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Live to Eat Newsletter by The Healthy Butcher

A Guide to Cooking Oils – Part 2: Selecting Cooking Oils

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Everything old is new again. That is the theme of what you are about to read. This newsletter is about selecting oils (which are types of fat) for cooking; it is something we do every day without much thought, yet it has a profound impact on both the finished dish and your long term health. In the last fifty years we substantially changed our diet because we were told that vegetable based oils were healthier than animal based fats. We ignored thousands of years of empirical evidence(1) and evolution showing that humans do well with consuming more saturated fat, and minimal consumption of unsaturated fat. It is a sad reality that the changes we made to our diet had a harmful effect on our health. Before 1920, coronary heart disease was rare; today, it causes 40% of all deaths.(2)  The changes we made to the fat we consume have had an integral role in not only the prevalence of heart disease, but also obesity, depression, and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. But, this newsletter is not about pointing fingers; food science is an evolving field. Today, food science is proving that the old ways were better. Cooking with good old fashion saturated fat just like your grandparents used to cook is back in vogue, but this time to stay.

In A Guide to Cooking Oils - Part 1: Understanding Fat, Jennifer McLagan provided a brilliantly written overview of fat. In this part 2, I will delve a bit deeper into some of the science of fat and provide you with a guide to selecting cooking oils.

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A Guide to Cooking Oils – Part 2:
Selecting Cooking Oils
by Mario Fiorucci

Types of Fat

Fats consist of a wide group of compounds that are generally soluble in organic solvents and generally insoluble in water. “Oils” is usually used to refer to fats that liquids at normal room temperature. Fats are composed of chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms filling the available bonds and are called fatty acids because of their structure.(3)  Fats are categorized as either being saturated or unsaturated. And if they are unsaturated, they are further subdivided as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated (see Figure 1). The body can manufacture most of the fats it requires, while others, called essential, must be consumed in foods.


Figure 1: Molecular structure of Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids.


Saturated and Unsaturated Fats - Molecular Structure


Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal fats and tropical oils like coconut oil and in lesser amounts in all vegetable oils. Saturated fats are structured so that all available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom, which makes them highly stable and also straight in shape, so that they are solid or semisolid fat at room temperature. As a result of their unique composition, they are less likely to go rancid or oxidize when heated during cooking.(4)

Monounsaturated Fats

Chemically, monounsaturated fatty acids are structured with one double bond (composed of two carbon atoms double-bonded to each other). Because this bond causes the molecule to bend slightly, these fats do not pack together as easily as saturated fats, so they tend to be liquid at room temperature but become solid when refrigerated.(5) The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in our food is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil, avocado oil, and canola oil, and it’s a main component of almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, avocados, lard, duck fat, and chicken fat. Like saturated fats, however, monounsaturated oils are relatively stable. They do not go rancid or oxidize easily and hence can also be used in cooking, albeit to a lesser degree than saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats promote healthy cardiovascular function, reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL).

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds. The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our foods are linoleic acid with two double bonds (called omega-6) and linolenic acid, with three double bonds (called omega-3). (The omega number indicates the position of the first double bond.)

Because your body cannot make these fatty acids, they are called “essential” and must be obtained from foods. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have bends or turns at the position of the double bonds and hence do not pack together easily. They remain liquid, even when refrigerated.

Analyzing polyunsaturated fats in a bubble, that is, without considering other factors, leads us to believe that polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest fats – they reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL), they reduce blood pressure, they improve depression and ADHD, and the list goes on. But not everything is as good as it seems.

The Truth About Polyunsaturated Fats

There are three major problems with polyunsaturated fats in today’s typical North American diet:

  1. We consume too much polyunsaturated fats;

  2. We consume the types of polyunsaturated fats in the wrong proportions;

  3. Polyunsaturated fats are extremely delicate and the result of cooking with them is toxic to our bodies.

Let’s discuss these three issues in more detail. 

We consume too much polyunsaturated fats

For almost all of human history, we consumed only a very small amount of polyunsaturated fat – whatever was naturally present in the food we ate. “But as industrialization of our food supply brought new technology for creating all sorts of changes to the food we eat, that changed. We started extracting oils out of seeds that we never could have before. Making olive oil is easy—you squeeze it. But squeeze a kernel of corn, a soybean, or a sunflower seed? Not much happens, without lots of big machinery and a high-tech, chemical-based process. So as a result, we began consuming more polyunsaturated fats (concentrated in modern cooking oils) than ever before. Today, we consume 1,585% more polyunsaturated fat than we did 100 years ago. That’s a lot. It’s been by far the biggest change to our diet in recent history.”(6)

Healthy human cell walls are comprised of fats and cholesterol, and very little polyunsaturated fat. When we have too much polyunsaturated fat compared to the saturated fat that’s supposed to make up the fat in our bodies, bad things happen from that imbalance. Things like:

  • Thyroid damage and increase in stress hormones. Polyunsaturated fats directly interfere with the functioning of your thyroid gland. And, because of all the inflammation they cause when consumed in excess, counter-inflammatory stress hormones, like cortisol (A.K.A., the “belly fat” hormone) are produced by your body. Too much polyunsaturated fat consumption can cause hypothyroidism.

