Balanced Bites | Diane Sanfilippo | The Best Cooking Fats

FAQs: What are safe cooking fats & oils?

Diane Sanfilippo FAQs, Fats and Oils, Most Popular 97 Comments

Updated 6/10/14

What are the best fats or oils to use for cooking?

First and foremost let me remind you that there are a few different reasons why you will want to avoid certain fats and oils for cooking, mainly seed oils.

1. Saturated fats are more stable than unsaturated fats.

Quite literally, the chemical structure of saturated fats will not be easily damaged by things that will easily damage (or oxidize) unsaturated fats, namely: heat, light and air.

Ever wonder why your high-quality olive oils are sold in a dark green glass or other opaque container? It's to keep light from damaging the oil. Ever wonder why coconut oil doesn't go “off” or smell rancid from sitting out on the counter without a lid on it but a vegetable oil like corn or soybean oil will? Air oxidizes those oils and makes them rancid. That is, damaged beyond the point that they are already just from the point of bottling.

What separates the saturated fats from the unsaturated fats is the presence of a hydrogen bond at every instance of a carbon in the chemical structure of the fat. When there is a double bond in the chain of carbons, it creates a more unstable structure, which you can see when a fat is liquid at room temperature: the group of unstable fats together form a liquid versus the group of stable fats together which form a solid or semi-solid.

PUFAs-YES-NO2. Seed oils are extremely high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) at varying ratios, all of which are prone to oxidation, PUFAs most significantly.

You wouldn't cook with fish oil, would you? Why would you want to cook with other oils that are very high in PUFAs? Even beyond PUFAs, MUFAs are pretty easy to damage as well (olive oil is very high in MUFAs).

Re-read this post for more on why canola and other seed oils all made by expeller and chemical extraction methods are already rancid once they're bottled as well as this post on how they're made.

3. BEWARE: Many refined seed oils are marketed as having a high smoke point, therefore making them “ideal” choices for cooking.

That's not really the whole story. A higher smoke point is valid only if the fat or oil is fairly stable to begin with, and it may be useful in determining between two fats which is more ideal to use.

That said, simply using the smoke point as a reason why you choose a cooking oil is an ineffective tool and will leave you with an already rancid oil on your hands (most likely, due to how it was initially processed – see links above and the video below on how canola oil is made below) and one that you'll possibly damage further with the high heat of your skillet.

So, which fats are safe and recommended for cooking?

I've created a handy chart for you of common cooking fats & oils ranking them in order of best to worst for cooking. Note that this is not a complete list of every possible fat or oil that exists. Nor is it my comprehensive list of Fats/Oils: Which to Eat & Which to Ditch that you can download here.

I have updated the Ranking of Common Cooking Fats (PDF) chart – I added more information and more fats and oils to it. What you can do is use the chart as a tool and see where the fat or oil you find may fall within the chart based on it's fatty acid composition as well as it's smoke point using resources like the books “Know Your Fats” and “Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill” as well as websites like  http://wikipedia.com/ or others listing fatty acid composition of cooking fats/oils as a resource.

It's safe to assume, however, that most naturally occurring saturated fats are safe to cook with, while most unsaturated fats (called oils because they are liquid at ambient room temperature) are unsafe to cook with and are most ideal for cold uses if appropriate for consumption at all.

Remember that man made trans-fats are never healthy to eat: Crisco, Earth Balance, Smart Balance, Benecol, Margarine, Country Crock, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and the new one claiming to be a coconut product but it actually contains soybean oil… yeah, those are all a “never.”


How-to-GheeBefore you post a comment asking about a type fat or oil that is not listed… USE THE RANKING SYSTEM to figure out where it would fall.

Those with the highest percentage of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and with the highest smoke point rank at the top while those with the highest percentage of PUFAs and lowest smoke point at the bottom. Then, make the call for yourself whether you want to 1- cook with it, 2- use it cold- or 3- avoid it entirely.

