The Guide to Healthy & Unhealthy Oils
Updated: Oct 16, 2022
It’s time to learn about healthy cooking oils! We all know not all kinds of fats are healthy for our bodies. I find it very important to steer clear of damaged and hydrogenated oils to start with. Fats such as margarine and vegetable shortening along with all the products made with them are good examples of foods to avoid completely.
As a nutrition consultant, I definitely get this question a lot. First I recommend anyone who cooks to learn the basics about cooking oils and I do my best to tell you what works best where. In this post I included some recommendations on how and when to use the most common oils. I also covered why some vegetable oils are harmful for you.
Which oil is healthy for cooking?
Depending on what you are making different oils are better for cooking. I call extra virgin olive oil a versatile option that is delicious and healthy. You can drizzle it on salads or use it in homemade salad dressings. But you can also sauté veggies in it. However, oils with a higher smoke point like avocado or coconut oil are suitable for frying. In baking, I mostly use either butter or coconut oil and recommend you to do the same.
What is the difference in oils?
The fat content in oils sets them apart. Knowing whether the oils you use are saturated or unsaturated is an important aspect of fats. Health experts consider unsaturated fats “healthier,” because many studies have shown they can provide health benefits such as lowering high cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats are mostly liquid at room temperature, as opposed to saturated fats like butter and coconut oil that are solid at room temperature. Your body needs small amounts of saturated fats to maintain optimal health.
Cooking oils can come from plants, animals, or even synthetic processes. They all have unique smoke points (when a cooking oil starts to burn) and unique flavors. I recommend sticking to natural oils and avoiding synthetic or highly processed vegetable, canola, and soybean oils.
Which oils are better to consume and cook with at home?
What I say right away is “ make sure you avoid canola, soybean and grape seed oils “ and here’s why:
Refined oils like grape seed oil sold in clear plastic bottles in super markets may have synthetic antioxidants added to them to have an extended shelf life. These antioxidants like BHT retard oil spoilage and replace the oils natural antioxidants (vitamin E and beta carotene) that have been processed out of the oil. While sitting on those shelves for a very long time, they have been exposed to air and light and by the time you consume them, they are completely damaged and void of healthy nutrients.
Before bottling most manufacturers add defoamers to refined oils. So do yourself a favor and stay away from refined and highly processed oils on the market that would create oxidative stress and inflammation in your body. A good substitute would be looking for extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil.
Hydrogenation is destructive! It basically means artificially adding hydrogen to a liquid fat, or a refined oil to harden them into spreadable form. The other purpose is to keep foods fresher for longer by hydrogenation. These fats are high in unhealthy trans fats.
High amounts of polyunsaturated omega-6
Omega 6 fats found in certain vegetable oils, nuts and seeds makes them not a good option to cook with or consume. When eaten in moderation these omega 6 fatty acids are healthy for the heart but excess consumption of oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, grape seed, soy, peanut, condiments, and margarine can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals.
So… Which ones are safer to consume on a regular basis ?
Always have in mind that eating the right fats and oils improves your health by even supporting fat loss. My favorites are Avocado oil loaded with heart healthy monounsaturated omega 9s and coconut oil which is an excellent example of a heat stable oil with saturated fatty acids. One of the avocado oil brands I use, is called Chosen foods and here is an article they have published promoting the benefits of avocado oil.
Other good options are hemp seed oil, flax seed oil , pumpkin seed oil and unrefined walnut oil . Make sure you don’t heat these oils and only drizzle small amounts on cooked food or salad.
More helpful points:
Oleic acids (omega 9s) are very stable, powerful antioxidants plus they protect cells a lot better. Therefore cook with avocado oil whenever you can.
Palmitoleic acids omega 7 fatty acid’s main job is to reduce inflammation in your body , it also enhances effectiveness of omega 3s. You can find them in the oil extracted from certain fish and nuts like macadamia.
Saturated fats are not necessarily scary. Butter made with organic grass-fed milk, ghee which is clarified butter, and coconut oil are good examples.
Here’s a link to the amazing book by Udo Erasmus which I got the valuable information from Fats that Heal fats that kill