Cooking Oils Decoded

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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Cooking Oils Decoded

If there’s one thing we know about cooking oils, it’s that they’re really hard to keep straight—particularly in regards to how they impact our health and what types of oils to use when. If you often wonder, “Is the oil I’m using to roast these veggies protecting my heart?” Or, “Am I ingesting damaging free radicals with this stir-fry?” You’ve come to the right place!

A recent survey of MyFitnessPal members validated exactly what we suspected: we have a serious cooking oil conundrum on our hands.

1. Some of us still cook with harmful fats. While a whopping 94% reported having a bottle of heart-healthy olive oil at home, nearly 2 in 10 people still cook with vegetable shortening, which contains harmful transfats.

2. The majority of home cooks only have a couple of oils in their cabinets. 54% of those surveyed rely on just one or two cooking oils for all of their culinary needs. So basically, most of us own olive oil and maybe one other type. Maybe.

3. Over half of those surveyed think olive oil is the healthiest option. That probably explains why we all own it, and why it’s the top logged cooking oil in the MyFitnessPal food database. (Coconut oil came in second with nearly 25% of the votes for being the healthiest oil.)

While revealing, the data brings up still more questions:

  1. What can we bake with besides Crisco?
  2. Can we get by with just one or two cooking oils?
  3. Which ones pack those heart-healthy omega-3s? And, probably most importantly:
  4. Can we deep-fry with olive oil? (Not that any of us eat deep-fried foods…)

To clear up some of the confusion, here’s a visual guide to help you navigate the cooking oil aisle and select the best oils, both for cooking and nutritional benefits. You’ll also find a glossary below to help you make sense of the pretty pie charts.

myfitnesspal cooking oils decoded

DIETARY FAT GLOSSARY 

Unsaturated Fat: Generally recognized for their potential health benefits, unsaturated fats are largely liquid at room temperature and are grouped into two categories:

  • Monounsaturated: Commonly found in olives, seeds, and nuts, monounsaturated fats have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease. They may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control.
  • Polyunsaturated: Like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats also seem to have a positive impact on blood cholesterol and decrease risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.While the body can make some polyunsaturated fats on its own, two essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, must be obtained from the diet.
    • Omega-3: A type of polyunsaturated fat show to be especially beneficial for heart heart. Omega-3s are commonly found in walnuts, seeds (particularly flaxseed), and fatty fish (like salmon, arctic char, and mackerel). They appear to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, protect against irregular heartbeats, and help lower blood pressure levels. While still good for you, the body cannot convert and use plant-based omega-3 fatty acids as well as those found in fish.
    • Omega-6: A type of polyunsaturated oil commonly found in corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, as well as nuts and seeds. Research shows some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation, but not all.

Saturated Fat: Mostly solid at room temperature, common sources include red meat and dairy products, and certain plants, like coconut and avocado. While saturated fats have been associated with high cholesterol and heart disease, research suggests plant-based saturated fats behave differently than animal-based saturated fats and trans-fats, and may have a neutral impact on cholesterol.

If you’re interested in learning more about fats, or nutrition in general, check out our awesome Nutrition 101 series.

About the Author

Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Elle Penner, MPH, RD

Elle is a nutrition and wellness writer, recipe developer, blogger and nutrition consultant whose favorite things include her camera, carbs and quality time with her toddler. For more from this busy mama, check out Elle’s lifestyle blog or connect with her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

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