Below are my favorite brands and sources of fats and oils. I suggest using a variety and even better, if you can use the fat rendered from the same animal you are cooking with, you will enjoy a maximum flavor profile!

  • Artisana & Nutiva brands

Online: artisana.com, Amazon.com; local grocers


Coconut oil

  • Fatworks

Online: fatworksfoods.com

duck fat, lard, and tallow

Online: kasandrinos.com

  • Kerrygold butter

Trader Joe’s, Costco, Whole Foods Market, local grocers

  • Pure Indian foods Ghee

Online: pureindianfoods.com, Amazon.com; local grocers

  • Smjor Butter

Grocery stores

Online: tropicaltraditions.com


Coconut oil (I recommend Green Label for the best taste)

  • Wilderness Family Naturals

Online: wildernessfamilynaturals.com, amazon.com

Organic coconut oils, natural red palm oil, sesame seed oil, olive oil, Mary’s Sauté Oil (named after Mary enig, author of Know Your Fats: blend of virgin coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and unrefined sesame seed oil)

  • US Wellness Meats

Online: grasslandbeef.com

duck fat, lard, and beef and lamb tallow

Enjoy!

More resources on healthy versus unhealthy fats:

How Virgin Coconut Oil is Made:

How Canola Oil is Made:

 

Comments 97

      1. Ok so from what I understand from the entire post, basically saturated fat is much more stable for high heat cooking compared to monounsaturated fat, is this correct?

        I’m just a bit confused since in the post basically focused on nut/seed derived oils which make them non ideal for high heat cooking while avocado is derived from the pulp. Does it mean avocado oil and olive oil pretty much on the same level in terms of smoking point?

        Also from my experience when I cooked using coconut oil, there were times if I used it for high heat sauteing, it started to smell/taste a bit off and the highest smoking point recommended for coconut oil is 350F.

        I’m sorry if I still missed something in the post..granted I have hard time digesting any highly scientific terms etc.. Thanks!

        1. if im not mistaken the way i see it, avacado is a vegetable making it fall somewhere between peanut oil and sunflower oil. still unsaturated so def not ideal. personally when im cooking ill throw in a a few strips of bacon and let the fat cook out to give me a little oil if i run out of coconut oil.

  1. I think the smoke points in the chart might be the wrong way round? Good point re the use of PUFA rich oils in general- even though they’re ‘natural’ (about as natural as cane sugar), eating lots of them is sabotaging one’s good work. Thanks for putting the info out there in a nice clean, eye catching format 🙂

      1. I am wondering what your thoughts are on the refined coconut oil that has a neutral taste (ie no coconut flavor). My kids are complaining that everything tastes like coconut. Do you think that the refined coconut oil is ok to use? It is solid at room temp just like the virgin coconut oil

        1. I think it’s fine to use the refined form if need-be. I’d try to use it only when you think it’ll overpower a dish to use the unrefined as it is more processed and less ideal. That said, I personally use the green label from Tropical Traditions all the time vs the gold label – the green label being slightly refined vs the totally unrefined gold label.

  2. I’ve been using EVCO, butter(ghee too) and bacon fat exclusivity since Nov last year. Love the flavors they add to the recipes. I’ve made chili oils and hot sauces using bacon fat and coconut oil

  3. Thanks for creating this excellent resource, I’ll be recommending it to my patients. A request though: would it be possible to include in this chart the smoke-point temperatures in degrees Celsius as well, because many of us around the world (I’m in Australia) are unfamiliar with Fahrenheit.

    1. When I get a chance to update it I’ll add that to the list of updates to make. Are there other oils that are common in Australia that would be useful to see listed? I would like people to use this as a guide to rank items themselves, but let me know.

      Additionally, while the F/C may be confusing, the rankings should be useful nonetheless.