  • Lowered metabolism. Polyunsaturated fats clog up your cells’ ability to burn fuel and produce energy—in other words, your metabolism. Thyroid function governs metabolic function, so when polyunsaturated fats are inhibiting your thyroid, your metabolism suffers as well.

So, how much polyunsaturated fat causes all those problems? Less than you might think. No more than 4% of your total calories should come from polyunsaturated fats—we’re talking omega-6 and omega-3 combined! (7)

“Back in the MI (myocardial infarction) free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil.”
- Dr. Dudley White speaking at an
American Heart Association fund raiser.

We consume polyunsaturated fats in wrong proportions

Humans evolved eating a diet with an Omega-6-to-Omega-3 ratio of 1:1, but today we eat a diet closer to 20:1. The increase in Omega 6 has been linked to many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, depression, and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.(8) So, despite Omega-6 being a “good” fat, it is important to consider the balance between Omega-3s and Omega-6s. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of 1:1 occurs in natural real foods, like grass-fed meats, dairy, and eggs, and even a little polyunsaturated fat is found in plant foods. But again, generally in very small amounts that are appropriate for human consumption.

As a result of the change in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 we consume, many people have turned to fish oil pills containing high levels of Omega 3. Increasing Omega 3 intake without altering Omega 6 intake seems like a plausible solution to the ratio problem. Unfortunately, that reverts us back to problem #1 - too much polyunsaturated fat is no good, regardless of what kind of unsaturated fat it is.(9) Sanjoy Ghosh is a leading research in the field based out of UBC, and had this to say:

"The breakthrough we saw in our lab was the inflammation caused by the Omega 6 fatty acids gets worse with the addition of Omega 3....Our hypothesis is that levels of Omega 6 are so high in our bodies that any more unsaturated fatty acid -- even Omega 3, despite its health benefits -- will actually contribute to the negative effects Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats have on the heart and gut. Bottom line is it's too much unsaturated fat, and our body doesn't know what to do with it... Here's my opinion[:] Lower [your] intake of Omega 6 polyunsaturated fats while increasing your consumption of fish and foods where Omega 3 occurs naturally.... Improper diet cannot be fixed by a pill. Polyunsaturated fats should be brought down in our diet... and saturated fats should be increased -- they are the most natural, and have been part of our evolution since the beginning of time."

So despite the fact that fish oil pills contain healthy Omega 3’s, too much polyunsaturated fat is not healthy.(10)


Cooking with Polyunsaturated Fats damages the fat,
and thereby damages the body

An important quality of every fatty acid, especially in the context of cooking, is its ability to withstand heat. Unlike saturated fats, polyunsaturated fatty acids are extremely delicate - their carbon bonds break very easily. The unpaired electrons located at the double bonds make these oils highly reactive.(11)  When exposed to light, oxygen, and especially heat, polyunsaturated fat will start to oxidize, form free radicals, and become rancid.(12)

The result of consuming rancid oils not only means you’re consuming fat that has been stripped of nutrients, but also one that causes inflammation. Inflammatory damage is at the heart of a host of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, premature aging, autoimmune disease, digestive disorders, and infertility. (13)

At the University of Minnesota, researchers found that repeatedly heating vegetable oils including soybean, safflower, and corn oil to frying temperature can create a toxic compound, HNE, linked to atherosclerosis, stroke, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and liver disease.(14) It was bad news for health when fast-food restaurants stopped using saturated beef fat and palm oil, and started frying foods in rancid polyunsaturated oils.(15)  Other studies have found that polyunsaturated fats damaged by heat produce aldehydes that damage cell membranes, acrolein that causes cancer and other chronic diseases, and transform into trans fats that are the worst of the bunch (more on trans fats below). (16)

Unfortunately, the vast the majority of oils in grocery stores are rancid before you even buy them. Many, if not most, commercial oils that we consume have been extracted at high temperatures, using toxic chemicals, then bleached, de-flavored, degummed, and deodorized so that we no longer taste rancidity.

The delicate nature of fats was common knowledge not long ago, but forgotten in recent years. Many older people who lived in Europe before the second world war remember how freshly pressed oils were sold door to door like milk and eggs. People knew from experience that the best oils, like flax oil which was popular back then, turn rancid quickly and then taste bad, so they had to be bought in small quantities and used fresh before they spoiled, just like fresh vegetables, milk, and eggs.(17) The vast majority of oils will typically go rancid within a year, and those comprised mainly of polyunsaturated fat will go rancid much sooner. If you have an oil that has not gone rancid in that time, you should ask yourself why it hasn’t.

Bottom line - industrially processed polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils, should be strictly avoided. Even using cold-pressed, organic polyunsaturated fats is dangerous because not only will exposing them to heat when cooking immediately damage the fat, but merely keeping them on your pantry for extended periods of times leads to oxidized, rancid fat.


