated with hydrogen to make them more predictable at different temperatures. Our bodies can’t actually recognize the chemical structure, and this can lead to things like high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer.

In their natural states, fats are incredible anti-oxidants while in their hydrogenated state they become the opposite, contributing to free radical damage in the body.

How Do You Decide Which oil is The Best to Cook With?

The more double bonds a fat has, the more susceptible it is to heat, light and oxygen. That means delicate fats such as flax oil, chia oil, and walnut oil are going to be easily destroyed by heat, while the stable fats such as ghee, coconut oil, lard and tallow will be more suitable for high-heat cooking.

In the infographic below, we break it down visually – you can see which oils are great for high heat, medium-heat, low-heat and no-heat cooking.

With this guide in mind, you can ensure you are choosing healthy cooking oils in the proper way to maintain their health benefits!

Guide To Choosing Healthy cooking Oils

 

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7 responses to “How to Choose Healthy Cooking Oils

  1. Leslie Madelung

    I was just researching the best oils to use for a client when I received this wonderful email. Perfect timing and thankyou. I do have a question. This chart mentions sesame oil in the good oils to use and again in the never use section. Could you explain why to me please. Thank you again

    1. Raquel Inoa Jiménez

      As I could understand it refers that even it says cold pressed, organic, etc. If they’re present in processed food try to avoid them.

  2. Rebecca

    What do you think about when you see sunflower oil in some supplements? Like Ascenta fish oils or the Orange Naturals supplements?

  3. Lex

    Where does peanut oil come into play? I cook a lot of asian food, and many recipes call for peanut oil…

    1. Hi Lex! Thanks for your comment. We’re not a fan of peanuts or their oils – our director Meghan Telpner breaks down the reasons why in this post: https://www.culinarynutrition.com//peanut-peanut-sauce/.

  4. Gina

    Thank you for the information but I think what is lacking here is the smoke points for each oil. How do we know which one can be baked, sauteed, fried with?

    1. Hi Gina! In the infographic there is a section titled ‘Temp’ that illustrates the type of heat we recommend for each oil.

      An oil can oxidize before it reaches its smoke point, so that’s why we didn’t include them here. If you do a lot of high heat cooking, try using the saturated fats (ie ghee and coconut oil).

Let us know what you think!