      1. Macadamia and Avocado oil are both very common in supermarkets here (Australia. I’d like to know about hazelnut and walnut oil too. I was surprised that you didn’t list ghee but it’s pretty easy to guess where it falls in the ranking. Cheers.

        1. I think it’s easy to chart those- I either didn’t think of those as commonly used cooking fats or couldn’t find the data on them quickly to chart them at the time… that said, you can use the method I’ve explained to chart them and judge them for cooking. Generally speaking, however, if they’re liquid at room temperature, they’re less ideal for cooking in my opinion (with the exception of coconut oil if your room temperature is over 76 degrees/is tropical).

    2. I ve been taking 2T flax seed oil w/high lignan count daily for two weeks of every month followed by 2 weeks of 1300mg evening primrose oil for 2 weeks for hot flashes – its been working really well for several months- providing me with huge relief esp. being able to sleep better at night with no cycling hot flashes. Otherwise I eat a fairly strict paleo diet – is there anything I should be doing to offset these pufas (i.e. cause i am not going back to cycling hotflashes all night 🙂 tx

      1. Have you tried lower doses of these? What about eating foods higher in omega 3s like wild salmon? They’re not super high-doses as it stands but I’m not sure I’d want to rely on that longer-term… This might be a good question for Chris Kresser’s podcast regarding hormonal balance if he has a take on it.

    1. Look up the content of macadamia nut oil and see where it would fall in the chart. My guess is that if it’s cold-pressed (not expeller pressed) that it is decent for cold uses. I don’t personally eat it though.

  4. what about cocoa butter? potentially a stable cooking fat like coconut oil?

  5. Dietary Carbohydrate Modifies the Inverse Association Between Saturated Fat Intake and Cholesterol on Very Low-Density Lipoproteins Free full text at link
    We aimed to investigate the relationship between dietary saturated fat on fasting triglyceride (TG) and cholesterol levels, and any mediation of this relationship by dietary carbohydrate intake.
    Men and women in the NHLBI Genetics of Lipid-Lowering Drugs and Diet Network (GOLDN) study (n = 1036, mean age ± SD = 49 ± 16 y) were included.
    Mixed linear models were run with saturated fat as a predictor variable and fasting TG, very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C), low density cholesterol (LDL-C) and high density cholesterol (HDL-C) as separate outcome variables.
    Subsequent models were run which included dietary carbohydrate as a predictor variable, and an interaction term between saturated fat and carbohydrate.
    All models controlled for age, sex, BMI, blood pressure and dietary covariates.
    In models that included only saturated fat as a predictor, saturated fat did not show significant associations with fasting lipids.
    When carbohydrate intake and an interaction term between carbohydrates and saturated fat intake was included, carbohydrate intake did not associate with lipids, but there was an inverse relationship between saturated fat intake and VLDL-C (P = 0.01) with a significant interaction (P = 0.01) between saturated fat and carbohydrate with regard to fasting VLDL-C concentrations.
    Similar results were observed for fasting TG levels.
    We conclude that, when controlling for carbohydrate intake, higher saturated fat was associated with lower VLDL-C and TGs.
    This was not the case at higher intakes of carbohydrate.
    This has important implications for dietary advice aimed at reducing TG and VLDL-C levels.

    So is Saturated fat harmful?
    Only maybe when it’s associated with higher carbohydrate intakes.

  6. Does palm shortening fall under veg shortening? I tried frying and roasting sweet potato fries with tallow. It if fine when hot but once cold you got a waxy mouth feel and hardened pools of tallow. What can we use to make things crispy yet not turn into some kind of pemmican when cooled?

    1. I am not sure where palm shortening falls but look up the details on it and chart it. It’s probably a good one for cooking but I’m not 100% positive. As for the coating, that’s saturated fat for you. I think butter does that less than other kinds of animal fats. Coconut oil probably less too… try them. Otherwise, eat the food hot 🙂

      1. My understanding is that, with few exceptions, trans fats are created by artificially hydrogenating a fat or oil. I can find no indication that Smart Balance contains trans fats of this sort. What am I missing?