Smoke Point is not the key to selecting cooking oils, but it’s still important

The smoke point of a cooking oil is the temperature at which the oil burns and produces visible smoke. Most culinary books will reference the smoke point of oils as being the key to pairing an oil with a given cooking method. Although the smoke point is, indeed, an important consideration when selecting an oil, it is not the quintessential factor.

Grapeseed oil is a perfect example of the dichotomy. Grapeseed oil is made up of a whopping 73% polyunsaturated fat, 17% monounsaturated fat, and only 10% saturated fat. We learned above that saturated fats are the most stable fats and are the best for cooking. Yet, grapeseed oil is often touted as a great oil for high heat cooking because of its high smoke point (about 400°F).

Here’s the deal. The smoke point of grapeseed oil is artificially high because of the phenols it contains - these are plant compounds that make it resistant to smoking. The fact is, the polyunsaturated linoleic acid as well as the high content of heat-sensitive vitamin E makes it a poor fat for high heat.(18) “The polyunsaturated fats are still being oxidized and forming free radicals at lower temperatures than the smoke point. The phenols do not prevent this. Essentially, the smoke point is totally irrelevant in evaluating the effect of heat damage to the oil, and its subsequent health effects or safety.”(19)  If you are seeing smoke, the oil has definitely gone rancid; but damage started occurring long before that point. Combine that with the fact we don’t need any more omega-6’s in our diet, why use grapeseed oil at all?

Is smoke point an important consideration? Yes. BUT, the fat composition is more important. For cooking, we need fats that are stable, and then only as a secondary factor should we look for a high smoke point. The rule of thumb to remember is that “the order of susceptibility to rancidity, moving from highest to lowest, is:

Polyunsaturated >> Monounsaturated >> Saturated >> Cholesterol.”(20)

Hydrogenation and Trans-Fatty Acids

About one-third of all edible oil produced is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.(21) Hydrogenated oils are used in baked goods, confections such as ice cream, chocolate, candy, and snack foods such as potato chips where the hydrogenated oils help to give the product crispness.(22)

Hydrogenation is the chemical process by which liquid vegetable oil is turned into solid fat, and it has major negative effects on health. The process was discovered in 1902 and involves reacting a mainly unsaturated oil (such as canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, or soybean) under heat and pressure with hydrogen gas in the presence of a metal catalyst (nickel and aluminum are most common). The result is a uniform product that is solid at room temperature and has a long shelf life. As you can imagine, this last characteristic is very valuable to manufacturers and distributors. Procter & Gamble was the first to use the process for mass produced products with the release of Crisco in 1911; margarine was the next popular hydrogenated fat which gained widespread use around World War II.

“Partial Hydrogenation” results when the process is not brought to a completion, meaning hydrogen has not fully saturated all of the double bonds in the oil. “So many different compounds can be made during partial hydrogenation that they stagger the imagination. Scientists have barely scratched the surface of studying changes induced in fats and oils by partial hydrogenation.”(23) Products like margarine, shortening, shortening oils, and all oils labeled “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” result from this process. What also results is trans-fatty acids, the devil of all fats. Trans fats increase levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol), decrease HDL (the good cholesterol), and increase the level of harmful triglycerides in the blood. Deep-fried foods contain an abundance of trans fatty acids, as do many packaged and prepared foods. The body needs a long time to clear out trans fats, and in the mean time, the result is decreased nerve transmission, decreased focus, increase in hyperactivity, decreased immunity, and an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. They are bad – avoid them.

“Complete Hydrogenation” occurs when the hydrogenation process is brought to a full conclusion, so the oil has been fully saturated with hydrogen. On the plus side, a completely hydrogenated oil does not contain trans-fatty acids and is a manufacturer’s dream since it is lasts almost forever. But on the negative side, a completely hydrogenated oil does not contain any unsaturated fatty acids, likely contains other harmful altered molecules, and likely contains trace amounts of the metal catalyst used in the hydrogenation process (aluminum being of special concern).

The bottom line is that the hydrogenation process changes the nature of a fat into a form that is not easily recognised by the body. Hydrogenated oils are not real food. They gained widespread use because they are less expensive than using saturated animal fat, and result in longer shelf lives. For years, medical experts and organizations urged us to abandon traditional saturated fats in favour of partially hydrogenated oils in order to reduce the risk of heart disease. These organizations boosted margarine, for example, as healthier for the heart than butter. Decades later, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there is no safe level of trans fat in the diet.(24)

The long term effects of ingesting hydrogenated and trans fats are just beginning to surface. It’s easy to blame manufacturers for inventing and producing these oils, but as long as we, the consumers, buy these products, manufacturers will continue to use the hydrogenation process. Further, even when you see the claim “Free of trans fatty acids” on the label, take a closer look at the label – in Canada, so long as the food contains less than 0.2g of trans fatty acids per serving, it can be labeled trans fatty acids-free (see: section 7.18 of the Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising). Most products that contains trans fats to begin with are addictive in nature, and when you eat more than one serving, those fractions of grams add up quickly.

