What are the Healthiest Oils and Fats to Cook with?
If you haven’t heard by now, fat is your friend! For real.
Dietary fat provides energy, supports cell maintenance, enhances nutrient absorption, and is essential for producing some hormones.
Dietary fat got a bad reputation way back when, blamed for increasing rates of obesity and heart disease. It turns out that the study that found that was flawed, but we’ve taken decades to catch up on that fact. Now, we know fat is an essential nutrient and a critical component of a healthy diet.
However, not all fats are created equal. Some fats come with extra health benefits and some can be harmful to your health and should be avoided all together.
One of the best ways to include healthy fats in your diet is using high quality cooking oils. When it comes to cooking, the type of cooking and amount of heat matter when selecting which oil to cook with.
In general, oils that are highly processed should be avoided. These include vegetable oil blends, like canola, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils. These oils undergo chemical and high heat processes during production, which often turns the oils rancid – aka full of oxidation, trans fat, and other inflammatory byproducts that aren’t best for your body.
Oils that have a low smoke point or contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, like walnut and flaxseed oil, shouldn’t be used for cooking. That’s because heat damages the flavor and nutrition profile of these oils and causes the formation of unhealthy free radicals.
There are a few tried and true oils that lend flavor and nutrition no matter what cooking method you’re using.
Here are the 4 healthiest oils/fats to cook with:
The monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are linked to reduced inflammation, decreased risk of heart disease, improved triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and many of the other health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil is best for low-heat cooking, such as a quick sauté or baking at 350 degrees and below. It has a low smoke point, which means high temperatures will cause olive oil to degrade, so it shouldn’t be used in high heat roasting or frying.
Extra virgin olive oil can also be used to “finish” a dish – drizzle on top of salads, soups, pastas, and vegetables.
Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, avocado oil may also help improve cholesterol levels.
Unlike olive oil, avocado oil has a high smoke point and can be used for frying and roasting. It has a mild flavor that makes it a good choice for us in baked goods as well.
Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature and liquid oil when heated. It has a medium smoke point, making it another good choice for everything from sautés to baking. Coconut oil is a great vegan alternative to butter in baked goods.
BUT: There’s some disagreement over the health benefits of coconut oil since it’s high in saturated fat, with 12 grams per tablespoon. High intakes of saturated fat are linked to increased risk of heart disease, but some experts say the medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut oil are not metabolized or stored the same way as saturated fat from animal products.
We do need some saturated fat in our diets, but too much can be harmful.
The bottom line? Like most things, coconut oil is fine for most people in moderation.
Grass-Fed Butter or Ghee
You can’t beat the taste of butter. Yes, it has saturated fat. And, just like with coconut oil, moderation is key. So is quality.
Choose grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter) products for an extra dose of omega-3 fats.
Butter is best used for lower heat cooking and baking. Ghee can be used for higher heat cooking, since the milk solids that are prone to browning and burning have been removed.
Using a variety of oils and fats in your cooking will help you receive the nutritional, flavor, and cooking benefits each has to offer.
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