        1. Making liquid oils into solids (when it’s not a natural reaction to, say, colder temperatures), is the process of changing the placement of the hydrogen on the carbon chain to allow the bond to act as a saturated/stable one but it’s because the hydrogens have been forced to move. This is what creates the trans fat- the hydrogens are “diagonally” arranged around the carbon in the new structure. The package of Smart Balance doesn’t need to say trans fats if the actual measured amount is less than .5 grams I believe. That said, trust food in less packaging. Even with strict laws around food labeling, I don’t have tons of trust in it personally.

  7. What happens to the different fats when the smoking point is reached?
    It is not very difficult to reach the smoking point when cooking, so what is the advantage of having saturated fat beyond the smoking point compared to PUFAs since otherwise they the smoking point are close?

      1. I can’t see where exactly you spell out what happens to the oils when they reach smoking point. I’d imagine that Paleor read the post, just as I did. Why such a short-tempered response? I’d imagine you are busy and probably frustrated by people who don’t fully read your posts, however, I think you are likely to sell more copies of your book and keeping members reading your blog by either not responding or being friendly in your responses.

        1. Temper and tone doesn’t always translate over the internet appropriately. I do aim to be friendly, but, yes, you’re correct, I do get frustrated when I write a post and then someone seemingly jumps on me with questions without having read it. When oils reach the smoke point, the chemical structure begins to breakdown. Perhaps Mark Sisson’s post on the topic is more clear – so I’ll share it with you here. I try not to reinvent the wheel if someone I trust has written well on a topic already. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/oil-fat-overheat-smoking-point

          1. Well actually Mark’s article contradicts a lot of what you are saying, as does one of the websites he links to. There it is suggested to indeed use an oil with a higher smokepoint and shows all the natural saturated fats you encourage to have the lower smoke points.

            One the website he links to there is a chart showing grapeseed oil as excellent for cooking.

            All of this is so very confusing for those of us looking to eat in the healthiest way – and yes, I have read your article!

          2. My issue with seed oils is that I don’t find them fit for consumption at all, so whether or not we choose to cook with them then becomes a moot point. I include them in my chart to show how they stack up, but oils that require high-heat and chemical or expeller pressing extractions are not food in my eyes.

            I know this is confusing for people, and I can’t give a list of rules and expect that my word will be gospel to anyone. My word is gospel to me, and I do as I teach and teach as I do. I can only teach others as I’ve learned over the years is best. If I don’t have every detail to every answer you seek, I do apologize. I am not a biochemist or organic chemist to explain every detail of how the molecules change when heated to a hotter point than they should be. They become damaged and oxidized which creates free-radical damage in our bodies… the type of damage we’re consistently trying to combat with our antioxidant-rich diets.

            That’s the best way I can explain it at this time.

  8. I’m from Denmark, and here we get cold, mechanically pressed rapeseed oil, which I believe is what’s marketed as canola oil in the US.
    Do you know if it has the same detrimental properties as industrial canola oil?
    The oil here has a very good reputation (although only the cold, mechanically expelled variety).

    1. I would not recommend using it. It may not be heated the same way as the others, but I imagine it will still need to be degummed, bleached, deodorized and dyed before bottling. Extracting oil from seeds like the rapeseed doesn’t seem like an ideal human food based on that processing. What do you think?

      Yes, that’s what we have marketed as canola here in the US. These are very new oils to the human species, I’d stick to the saturated fats and use the chart supplied.

    1. You’d be hard-pressed to find human studies on certain foods causing hard because 1) they won’t be funded and 2) if they cause harm and the scientists know there is potential for that, it’s an immoral study to complete and so therefore won’t happen. Consuming damaged oils is unhealthy – bottom line. Eating olive oil is perfectly fine, as long as you haven’t damaged it – if you damage it in cooking (cook at your own risk), then it isn’t healthy anymore.

