I’ve often scratched my head over which type of oil, or fat, is best to cook, bake or use in salads.  Thanks to Tiffany Cruikshank, my confusion has been de-mystified – my general rule of thumb for cooking and baking is to use a fat that is high in saturated fats, least processed, (which would be unrefined,) and organic.

Here is what I’ve learned…

In general, all fats are healthy when they come from whole foods, or natural and unprocessed foods.  (A whole, natural and unprocessed food high in fat would be an avocado or having a handful of nuts or seeds for example.)  The trouble is, fats are very sensitive and can easily become damaged by heat, sunlight, and oxygen.

In order to make fat into something that is used for cooking, it is processed.  Depending on how it is processed, (typically by heat and chemicals,) and the type of fat being processed, the once healthy fat may become oxidized or hydrogenated, which converts the fat molecules into trans fats.  (Trans fats mimic natural fats, but are unnatural to our bodies, and therefore can increase our chance of developing heart disease, raising cholesterol, degenerative diseases, inflammation, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, liver dysfunction and infertility just to name a few.)

So which fats fare best in processing?

Saturated Fats are the most stable.  Examples are – animal fat, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, butter, and ghee.  Saturated fats also have a slew of health benefits, (when used in moderation.)  Coconut oil has been shown to be antifungal, antiviral and antiprotozoal.  It’s also high in folic acid, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Unsaturated Fats are more susceptible to oxidation or hydrogenation, (turning in to trans fats,) when exposed to heat, light or oxygen than saturated fats.  Unsaturated fats are found in animal fat, vegetable oil, and avocado.

Monounsaturated Fats include avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oil, (this is also the fat in your almonds and pecans.)  They are less stable than saturated and unsaturated fats, but more stable than polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats are your fatty acids like fish oil, flaxseed oil, sesame oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil.  Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable of all the fats because they easily oxidize, creating toxins in the body if ingested after it is oxidized.  However, these fats, at their purest, are highly beneficial.  This is why it’s important to store these items in the refrigerator, and not use them when they’re past their use by date.  You can usually taste when they’ve started to turn.

Cut to the Chase, which fats should I use?

If you read the above, you’ve probably guessed what I’m going to say next.

– Cook with saturated fats – coconut oil, butter or ghee.

– For your salads, use an oil that is organic, in a dark bottle, not labeled with “partially hydrogenated” (this just extends the shelf life…but makes the fat weak and more susceptible to trans fatty acids,) and use any oil that says “no trans fats” in the nutrition chart.  Olive Oil is usually your best bet, and most easily available.

– Lastly, always avoid using already hydrogenated oils such as margarine and vegetable shortening, or any product with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!  I’d love to hear from you.