Making Sense of Healthy Cooking Oils and Fats


cooking_fats_oils_paleo

One of the first things I tell people when they ask me about paleo and healthy eating is to sort out their fats and oils. It’s really worrying how many people still use canola or vegetable oil as their standard frying fat or how often I see people smoking the crap out of extra-virgin olive oil. Don’t even get me started on margarine!

That’s why this post is long overdue!. I’ve gone through dozens of websites, articles and papers to collate the list and the full breakdown of smoke points and cooking uses of common fats and oils but please let me know if you think something is incorrect or I should add extra information. I want to make this a useful resource for everyone.

Let’s start with the bad guys!

Vegetable & seed oils

Together with high-fructose corn syrup and soy meat substitutes, the industrial revolution was responsible for the mass production of highly processed (polyunsaturated) vegetable and seed oils, such as soybean, canola and corn oil. While naturally occurring, minimally processed fats and oils (such as olive oil and butter) are a healthy source of energy and nutrients, highly processed seed oils contain high (read VERY HIGH) levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which – when consumed in excess – have detrimental health effects. Problem is – these oils are present in nearly everything we eat nowadays. Grain-fed livestock, where a lot of meat produce comes from, is also high in omega-6. A diet high in omega-6 is associated with an increase in inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and cancer to mention a few.

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In addition to omega-6 fatty acids, most polyunsaturated oils are highly prone to oxidation and rancidity, which turns these so-called ‘heart healthy’ oils to toxic liquids. And although some of them have a high smoking point, making them seemingly suitable for frying and cooking at high temperatures, their chemical structure is so unstable (again, due to the fatty acid ratio) that they really shouldn’t be cooked with at all. For these reasons, it’s best to avoid the following fats and oils: corn, cottonseed, soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut, grape seed, vegetable and margarine, which is made from aforementioned oils.

What are the good fats & oils?

The paleo diet embraces saturated fats and healthy plant-based oils and avoids highly refined and processed polyunsaturated oils, such as those mentioned above,  due to their toxic properties and high omega-6 fatty acids. Your fat intake should come from meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, avocados and fats and oils used in food preparation.

It’s important to know which type of fat or oil is best suited to which food preparation method. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Saturated fat is typically more heat stable and doesn’t oxidate as quickly as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which makes it more suitable for frying and other high temperature cooking.
  • Nut oils and olive oil are more fragile and can be cooked with but are best used unheated to retain the most antioxidants, vitamins and flavour.
  • Refined oils will usually have a higher smoking point. Ideally, they should be expeller-pressed, which indicates that the oil was extracted using a mechanical process rather than with heat and chemicals. These are best for high temperature cooking such as deep-frying.

 

Best for hot use(from highest to lowest temperature stability) Best for cold use
Lard, duck fat, tallow Extra virgin olive oil
Ghee Macadamia oil
Macadamia oil Avocado oil
Avocado oil Sesame oil
Refined and unrefined coconut oil Hazelnut oil
Sesame oil Almond/walnut oil
Olive oil Flaxseed oil
Almond/walnut oil Butter
Butter Unrefined coconut oil

Here is a full breakdown of smoking points and cooking uses of common fats and oils.

The smoke point of a fat or an oil is the temperature at which it gives off smoke and starts to break down and oxidise, losing nutrients and developing toxic properties. Most foods are fried at around 170°C -240°C and it’s always best to choose a fat or oil with a smoking point just above that.