Guide to Selecting Cooking Fats

Now we get to the crux of the article. We have learned that some fats are appropriate for heating, others acceptable, and some unsuitable. Saturated fats are best suited for cooking, monounsaturated fats are second best, and polyunsaturated fats are ideally used cold, if at all. Based on our research, these are the fats we recommend using for cooking:


Fat Composition of Cooking Fats - Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated Content 

High Heat Cooking - Sautéing & Frying @ 375°F+

If you want to eat healthy, don’t fry your food. There is no such thing as an oil that is safe or healthy for high heat frying. But, we all know frying is yummy and I’ll be the first to stand in the
“everything in moderation” camp. These are the fats to use:

  • Ghee. Smoke Point 485°F / 252°C
    Ghee is butter that has had the milk solids removed, and it’s easy to make at home. We will teach you how to make ghee in a future newsletter. Ghee is widely used in India and is valued in Ayurvedic medicine. It is an excellent cooking oil because it is high in saturated fat, and therefore, does not oxidize easily. Further, it’s saturated fat is primarily (89%) short chain fatty acids, compared with longer chains in other animal fats. Short chains are not only easier to digest, but help hormone production and strengthening cell membranes. They also have anti-microbial properties, protecting against harmful micro-organisms in the digestive tract.(25)

    Uses: Ghee’s wonderful flavour that enhances most dishes; essentially you can use it as a cooking oil anytime you would use butter, whether it be cooking vegetables, frying rice before steaming it, or searing meat. Since it doesn't have the milk solids of butter, you can fry with it at higher temperatures without it smoking.

  • Beef Fat (Tallow) – Smoke Point: 400°F
    Made up of more than 50% saturated fat, 40% monounsaturated fat, and only a wee bit of polyunsaturated fat,(26) beef fat is stable and has a high smoke point. Ah the good ole days of fast food fries fried in beef fat. Life was so much simpler back then.
    If raised 100% on grass, as beef should be, beef fat will have anywhere from an ideal 1:1 to 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has strong anticancer properties, encourages muscle growth, and prevents weight gain.(27) 

    Uses: Nothing beats the rich, slightly beefy taste of fries cooked in beef fat. Of course, using a bit to grease your cast iron skillet before searing steaks, burgers, or sausages is an obvious choice as well.

  • Coconut oil - Smoke Point: unrefined - 350°F / refined 450°F
    Coconut oil comes from the nut of the coconut palm, that grows in coastal regions. At a whopping 92% saturated content, coconut oil is one of the most stable oils when exposed to heat. The other added bonus which has been touted recently is the fact that two-thirds of the saturated fatty acids it contains are medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFAs are different from long-chain fatty acids in that as soon as they enter your bloodstream, they are taken to your liver where they are converted to energy resulting in an almost immediate source of energy.

    Uses: Great for oiling your pan for pancakes or waffles in the morning, as an addition to a smoothie, and to add a bit of fat in porridge. It is also a stellar addition in baking muffins and the like. Many use it to fry as well - when I googled “Coconut Fried Chicken”, 11,400,000 results appeared, although I haven’t taken to frying with coconut oil as much as others. Coconut oil is really in the spot light right now and has a tremendous following; there are several books in the list at the end of this article that discuss coconut oil in great detail. I think it’s a great cooking fat, so long as the other ingredients in the dish pair well with a light coconut flavour.

  • Cacao butter – Smoke Point: 390°F
    Cacao butter is a fat that is starting to become popular in the food industry. It is an extremely stable fat, and of the 60% saturated fat content, half is stearic acid that is converted in the liver to the heart-healthy fat, oleic acid.(28) The only downside to cocoa butter is that it’s very expensive.

    Uses: Great for pan searing steaks, then deglaze your pan with cocoa powder and brandy or bourbon to make a great finishing sauce.

  • Palm Oil – Smoke Point: 420°F / Palm Kernel Oil – Smoke Point: 450°F
    Palm oil and palm kernel oil come from the fruit of the oil palm that grows in inland areas of tropical regions. Palm oil is a healthy oil easily extracted from the oily palm fruit. It contains almost 50 percent saturated fat, mostly in the form of palmitic acid. It is widely consumed as a cooking oil in Africa and Asia, and European manufacturers are now using it in preference to trans fats in baked goods and snack foods.

    Palm oil has been used as both a food and a medicine for thousands of years. It was prized by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt as a sacred food. Today palm oil is the most widely used oil in the world. In tropical Africa and Southeast Asia palm oil is an integral part of a healthy diet just as olive oil is in the Mediterranean. (29)

    Palm kernel comes from the seed of the palm fruit. It is a specialized oil, highly saturated, which is used mostly in candy making. Like coconut oil, palm kernel oil is rich in lauric acid, but it’s more expensive.(30)  It is also rich in vitamin E, K, and magnesium.

    Uses: frying and sautéing vegetables and meat.