  9. Little fact about Canola oil –

    The video shows that it is made from the canola plant – this is the same thing as calling HCFS Corn Sugar – there isn’t actually a canola plant. It is made from the Rapeseed plant – Canola is actually CanOLA – Canadian Oil, Low Acidity. They probably guessed correctly when they figured Rapeseed oil wouldn’t sell that well.

    Canola was bred naturally from rapeseed in Canada originally.It is a highly processed form of rapeseed oil to lower the euricic acid content.

  10. Thank you so much for the definitive list on oils- which to use hot or cold, and which to ditch. I have been getting conflicting messages on some of them for years and it looks like you have done the real work to get to the bottom of it. Lately I have been guessing right and using just coconut oil for cooking. Glad to know finally about olive oil. This is going on my refrigerator. Nicely done graphics!

  11. Diane,
    do you have a good book on fats you would recommend that I could read? I am a CNC student and have actually already finished my text book on fats but I still find it hard to grasp the whole picture and remember it all. It’s an important topic and one I really want to have a firm understanding of.
    thanks
    please email me directly

    1. I think I linked to some book resources in my post here:

      I like “Know Your Fats” by Mary Enig and “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill” by Udo Erasmus as well- though I think Enig’s book doesn’t so much tell you the “what to eat” part in plain English and I think Erasmus gets it a bit wrong on some things in FTH (I think he’s a bit saturated-fat phobic if I recall correctly). But those are good ones off the top of my head.

      I am posting this for others’ sake but will reply to you also via email.

    1. My thoughts: bunk science and linking two variables without real cause/effect and with MANY confounding factors that are ignored. Natural fats vs man-made fats needs to be considered and in a randomized controlled trial, but that will likely never happen since we know feeding man-made-saturated and man-made-trans-fats is harmful.

  12. Hi Dianne, Thanks for the excellent resource, however I do have a concern that you are recommending Palm Oil, which to the best of my knowledge is not grown sustainably and even worse, can be responsible for destruction of rainforest habitat and resultant impact on wildlife, see here for example: http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/

    1. This is a great point, so people may want to consider it as well. I wasn’t commenting on sustainability in this post/chart but it’s worth noting- thanks!

  13. here in the UK we have producers of Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil which I think must be very different from the standard Canola oil referred to. Do you have any comment on its suitability?

    1. If it’s cold pressed, you don’t want to cook with it. The cold pressing may preserve some fatty acid integrity, but I presume most are using the Rapeseed oil for cooking- don’t. I’d avoid most highly PUFA oils all together when not within their whole-food form (ie: fatty cold water fish like salmon, mackerel or herring).

      1. So even though these UK oils have less than half saturated fat of olive oil, 10 times the omega 3 compared to olive oil, no transfats, high smoke point of 230 degrees and high vitamin e content, it’s still a no no?

  14. Hi. I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place where my kids are concerned. I eat mostly paleo, but my kids still eat some grains. I would love to have them be fully paleo but part of the problem is my son has multiple food sensitivities. He canot tolerate gluten/wheat, buckwheat, dairy, eggs, soy, sugar, corn, etc. I have started using ghee for him to see if he reacts to that. Upon the recommendation of our naturopath I had been using earth balance, but once I realized that it is terrible for you i am trying to switch I want them to have some ‘treats’. They are such troopers and totally know that they are ‘getting healthy food’ in their luncboxes (vs. their peers) but I still want them to have something fun. I make them cookies and muffins that are healthy versions that work within his restrictions but they can’t even be paleo treats becaese they contain so much egg. I guess where I am confused is how to meet his dietary needs with what is most healthy? Am I better off using something like earths balance and not have his gut be affected or use butter in my baking. Hope that question makes sense.