Fat/Oil Use for Smoke Point Shelf life
Almond Oil Salad dressings, marinades, stir-fry, sautéing Asian dishes instead of peanut oil 216°C | 420°F 6-12 months
Avocado Oil Salad dressings, marinades, stir-frying, pan-frying and roasting. 271°C | 520°F  12 months
Walnut Oil Salad dressings, marinades sautéing, finishing cooking, low heat pan frying. 204°C | 400°F  2-4 months
Macadamia Oil Salad dressings, condiments and marinades. Sautéing, pan frying, searing, grilling, baking, roasting. 199 °C | 390°F  6-12 months
Virgin Olive Oil Salad dressings, condiments and marinades, baking, sautéing, pan frying and roasting. 216 °C | 420°F  6-12 months
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Salad dressings, condiments and marinades, low heat cooking such as sautéing and slow cooking. 160 °C | 320°F  6-12 months
Coconut Oil Medium heat cooking and baking, smoothies. 177 °C | 350°FA bit higher for refined coconut oil. 12-16 months
Flaxseed Oil Salad dressings, smoothies, raw desserts. Never heat Keep refrigerated, 3-4 months
Hazelnut oil Salad dressings, baking, finishing the dishes, sautéing and roasting. 221 °C | 430°F  6 months
Unrefined Sesame Oil Salad dressings, stir-frying, baking. 182 °C | 370°FA little higher for refined.  2-4 months
Butter Baking, sautéing,finishing the dishes, thickening sauces, slow-cooking, condiments. 177 °C | 350°F  1 month in the fridge, 6-9 months in the freezer
Ghee (clarified butter) butter)  Frying, sautéing, baking, thickening sauces. 190-250°C375-485°FDepending on purity 1-2 years, can be kept out of the fridge in an-air-tight container
Lard Baking, frying, roasting, grilling. 192 °C | 390°F  3-6 months1 year in the freezer
Duck fat Frying, roasting, grilling. 190 °C | 375°F Same as lard
Schmaltz (goose/chicken fat) Frying, roasting, grilling. 190 °C | 375°F Same as lard and duck fat

Coconut oil I use is by Niulife, which you can purchase online and in many health food stores in Australia.

References & resources on fats and oils:

Make your own ghee – Nom Nom Paleo
Guide to Fats & Oils – Dianne Sanfilippo from Balanced Bites
The Complete Guide to Fats and Oils – What to Cook With (or not), What to Avoid and Why – Lisa Rose from Real Food Kosher
Omega 6 and 3 in Nuts, Oils, Meat and Fish. Tools to Get It Right – Julianne Taylor on Primal Docs
Type of Cooking Fats and Oils – Smoking Points of Fats and Oils – from What’s Cooking America
Good Fats, Bad Fats: Separating Facts from Fiction – Chris Masterjohn on Weston A. Price.
Checking Your Oil: The Definitive Guide to Cooking with Fat – Caveman Doctor
The Truth About Saturated Fat – Mary Enig
The Oiling of America – Mary Enig and Sally Fallon
What Should my Blood Cholesterol Be? – Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
9 Steps to Perfect Health – #1 Don’t Eat Toxins – The Healthy Skeptic
Smart Fuel: Macadamia Oil, and read a well-balance view on Nuts and Omega – 6 Intake -Mark’s Daily Apple
How to Decrease Your Polyunsaturated Fat Intake – Living the Nourished Life
What’s the Truth About Cottonseed Oil? – Agriculture Society
Hemp Oil and Hemp Seeds – Are they Safe? – Food Renegade
Five Fats You Should Be Cooking With But May Not Be -Chris Kresser
Butter Anyone? Defending Fat with Facts – Livin La Vida Low-Carb
Five Fats You MUST Have in Your Kitchen – The Healthy Home Economist
Macadamia Oil – Mark Sisson

Comments

  1. Jac says

    Hi, on the chart it says avocado has the highest heat point, but you suggest lard above it for hot use – why is that?

    Thanks,

    • Irena says

      Mainly because you don’t want to ruin all those beautiful nutrients in the avocado oil with high heat. It’s also a bit more expensive to cook with so it’s better used for gentler cooking methods like roasting some vegetables or a simple stir-fry.

  2. says

    I use virgin olive oil for shallow frying, mostly because it is cheap and easily accessable. Every now and then I find duck lard at the Saturday market, and I use that for frying.

    If you are buying a deep fryer, ask the vendor if it works with lard as well. Not all models do, I had to find that out the hard way.

    I never heard of the fridge test before, but I put in my bottle of olive oil now, let’s find out what it is made of! :)

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