Medium Heat Cooking –
Roasting, Baking, Light Sautéing & Making Sauces @ below 375°F

  • Butter – Smoke Point: 300°F
    I purposely separate Ghee (clarified butter) and placed it in the “high heat” camp, and left plain butter in the medium heat category. The next issue of Live to Eat will be dedicated to butter - my favourite fat - in all it’s glory. Here’s a brief summary. Butter is composed of 65% saturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 5% polyunsaturated, making it an incredibly stable fat for cooking. That said, without removing the milk solids (i.e. clarifying the butter and producing Ghee), the smoke point is a mediocre 300°F. Anyone who cooks with butter knows that it doesn’t take much heat before butter turns dark brown and starts to smoke. So, use Ghee for the high heat, and butter for everything else.

    Uses: Everything. I mean really, can you name one dish where butter isn’t a great addition? From eggs to potatoes to finishing a steak, from baking to sautéing, it’s the only all purpose fat.

  • Avocado Oil – Smoke Point: unrefined - 400°F / refined - 520°F
    Avocado oil is mainly monounsaturated fat, like olive oil – but has a higher smoke point than olive oil. Avocado oil is highly resistant to oxidation, and has been shown to help neutralize the metabolic effects of iron, a primary cause of cellular oxidation.(31)

    Uses: Its mild, nutty flavour complements fresh veggies and roasted potatoes, and its high smoke point makes it a great option for marinades or brushed over grilled vegetables. (32)

  • Extra Virgin Olive oil – Smoke Point: 320°F
    Olive oil is one of the most reliable cooking oils and is one of the most healthful oils for general use. Its high oleic acid content makes it very stable for cooking. It is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, such as oleuropein, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, hydroxytyrosol, and squalene. Olive oil contains only marginal amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, but the high oleic acid content may aid in incorporating omega-3 fatty acid into membranes. Moreover, olive oil has been shown to elevate HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). In terms of overall health value, olive oil must be considered among the highest. It’s held out as the reason the Mediterranean Diet is so healthful.

    Truthfully, I love olive oil and use it extensively. Do I think using olive oil in large quantities in cooking will save you from Eternal Diet Damnation like many Mediterranean Diet proponents will lead you to believe? No. Is it as stable as a mainly saturated fat? No. Is it the best oil around for light sautéing, dressing salads, and finishing many other vegetable based dishes? Absolutely! Stick with organic and extra virgin olive oil, that are FRESH (less than a year old) – there are many that are reasonably priced.

    Click here for an article on olive oils.

  • Lard – Smoke Point: 370°F
    Lard is semisolid at room temperature, composed of 48% monounsaturated, 40% saturated, and 12% polyunsaturated, and is an excellent source of Vitamin D. It used to be a very popular cooking fat in North American many decades ago.

    Uses:  Although many people fry with lard, I think the best use is for making light, flakey pie crusts. It is also excellent for sautéing.

  • Duck fat & Goose Fat – Smoke Point: 375°F
    Duck and goose fat are gold in the culinary industry. They are comprised mainly of monounsaturated fat that includes palmitoleic acid that helps fight microbes in your intestines.(33)

    Uses: Duck fat roasted potatoes is as traditional a European dish as they come. Duck fat is also a star in the pastry kitchen helping to create crisp, golden puffed pastry and is excellent at preserving as in confit.

  • Chicken fat – Smoke Point: 375°
    About 50% monounsaturated fat, similar composition to duck and goose fat (but of course, the diet of the birds dictates the final composition).
    Widely used in kosher kitchens. (35)

  • Canola Oil - Smoke Point: 400°F
    7% Saturated + 64% Monounsaturated + 29% Polyunsaturated (Ω6:Ω3 is 2:1)

    I’ll be honest, it was a difficult decision to include canola oil in this list. There are many people that believe canola oil is bottled up devil juice. I included it in this list because it is such a popular oil in Canada, after all it was invented in Canada (the name derives from CANadian Oil, Low Acid), and a good quality canola is not necessarily a bad addition to your medium heat cooking repertoire. It's difficult to find neutral information on canola, so let me try to be the first one to lay out a neutral summary all the facts:

    Canola is made from rapeseed, the family that also includes broccoli and cabbage. Unusual for a seed oil, it's rich in monounsaturated fat, with a bit of omega-3 fats as well.(36)  It was invented in the 1970s at the University of Manitoba, by breeding a rapeseed that was low in erucic acid. Since the time of its invention, it has been celebrated by advocates of the "heart healthy" diet and is a major cash crop in both Canada and the U.S. (37)

    The Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is 2:1, which isn’t great (recall, ideal is 1:1), but it certainly isn’t bad especially when compared to other vegetable oils.(38)  The vast majority of canola oils are both genetically modified, and extracted by using hexane – a hazardous gas.(39)  Personally, I’d stay away from such industrialized, mass-produced, heavily refined canola oils.

    However, there are a few producers making cold-pressed, virgin canola oil. Quality canola oils “possess a flavour profile that bests many extra virgin olive oils. Its texture is silky and clean, the notes are toasty, nutty and grassy, and the finish is sweet and vegetal” as described by Mark Schatzker in a Globe and Mail article.(40)  Loren Cordain, the expert on Stone Age diets, favours canola oil, even though it is a very modern food. "There is no credible scientific evidence showing that canola oil is harmful to humans," he says.(41)

    If there is any truth to the many claims plastered all over the Internet and some books that canola oil is poisonous, I certainly don’t believe it applies to quality, cold-pressed virgin canola oil. Frankly, it would be the same discussion when comparing mass produced, poor quality olive oils to those of higher quality that have not undergone industrial processes. In the annals of oil, canola is the newest kid on the block; so only time will tell.

