What's the Scoop on Cooking Oils?

The healthiest oils are those that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, such as vegetable oil and olive oil. These types of fats can help lower your risk of heart disease when used instead of saturated and trans fats.  When it comes to cooking, however, not all oils are created equal.  Some oils can handle the heat, and some cannot.  An oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which it will start to smoke and break down.  This breakdown process causes an unpleasant taste, as well as, reduces the nutritional value. 

 Types of Fats

 Saturated Fat (Sat) "Unhealthy"

Saturated fat consumption should be limited (<10% calories from saturated fat per day) because it increases blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.  On the shelf, it is the most chemically stable giving it a long shelf life and the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures.  Solid at room temperature. 

Sources: butter, cream, tallow, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil

Trans-fat (Trans) "Unhealthy"

Trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels, lowers HDL (good cholesterol), and raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.  Therefore, increasing the risk of heart disease.  Trans-fat is made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of oils.   Hydrogenation solidifies liquid oils and improves the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and foods that contain them.

Sources: stick margarine, shortening, baked goods (pastries, pies, cookies, doughnuts), breakfast cereals, fried foods, crackers, and snack foods

 Monounsaturated Fat (Mono) "Healthy"

More chemically stable than polyunsaturated fats.  Tolerate high cooking temps.  Best when used with light cooking or raw in salad dressings.  Liquid when stored at room temperature but can solidify when stored in the refrigerator.

Sources: olive, avocado, peanut, sesame, canola, safflower, lard, and duck fat

Polyunsaturated Fat (Poly) "Healthy"

Chemically unstable.  Easily denatures by heat, therefore, not recommended for use when cooking.  Best suited in raw form.  Never keep these beyond their expiration date.  Should be stored refrigerated in dark bottles.  If cooking, use low with temperatures.

Sources: walnut, grapeseed, soy, corn, and fish oils

 Tips on Oils

 Consider pairing up with these oils when using the following methods of food preparation:  

  •  Baking: coconut (sat), palm (sat), canola (mono), safflower (mono), sunflower (poly)

  • Frying: avocado (mono), peanut (mono), palm (sat), sesame (mono)

  • Sautéing: Many are great, such as avocado (mono), canola (mono), coconut (sat), grapeseed (poly), olive (mono), sesame (mono), safflower (mono), sunflower (poly)

  • Dipping, dressings, & marinades: flax (poly), olive (mono), peanut (mono), toasted sesame (mono), walnut (poly)




Farrah Wigand