Healthy Cooking Oils and Fats

Finding healthy cooking oils can be something of a challenge. Supermarket shelves are filled with a wide range of cooking oils to choose from , most of which unfortunately are not very healthy. Here we present some healthy choices for cooking oils and fats, and in which situations they are best used.

For frying, choose a fat that has a high smoke point so that it doesn't oxidize when heated to a high temperature. Ideally, a traditional fat such as lard or duck fat should be used, or if you prefer a vegetable oil source, stick with healthy cooking oils like organic coconut oil or olive oil.

Animal Sources of Healthy Cooking Fats

Duck fat contains 35.7% saturated fats, 50.5% monounsaturated fats (being high in linoleic acid) and 13.7% polyunsaturated fats. It is closer to olive oil in its composition than butter, but is more stable than olive oil when heated, making even better than the healthy cooking oils for cooking and frying.

High in healthy fats and used by generations of French people to cook their “frites”, duck and goose fat has been a staple in many French households. Of every 100,000 middle-aged American men, 315 die of heart attacks each year. In France the rate is 145 per 100,000, however, in the French region of Gascony, where duck and goose fat are used most liberally, this rate is only 80 per 100,000. This may help explain why the French can eat so much rich food and still live longer than average.

Lard, which is pork fat, has about 40% saturated fats, 48% monounsaturated fats (including small amounts of antimicrobial palmitoleic acid), and 12% polyunsaturated fats. Like duck and goose fat, lard is stable and a preferred fat for frying. In addition, the saturated fat in lard has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol, and lard has a higher smoking point than many other fats, allowing foods like chicken to absorb less grease when fried in it.

Vegetable Sources of Healthy Cooking Fats

Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap because of its high (92%) saturated fat content. However, two thirds of that fat is in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, so they will not add the pounds that long-chain fatty acids might. Additionally, it contains high amounts of lauric acid, a fatty acid with strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

Organic coconut oil does not turn rancid easily, has a high smoke point, and has been shown to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol. This is the best of the healthy cooking oils to use, though for some people the slight coconut taste doesn't mix well with what they are cooking.

Olive oil has a deservedly good reputation, being the basis of the famous Mediterranean diet that is known to help reduce cardiovascular disease and increase longevity, and is rich in antioxidants. However, as it contains long-chain fatty acids it can contribute to weight gain more than the short- or medium-chain fatty acids, so should be used judiciously.

The more expensive extra-virgin olive oil should be used primarily for salads, dressings, and vinaigrettes, or to drizzle over slices of crusty bread or onto open-face sandwiches.

For sautéing or frying, use either a combination olive oil (one that is simply a blend of extra virgin and regular olive oil) or a straight olive oil, as the extra virgin is not only too expensive for most people to use for frying, it is also easily damaged by heat.

For deep frying, the olive oil grade “olive oil,” is excellent because it has a higher smoke point (410º F) than virgin or extra virgin oils, and is the best of the healthy cooking oils to use for frying.

Following describes some of the common grades of olive oil:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • All olive oils less than 1% acidity and produced by the first pressing of the olive fruit through a cold pressing process. Unfortunately, most olive oils today are extra virgin in name only, meeting only a minimum chemical requirement that does not necessarily indicate good quality and taste.
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Made from olives that are slightly riper than those used in the production of extra-virgin oil. Virgin olive oil is produced in the same way, but it is essentially a lower grade extra virgin oil. This oil's acidity is a slightly higher level of 1.5%.
  • Pure Olive Oil
  • Pure olive oil, usually called just olive oil, comes either from the second cold pressing or the chemical extraction of the olive mash left over after the first pressing. This grade is also called commercial grade oil. Pure olive oil is much lighter in color and blander in taste than virgin olive oil and is considered a general-purpose olive oil. Pure refers to the fact that no non-olive oils are mixed in.
  • Light & Extra Light Olive Oil
  • The olive oil that you see on the supermarket shelf advertised as “light” or as “Extra Light” olive oil contains the exact same number of calories as regular olive oil and is a mixture of refined olive oils that are derived from the lowest quality olive oils available through chemical processing.
No matter which of the healthy cooking oils you choose, it should be unrefined or cold pressed so as not to have become rancid in the refining process. Once you get it home be sure it is and kept in a cool place in a dark bottle or away from light. The refrigerator is a good place to store it if you have the space.

Health Benefits of Olive Oil — Discover how olive oil can benefit your health, including skin care products and wonderful remedies using olive oil.

You may also be interested in:

Facts About Saturated Fat

Fats to Avoid

Cholesterol Myths

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