    Personally, I don’t use canola because I’d rather use a good EV olive oil or butter or one of the other oils mentioned above. Further, it does have higher amounts of omega 6, which I don’t care to consume. You be the judge.

But what about other “healthy” oils?

There are many oils sold in health food stores touted as being the magic elixir. In my opinion, you don’t need to add more fat to your diet. Eat real food and don’t be afraid of using fat in your cooking, but there is no need to supplement your diet with more fat. All the benefits of the “healthy” oils can be consumed by eating the original real food. Case in point – flax oil. No doubt, if consumed fresh, without heating, flax oil has a lot of beneficial traits. It is rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3, and has been used as a natural therapy for cancer, inflammation, and weight loss. But if you wish to gain the benefits of flax, why not buy freshly ground flaxseed instead and sprinkle a tablespoon on your yogurt? Ground flaxseeds offer a lot of stuff the oil does not – they are easier to digest and include fibre, lignans, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and folate. Further, ground flax seeds will keep better than oil, which is very delicate.

There are so many oils out there used by natural and holistic practitioners as medicines. I’m not qualified to give an opinion on all of them.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sourcing and Selecting Cooking Oils

  • Do select cooking oils based on their fat composition. Stick with saturated and monounsaturated fats for cooking, and never cook with delicate polyunsaturated fatty acids.

  • Do buy Organic. Many industrial and agricultural chemicals are fat soluble and tend to concentrate in the oil portion of plants and animals.(42)

  • Do store oils in dark bottles, and keep the bottles tightly closed. Further, if you taste an oil that seems bitter, it has probably become rancid – throw it out.

  • Don’t buy refined oils. This is a tough one, especially because the market is rife with refined oils and many aren’t labeled as such. Refining often uses toxic substances and high temperatures, thereby destroying the fat before you’ve even purchased it.

  • Above all else, don’t consume hydrogenated oils. Whether the label on the food you are buying contains “partially hydrogenated” oils (and therefore contains trans-fats) or completely “hydrogenated” oil, avoid them like the plague.

A Note on Animal Fats (after all, we are The Healthy Butcher)

In this article, I have heavily pushed using saturated animal fats for cooking because of their inherent chemical stability. But, it needs to be clarified that not all animal fat is created equal – and the difference lies in what the animal ate. Let’s use beef as an example, although the same applies for chickens, pigs and any other animal raised for meat consumption.

Today’s beef is typically “finished” with grains or corn to gain weight, and in so doing, has significantly changed the fat composition. The Healthy Butcher has always been the biggest proponent in the country for 100% grassfed beef because grass is what beef should be eating. We discussed grassfed beef in detail in this article.

From a health perspective, grass-fed beef “contains less fat, more CLA , and more omega-3 fats than grain-fed beef. Like game, grass-fed meat has the right ratio of the omega-3 to omega6 fats (about 1:1), while grain-fed meat is too rich in omega-6 fats. Traditional beef contains more vitamin A and E and more of the antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. It contains alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant essential for cell metabolism, which also lowers blood sugar and improves sensitivity to insulin. Other foods from pastured animals, including bison, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs, and milk, also contain more omega-3 fats, vitamins, and antioxidants than their industrial counterparts.” (44)


This article was about selecting oils for cooking. Avoid heating oils that are comprised mainly of polyunsaturated fat because their delicate nature turns them toxic when exposed to heat. For mid-heat cooking, use fats that are either saturated or monounsaturated. For high heat cooking, use saturated fats. I am not saying that saturated fats are necessarily good for you, certainly not if consumed in excess,(45) but at least when they are heated they are not toxic to you. Studies now show that the very oils promoted as healthy in place of saturated fats (vegetable oils) were, in fact, accessories (along with refined grains and sweets) to this nation’s mounting weight gain and key contributors to heart disease.(46)  It is well established that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids is beneficial to health, and this article is not written to dispute those findings in any way. However, the quantities of polyunsaturated fat we consume, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 we consume, and how we heat the oils when cooking no doubt creates health hazards for humans.(47)

The truth of the matter is that our bodies don’t need cooking oil. Yes, fat is absolutely essential to our health. But, we consume enough fat, and the right types of fat from eating real foods. Some experts would push eliminating all oils from our diet. The thing is, we cook; and because of how we cook, we need oil. So our guide is based on selecting oils that are the best balance between the world of gourmet and the world of healthy bodies.

In my mind, health lies in a diet of real foods. To me, real food includes ample fruits and vegetables, as well as butter, full fat yogurt and kefir, raw milk cheeses, steaks and roasts, and soups made from real stock. The less processed a food, the better. The less confined and more pasture an animal has, the better. This entire article can be summed up using the old adage: what’s old is new again.


(1) Jennifer McLagan, Fat – An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. (Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2008) 5.