    1. I would recommend coconut oil instead of Earth Balance- I don’t recommend anyone eat that, ever. It’s partially hydrogenated soybean oil :/ You could also try palm shortening- read the ingredients on some Spectrum brand “vegetable” shortening as there is some made from 100% palm oil which is okay.

  15. The chart has trans fat being saturated. I guess I’m just picky, but a trans fatty acid itself is not saturated. And I thought I heard in your podcast that smoke point was the temp at which the fats start decomposing; I thought smoke point was literally when the fat/oil begins to smoke. Else why would butter oil have a higher smoke point than butter? Thanks.

    1. I’m confused by this comment/question… not sure what you’re asking.

      Clarified butter or ghee has a higher smoke point than regular butter because the milk proteins are removed which allows it to be cooked hotter without damaging it.

  16. What I find so strange with the Paleo approach is that if one is supposed to be emulating a similar eating strategy to our ancestors, can it be that coconut trees were really that well populated all over the earth? I’m not knocking its use, just always see it suggested as number one oil to reach for, but have an issue with the fact that it is really not that indigenous to most is it?

    1. Hi Craig- I agree with you 100%. Most of us were not likely native islanders! That said, this is less about replicating Paleo times, and more about looking at how to be eating whole foods to motivate a healthy person from the inside out. We take what we know about foods available for thousands of years, as well as what we know about more modern or widely available foods- and marry the two parts of information. We also cook very differently today than we woud have then. I don’t honestly think we need to be adding a lot of fat to foods we eat for health reasons if we are not avoiding what naturally comes with the whole animals we eat.

      Good question.

      1. I guess my problem with paleo and any other restrictive diet is why? Why can’t we just eat everything that makes us feel good and thoroughly tract our symptoms instead of relying on some of these BS diet rules. SMH

  17. I see alot of articles saying olive oil isn’t suitable for cooking at a high heat. Does that mean its bad for you? I use it cooking Indian curries and never had a problem with it (it seems to do the job). Maybe I should be using something else. I tried coconut oil but the flavor carries though to the food which I don’t like.

    1. Coconut oil is PERFECT for curries – which include coconut milk! I don’t recommend cooking with oils that can easily be damaged by light, heat, and air – which olive oil can. Damaged oils are what are unhealthy.

  18. This is interesting to learn about the grapeseed oil. I invest in the cold pressed, unrefined bottle at whole foods and it comes in a dark green bottle. So many paleo recipes call for grapeseed oil.

    1. Recipes call for it for it’s neutral flavor, but that doesn’t make it healthy! Choose from the fats and oils that come from animals or plants where the oil is pressed from the fruits most often vs seeds (coconut or olive). You can buy refined coconut oil and it is usually odorless.

    1. Proven? What do you mean? It’s an ‘okay’ oil for cooking versus vegetable oils like corn, canola, or soybean, but I don’t cook with it in my own home 99% of the time- only on the very off occasion.

      1. im interested in studies you say saturated fats lower HDL. do you have any particular ones you recommend reading?

        1. Post
          Author
      2. I wouldn’t say that they are wrong because sat fats do appear to raise LDL, just the larger particles instead of the more malicious smaller particles.

    1. Particle size is another huge underlying factor. Sat fats do not appear to raise small particle LDL, which seems to be the main contributer of chronic disease.

  19. Fantastic clear article. Thank you so much for clarifying this. It’s such a complicated issue with so much info out there. It’s so nice to have all this info broken down in a nice easy chart. I’ve shared this on my NZ Ecochick facebook page. Thanks for your hard work. I’m loving your blog and information. I’ll be back MX

  20. Pingback: Interested in Paleo eating? | Dr. Shruti Sharma

  21. Pingback: Why Coconut Oil? - Diabetic Kitchen

  22. Pingback: Homemade Paleo Mayonnaise | KLee Creations

  23. Pingback: Stocking Your Paleo Pantry | My Well Care Blog

  24. Pingback: Stocking Your Paleo Pantry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *