Cooking Oils Decoded

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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.

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  • dragonwolf

    High-polyunsaturated fat oils are actually very bad for heating at all, because those fats are fragile and oxidize easily. You’re better off with the more stable monounsaturated and saturated fats for heat and leave the polyunsaturated fats for salads and other no-heat applications.

    Additionally, saturated fats don’t “act differently” because of their source, they do so because of the type of fatty acid that they are. Palmetic acid, for example, is the same fat found in palm oil, which is considered a good substitute for animal fats, but it’s a good substitute, because it’s the same fatty acid that’s in animal fats, and therefore has the same properties. Palmetic acid is also the primary fat in human fat stores when we eat a diet high in carbohydrates.

    Coconut oil is so good not because it comes from coconuts, but because it’s primarily lauric acid. You can actually get some of the same benefits as coconut oil from lard that is made from pigs fed a diet rich in coconuts, because the fatty acids transfer to the animal’s fat stores. Likewise, a nursing mother’s milk is rich in lauric acid (second richest source to coconuts), if she eats coconut fats, herself.

    You’ve also left out butter as a viable cooking oil, high-quality sources of which contain roughly 40%-50% monounsaturated and saturated fats and 5-10% Omega-3 fats (in other words, no, it’s not just a saturated fat), as well as conjugated linoleic acid, butyrate, and vitamin K2, all of which are arguably extremely beneficial for things like preventing colon cancer, promoting dental health, and possibly helping reduce diabetes.

    And no, saturated fats in general have not been associated with heart disease. In fact, there have been numerous studies (including a meta-analysis with an aggregate of about 375,000 people) that have repeatedly shown zero link between dietary fat and heart disease risk, and the effect of saturated fats on cholesterol have largely been neutral or even *improve* cholesterol ratios and particle sizes (when particle size is actually measured). That idea was promoted by Ancel Keys and only “caught on” when he became a board member for the AHA.

    • Reni

      Which oil would you recommend for baking granola at 130degrees C?

      • LouAnn

        You don’t need ANY oil for granola – check on PINTEREST for really good granolas made with applesauce! YUM! Cripsy and delicious!

  • Tooraj Enayati

    What about rice bran oil! 🙁

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  • Gary Miller

    I’ll continue cooking with ghee, tallow, and lard.

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  • wolfbadger

    what about Macadamia oil?

  • Eatwell

    I would like to see the reputable sources of information for this article?

    Poly-unsaturated fats are NOT the best oil type as once rancid (high oxidation) (which happens very quickly) increase the free radicals in your system.
    Most ‘vegetable oils’ purchased are processed, hydrogenated, GM and not in it’s natural form. Causing more damage than good.
    You also miss to mention the high levels of Omega 6 in oils which ‘fight for absorption’ in your body with Omega 3’s and unfort omega 3’s loose out.

  • amy

    canola/soybean/sunflower oils are on the list. just ruined the whole article. also, olive oil should not be used for cooking, they have very low temperature points. i wouldn’t even put them in my salads, just empty calories.

    • LouAnn

      Empty calories is right!! Dr. Esselstyn (Forks Over Knives) advocates NO oils!! Which is MUCH better for us!

    • dragonwolf

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re empty calories. Fats have a number of good things, including things like Vitamins A, E, and K, and a number of compounds that have been shown to do things like fight inflammation and help improve blood sugar stabilization. Additionally, fats in general are required by the body to absorb Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and to make Vitamin D to begin with. What’s even better is that the forms of Vitamin A and K in fats like butter are the forms we can use directly, not their precursor forms that our bodies have to first convert. This makes these vitamins more bioavailable than their plant-sourced counterparts.

  • SarahJ89

    Is there any way MFP can give us a printer friendly option so we can print up this marvelous chart to keep in our kitchens??? It would be a huge help.

    • John C

      I agree **********

  • danceman

    Avocado oil appears to have high percentage saturated fat, which contradicts fact that eating avocados is healthy. According to a site on line 100g avocado contains total fat 22.6g saturated fat 4.92g. The recommended daily amount of sat. fat is 20g. So it seems to me that one would need to take note that whatever else you consumed during the day should not exceed another 15g. sat. fat.

  • danceman

    Recently I had information that SUGAR, not FAT is the biggest health problem. We have been deluded by various sources,apparently for a long time. Has anyone information on truth of this subject?

    • Des

      There is not one single factor to blame for obesity – it is a large complex issue. Fat was demonized because it has the most calories per gram. But then processed fat-free food came out which are no better (and possibly worse) because without the fat the snack-food companies add loads of refined sugar to make the products taste good.

      Now it has become popular to swing to the other extreme and eat loads of fat while cutting out sugar. A lot of people buy into the idea that unlimited fat is good for you, and it can become an almost religious discussion to have.

      Processed, refined sugar is terrible for you. Most nutritionists would tell you that too much fat (and especially saturated fat) is also bad for you. There’s wisdom in moderation.

  • jules

    I wish the articel showed vegetable oil or corn oil in the comparison just so we could see it.

  • jordanaj

    Where’s hemp seed oil ?

    • dragonwolf

      Hemp, and hemp seed oil, is primarily Omega-6 (3:1 ratio with Omega-3). Putting it on par with the other high-PUFA oils (and, contrary to the infographic, very bad for cooking, but decent for no-heat uses).

  • sharonlea

    i mostly use Alpha 1 rice bran oil? as its got high smoke point , so good for stir frys . What is general opinion on it ? What is the nutritional “wheel” like for it?

  • shell

    I used to work for W.W. and we recommend our members to take a tablespoon of oil everyday. I used to put it on a fat free triscut cracker. Kept everything moving and was good for skin, nails, hair and joints. At 119 calories for a tablespoon, I’ve been shying away from my W.W. habit. Should I?

  • So… Why does MFP recommend zero unsaturated fat but a fairly high daily intake of saturated fats??

  • HW

    How about Palm Fruit Oil? I use that for all of my cooking because of the high smoke point.