Which cooking oils are best?

Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Small Change, Big Impact: Reducing Omega 6 Consumption by Switching Cooking Oils

One of the easiest ways to improve your health in a big way is to pay attention to your cooking oils. While vegetable oils may seem like a logically healthy food (oils that come from vegetables?), they’re actually one of the biggest culprits of promoting inflammation in the body.

Vegetable oils, or industrial seed oils, are oils that have been extracted from the seeds of plants. These seed oils have been stripped of their health-promoting antioxidants through refinement, and most refining processes include being bleached and deodorized with chemical solvents. Because these oils are so refined, they’re very unstable and sensitive to heat, oxygen, and light. The problem with these oils is that they have very large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6 is an essential fatty acid, meaning we cannot produce it on our own and we have to get it from food. There’s nothing inherently bad about omega-6 fats; however, we need them in the proper ratio to omega-3s in order to be beneficial, and too much omega-6 can cause a variety of health problems, including inflammation. Opinions about the ideal ratio of omega 3:6 varies from about 3:1, or at least 1:1. However, most people eating a typical standard American diet have a ratio that ranges from 1:10 to 1:25! 

Omega-6s and inflammation in a nutshell:

  • Because of our industrialized diet, most people get plenty omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils.
  • Too much omega-6 (without enough omega-3s) leads to systemic inflammation.
  • Systemic inflammation contributes directly to insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, weight gain and more.

Which cooking oils to avoid

Our food industry is inundated with refined vegetable oils. Oils such as sunflower oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and corn oil are the cheap and therefore standard in all pre-made foods, including salad dressings, sauces, marinades, spreads, etc. These low-cost oils are also commonly used in restaurants, fast-food establishments, and processed food items.

Common refined vegetable oils to avoid:

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Peanut
  • Rice bran
  • Safflower
  • Sunflower
  • Soybean

Which fats/oils to use for cooking

When considering a fat source for cooking, take into consideration if you will be using it for low, medium, or high heat cooking.

Best fats for medium/high heat cooking: These products are high in saturated fats, which makes them more stable for higher temperatures and less likely to be oxidized.

  • Butter/ghee
  • Tallow (beef fat, from grass-fed cows)
  • Lard (pork fat, from pastured pigs)
  • Duck fat
  • Avocado oil
  • Palm oil (organic, from an environmentally safe source)
  • Coconut oil (medium)

Best fats to use cold: These fats have more unsaturated fats, and are moderately stable at very low temperatures. Alternatively, add these fats to foods once they have been removed from heat.

  • Macadamia oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Extra Virgin olive oil*

*Unlike the fats listed in the medium/high-heat cooking list, extra-virgin olive oil contains more monounsaturated fats than saturated fats, so some believe it is less ideal to cook with at high temperatures. However, researchers have shown that olive oil may be able to stand up to the heat due to its polyphenol and tocopherol content, which help to protect the oil from oxidation. In the case of olive oil, quality may make a difference, since the more polyphenols, the less prone to oxidation it will be.