(2) Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Ph. D. Nourishing Traditions – The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. (Washington: New Trends, 2001).

(3) See: "Fat.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 March 2013. Web. 27 March 2013. <

(4) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(5) Ibid.

(6) The Truth About Grapeseed Oil: Is it Really Healthy? March 7, 2013. Web. March 27, 2013. 

(7) Ibid.

(8) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(9) “Anti-Inflammatory Diet: How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil” The Conscience Life. Web. March 27, 2013. 

(10) Aside: Fish contain unique Omega 3s not found in plants. For a good summary of the types of Omega 3s, click here:  or

(11) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(12) An excellent explanation of oxidation and free radicals can be found in: Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Summertown: Alive, 1993).

(13) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(14) Ibid.

(15) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(16) “Oils and their effects on health” Dr. Dobbin Nutrition. Web. March 27, 2013. 

(17) Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Summertown: Alive, 1993) 85.

(18) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(19) "The Truth About Grapeseed Oil: Is it Really Healthy?" Butter Believer. March 7, 2013 Web. March 27, 2013. 

(20) Michael A Schmidt. Brain-Building Nutrition. Berkely: North Atlantic, 2007. Print. 92.

(21) Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Summertown: Alive, 1993) 92.

(22) Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Summertown: Alive, 1993) 92.

(23) Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Summertown: Alive, 1993) 103.

(24) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(25) A 21st century look at ghee- Ayurvedic nectar or heart disease risk factor?, Ayurvedic Yoga. June 29, 2009. Web. March 26, 2013. 

(26) George Vigil. “What fats or oils are good for me (or not)?” We Want Organic Food. September 15, 2007. Web. March 21, 2013.

(27) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(28) Shannon George.  Stearic Acid in Cocoa.  Aug 23, 2011. Web. March 27, 2013

(29) For more information on Palm Oil, see: Fife, Bruce. The Palm Oil Miracle. (Piccadilly, 2007).  and 

(30) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(31) John Phillip. Avocado oil is a key component in the fight against free-radical aging and cancer proliferation. May 1, 2012. Web. March 27, 2013.

(32) Jennifer Goldberg.  3 Health Reasons to Eat Avocado Oil.  Web. March 27, 2013.

(33) George Vigil. “What fats or oils are good for me (or not)?” We Want Organic Food. September 15, 2007. Web. March 21, 2013.

(34) "Cooking with Duck Fat" D'Artagnan. Web. March 27, 2013.

(35) Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Ph. D. Nourishing Traditions – The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. (Washington: New Trends, 2001).

(36) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(37) Ibid.

(38) Recall, not all Omega 3’s are created equal; the Omega 3’s in canola are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body inefficiently elongates into the much-needed eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (found in fish). For a good summary of the types of Omega 3s, click here:

(39) “Anti-Inflammatory Diet: How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil” The Conscience Life. Web. March 27, 2013.   

(40) Schatzker, Mark. "Why Canadians should soak up a canola oil revolution". The Globe and Mail.  August 30, 2011.  Web.  March 27, 2013. 

(41) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(42) Michael A Schmidt. Brain-Building Nutrition. Berkely: North Atlantic, 2007. Print.196.

(43) "CLA, an antioxidant two hundred times more powerful than beta-carotene, prevents cancer. CLA slows the growth of tumors of the skin, breast, prostate, and colon. In 1991, Cancer Research reported that is "more powerful than any other fatty acid in modulating tumor development." In 2003, researchers who found a link between cured meat and cancer noted that grass-fed beef and butter were "almost the only sources" of CLA, the only natural fatty acid the National Academy of Sciences regards as showing "consistent" antitumor effects. Nutrition and Cancer reported that "a diet composed of CLA-rich foods, particularly cheese, may protect against breast cancer." from Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)  193.

(44) Nina Planck. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.)

(45) What constitutes “excess” consumption of saturated fat is largely dependent on ones diet. Carbohydrates, directly or indirectly through insulin and other hormones, controls what happens to ingested (or stored) fatty acids. Richard Feinman states: “A high fat diet in the presence of carbohydrate is different than a high fat diet in the presence of low carbohydrate.” See: Richard David Feinman, “Saturated Fat. On your Plate or in your Blood?” Richard David Feinman. February 22, 2012. Web. March 27, 2013. 

(46) Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. (New York: Penguin, 2005.).

(47) Halvorsen, Bente Lise and Blomhoff, Rune. Determination of lipid oxidation products in vegetable oils and marine omega-3 supplements. US National Library of Medicine, Food Nutrition Research. June 10, 2011. Web. March 26, 2013. 

(48) See for example, Lederman, Matthew MD and Pulde, Alona MD. Keep it Simple, Keep it Whole. Your Guide to Optimum Health. (Exsalus, 2010).


Works Cites and Further Reading

Enig, Mary. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol. Silver Spring: Bethesda Press, 2002. Print.

Enig, Mary and Fallon, Sally. Eat Fat, Lose Fat - Lose Weight and Feel Great with Three Delicious, Science-Based Coconut Diets. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Erasmus, Udo. Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill. Summertown: Alive, 1993. Print.

