Cooking Oils: What You Need to Know

Up till recent years, fat used to be considered our number one enemy.  In the 80s and 90s government health institutions set guidelines that made most people avoid fat like fire, hoping for a better health, reduced risk of heart attack and a hot body. This led to major decline in sales of oil, butter and dairy in general and the fat-free substitute market boomed. Low fat cooking sprays, spreads and milk grew ever more popular. But did it work? As it turns out the advice to avoid fat and oils was misinformed and potentially did more harm than good. Last year an American researcher suggested a campaign to tell people that avoiding saturated fat while not watching carbohydrate and sugar intake is a health threatening misconception.

Even though fat can be good for you should know the difference in order to learn to avoid the bad ones and consume the good ones.

The Facts

The research on fat, its different kinds and effects on the human body is still evolving but one thing is clear. Certain fats are better for us than others and they react differently to heat, too!

Knowing the differences can quite literally save your life!

Fat is as essential to your bodily functions as protein and carbohydrates. For example, some of the essential vitamins require the presence of fat in order to dissolve and be released into your bloodstream.

On the other hand, fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient (9 calories per gram) and it’s easy to overindulge and gain weight rapidly. This can be a major trigger for many health conditions.

Most foods and oils contain a mixture of different fatty acids, but the dominant type of fat they contain is what makes them healthy or less healthy or what we categorize as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Bad’ Fats

The two potentially harmful fats have been named as saturated fat and trans fat. You can recognize them easily as most of them are solid at room temperature.

Bad Fats:
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Beef or Pork Fat
  • Fatty Cuts of Beef, Pork, and Lamb
  • Dark Chicken Meat and Poultry Skin
  • High Fat Dairy Foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream)
  • Tropical Oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter)
  • Lard
  • Fried Foods (french fries, donuts, deep-fried fast foods)
  • Margarine (stick and tub)
  • Vegetable Shortening
  • Baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
  • Processed Snack Foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)


These should be avoided altogether or used occasionally.

Saturated fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the LDL, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, especially, when combined with a diet high in refined carbohydrates.

Trans fats are the worst for you and should be avoided.

Like saturated fat, trans fat can raise LDL cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol. Trans fat can also suppress high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, or “good” cholesterol. Trans fats, therefore, can raise your heart disease risk threefold higher than saturated fat intake.

‘Good’ Fats

The fats that are considered healthy for the heart and ‘good’ are monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. These tend to be liquid when they’re at room temperature, such as vegetable or seed oil.

According to research eating foods rich in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. The examples of such foods are:

Good Fats:
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)
  • Vegetable Oils (olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil)
  • Peanut Butter and Almond Butter
  • Avocado



Polyunsaturated fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to be extremely beneficial for your heart. They decrease the risk of coronary disease and help lower high blood pressure. The following foods are rich in omega-3s:

  • salmon
  • herring
  • sardines
  • trout
  • flaxseed
  • walnuts
  • canola oil

Best Oil Sources

The healthy types of fat are all the unsaturated fats such as:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids, found for example in certain oils
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acid are found mostly in plant-based foods and oils
  • Omega-3 fatty acids found in some types of fatty fish

These all help reduce LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.



Even though a healthy diet should include variety, you should focus on getting enough healthy fats and reducing the bad ones to minimum.  But remember – even ‘good’ oils can become harmful when heated. So the oils used for cooking should not be the same ones you would eat cold as salad dressing, for example.

During cooking at a high heat, you want to use oils that are stable and don’t oxidize easily. When oils react with oxygen they form free radicals and harmful compounds that you should avoid at all cost!

Saturated fats have single bonds in the fatty acid molecules, monounsaturated fats have one double bond and polyunsaturated fats have two or more. It is the double bonds that are chemically reactive and sensitive to heat. Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are pretty resistant to heating, but oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats should be avoided for cooking.


Healthy fats are essential to good health and a balanced lifestyle but try not to overindulge since they are high in calories. Make a habit of substituting the unhealthy fats with the good ones.

Reducing your consumption of unhealthy fats and incorporating a reasonable amount of good fats will improve your health and vitality and protect you from the dangers of obesity and related diseases.

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