Choosing Cooking Oils
When choosing the right cooking oil, there are many options, though not all products are created equal. Consider factors such as nutritional content and inflammatory properties, flavor, and how hot the oil can safely get.
Smoke point: The smoke point is how hot an oil can get before starting to smoke or burn. When the oil gets too hot, it will oxidize and break down, which not only impacts flavor, but also creates free radicals that can damage body tissue. When cooking with higher temperatures, it is important to choose an oil with a higher smoke point, such as avocado or coconut oil, ghee, lard, and chicken fat. However, it must be noted that despite a high smoke point, polyunsaturated oils will break down very quickly, not tolerating their high smoke point, and for this reason, should not be used in high heat cooking.
Storage: Cooking oils can get damaged when exposed to oxygen, heat, and light, and so they should be stored in a cool dry place (sometimes the refrigerator) in a tightly closed container. It is best to consume an open bottle of oil within 2-3 months, as longer than this encourages the oil to oxidize and break down. Smell your oils before using them to see if they smell “off.”
What to Toss
Corn, canola, soybean, sunflower, and “vegetable” oils: These highly refined, heavily processed vegetable oils are very high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and are often derived from GMO crops, which also means they can be high in pesticides. The extensive processing to get oil out of a minimally-oily plant makes them very susceptible to oxidation and breakdown, which makes them inflammatory to tissues.
Margarine and vegetable shortening: These hydrogenated trans-fats are not found in nature and can be highly inflammatory.
Peanut oil: While peanut oil is a good source of vitamin E and both mono- and polyunsaturated fats and is affordable, it easily becomes rancid and has a high omega-6 content. Refined peanut oil and peanut oil blends should be avoided. Cold-pressed peanut oil is the best option if choosing a peanut oil as it is unrefined and not exposed to high temperatures during processing.
Avocado oil: With a neutral flavor and naturally high smoke point of 520°F (270°C), it is one of the most versatile and easy to use. It has a high content of the healthy monounsaturated fat, oleic acid. It is best used for cooking, baking, salads, smoothies, dips, and spreads.
Ghee: Also known as clarified butter, it is nearly pure butter fat with milk solids removed. It is a shelf-stable saturated fat, and does not require refrigeration. With a high smoke point of 425°F (220°C), it is best used for sauteing and grilling, though also good for baking. Ghee does not contain lactose and casein, making it a great substitution for butter.
Butter: A good dairy option, it contains around 400 different fatty acids and vitamins including vitamins A, E, and K2 when from grass-fed/pastured animals. Avoid artificial butters (margarine based and vegetable spreads) as they are highly processed and combined with unhealthy inflammatory vegetable oils. Although butter does contain trace amounts of trans fats, they are naturally occurring and are not as dangerous as artificial trans fats.
Coconut oil:With a smoke point of 350°F (175°C), coconut oil is a great source of medium-chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fatty acid with a lot of health benefits and medicinal properties. Coconut oil has multiple uses and makes a good substitute for other oils or butters using a 1:1 ratio in recipes. Great in coffee and smoothies, drizzled over popcorn, or even added to your natural skin routine!
Extra virgin olive oil: A must have staple in any nutritious diet. Considered the healthiest oil to cook with, olive oil is rich in antioxidants and heart-friendly monounsaturated fats. Choose a first cold-pressed unfiltered version to avoid chemicals and preserve the integrity of the nutrients. Best drizzled on cooked foods and salads, and used in low-heat light sautees.
Grapeseed oil: This oil is high in vitamin E, and has a smoke point of 420°F (215°C), but because it is a polyunsaturated oil, is not recommended to use for high heat cooking. Use only for cold dishes.
Red palm oil: Because of its heat stability and high smoke point of 450°F (230°C), red palm oil is great for cooking. It is high in antioxidants and a great source of beta-carotene, which can help boost Vitamin A status. Great choice for baking, frying, and roasting as a substitute for cooking oil. Because of its ethical and environmental concerns, be sure to only choose red fruit palm oils that are “RSPO” certified trademark, a globally recognized ecolabel that signals the use of certified sustainable palm oil.
Sesame oil: Extracted from sesame seeds, it is full of flavor and loaded with both mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as vitamins E and K1. It has a smoke point of 410°F (210°C), but since a polyunsaturated oil is best used as a finishing oil or sprinkled over finished dishes for a burst of flavor. Works well on meat, poultry, veggies, noodles, and rice.
Walnut and other nut oils: Walnut oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, in particular ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), making it a very healthy and heart-friendly oil. Nut oils, including walnut, hazelnut, macadamia, and almond, generally have low smoke points, ~320°F (160°C), and should only be used as drizzling/finishing oils.They are great drizzled on grilled fruits, veggies or pasta, or brushed over cooked seafood and meat.