Eritsland, Jan. “Safety Considerations of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71(suppl):197S–201S. Print.

Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary G. Ph. D. Nourishing Traditions – The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington: New Trends, 2001. Print.

Fife, Bruce. The Palm Oil Miracle. Colorado Springs: Piccadilly, 2007.

German, Bruce and Dillard, Cora J. Saturated Fats: What Dietary Intake? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004. Print.

Hayes, K. C. “Effects of Stearic Acid on Plasma Lipid and Lipoproteins in Humans.” Canadian Journal of Cardiology 11 (1995): Suppl. G, 39-46.

Lambert-Lagacé, Louise and Laflamme, Michelle. Good Fat Bad Fat. Toronto: Stoddart, 1995. Print.

Lederman, Matthew MD and Pulde, Alona MD. Keep it Simple, Keep it Whole. Your Guide to Optimum Health. (Exsalus, 2010). Print.

Lerner, Dr. Ben, Loman, Dr. Greg, Majors, Dr. Charles, Pellow, Dr. Chris, and Shuemake, Dr. Eric. Cruise Ship or Nursing Home – The 5 Essentials of a Maximized Life. (Maximized Living, 2009). Print.

McCullough, Fran. Good Fat. New York: Scribner, 2003.

McLagan, Jennifer. Fat – An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. Berkely: Ten Speed, 2008. Print.

Mensink, Ronald P. "Effects of Stearic Acid on Plasma Lipid and Lipoproteins in Humans," Lipids 40 (2005).

Planck, Nina. Real Food – What to Eat and Why. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. Print.

Pulde, Alona, MD. And Lederman, Matthew, MD. Keep it Simple, Keep it Whole – Your Guide to Optimum Health. Exsalus Health, 2009. Print.

Ravnskov, Uffe, M.D., Ph.D.,. The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy That Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease. New Trends Publishing, 2000. Print.

Schmidt, Michael A. Brain-Building Nutrition. Berkely: North Atlantic, 2007. Print.

Shanahan, Catherine MD and Shanahan, Luke, Deep Nutrition – Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Library of Congress, 2009. Print.


Baldauf, Sarah. “Fish Oil Supplements, EPA, DHA, and ALA: Does your Omega-3 Source Matter?” Health. April 8, 2009. Web. March 21, 2013. 

Blair, IA. “Lipid hydroperoxide-mediated DNA damage.” September 2001. Web. 

Field, Simon Quellen. “Kinky Molecules” Toying with Science. April 8, 2006. Web. March 21, 2013.

Halvorsen, Bente Lise and Blomhoff, Rune. Determination of lipid oxidation products in vegetable oils and marine omega-3 supplements. US National Library of Medicine, Food Nutrition Research. June 10, 2011. Web. March 26, 2013.

LaMorte, Wayne W., MD, PhD, MPH. “Diet and Heart Disease” Atherosclerosis. 2013. Web. March 21, 2013.

Mercola, Dr. “Here’s the Smarter Oil Alternative I Recommend to Replace Those Other Oils in your Kitchen” Web. March 26, 2013. 

Peat, Ray “Oils in Context” RayPeat. Web. March 27, 2013. 

Peat, Ray “Unsaturated fatty acids: Nutritionally essential, or toxic?” RayPeat. Web. March 27, 2013. 

Peat, Ray “Suitable Fats, Unsuitable Fats: Issues in Nutrition” RayPeat. Web. March 27, 2013. 

Puotinen, CJ. “Unhealthy Vegetable Oils? Does Food Industry Ignore Science Regarding Polyunsaturated Oils? Implications for Cancer, Heart Disease” Web. March 27, 2013. 

Roman, Olesea, Heyd, Bertrand, Broyart, Bertrand, Castillo, Roberto, and Maillard, Marie-Noelle. “Oxidative reactivity of unsaturated fatty acids from sunflower, high oleic sunflower and rapeseed oils subjected to heat treatment, under controlled conditions” LWT Food Science and Technology. Elsevier. June 2013. 

Vigil, George. “What fats or oils are good for me (or not)?” We Want Organic Food. September 15, 2007. Web. March 21, 2013.

“Anti-Inflammatory Diet: How to Choose the Right Cooking Oil” The Conscience Life. Web. March 27, 2013. 

“Checking Your Oil: The Definitive Guide to Cooking with Fat” Caveman Doctor. May 27, 2012. Web. March 27, 2013. 

“Findings link polyunsaturated fat to heart health risk” January 23, 2013. Web. March 21, 2013. 

“Oils and their effects on health” Dr. Dobbin Nutrition. Web. March 27, 2013. 

“Saturated Fats are Healthy For You”. Web. March 27, 2013. 

“World Renown Heart Surgeon Speaks Out on What Really Causes Heart Disease” March 1, 2012. Web Marcy 21, 2013 


A special thanks to Murray Braithwaite, a valued customer who inspired the research and writing of this article. The Healthy Butcher is indebted to the hundreds of customers, like Murray, who keep us on our toes and ensure we stay on top.

The Healthy Butcher 

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