Fast2eat all-inclusive guide with the best and worst cooking oils for your health.
Confused about which cooking oil is the healthiest? Join the club.
You’ve probably heard a lot of back and forth about heart health, trans fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, PUFAs (Polyunsaturated fatty acids), MUFAs (Monounsaturated fatty acids) and smoke points when it comes to cooking oils. It can all be a bit confusing, so this article is here to clear it up.
You may be surprised to find that some of the worst cooking oils & fats are ones that you may have been told are “healthy”. If you care about your health, make sure you’re not using any of these worst cooking oils & fats.
Some oils, like coconut oil, remain controversial. Depending on whom you ask, coconut oil should either be avoided or embraced in moderation. Coconut oil is one of the most well-known and widely used oils in the world today. However, it was not so well known to the northern regions in the recent past.
A spurt in medicinal research and an increase in awareness about the extremely beneficial properties of this oil have led to its growing popularity the world over. But, it is also the most debated oil among health communities. The main point of conflict is its high saturated fat content; unlike other plant-based oils, coconut oil is primarily saturated fat. Not everyone agrees that such a concentrated source of saturated fat is a no-go for health, but some experts, including the American Heart Association, argue that replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles. Still, science is starting to suggest that not all saturated fats are bad for you. This may not be the same unhealthy saturated fat found in animal products as the one found in red meat that clogs your arteries. However, those with high cholesterol should avoid coconut oil. It would be difficult to get your LDL cholesterol into healthy ranges eating a lot of coconut oil. The 2017 advisory report from the American Heart Association did not recommend the use of coconut oil. The panel concluded that coconut oil increases LDL cholesterol, a known cause of heart disease, and has no known to offset favourable effects.
Coconut oil does not have any unique heart-health benefits, meaning its perception by the public as a healthful food is probably not justified from a scientific perspective. There is not any reason to use coconut oil rather than unsaturated oils, and there are potential disadvantages from its high content of saturated fat.
That’s not to say this oil is going to make you sick, but don’t go overboard. “I am not anti-coconut oil”, our bodies do need some saturated fat. But the industry has done a good job to make it seem like it’s a superfood. The research is definitely not there.
Coconut oil isn’t quite the miracle cream it’s advertised as. Well, actually, as a cream, it is kind of a miracle worker, but when it comes to preparing meals, we can’t suggest a free pass to eat as much as you want. In fact, by some measures, it’s about as healthy as butter. In fact, coconut oil has more saturated fat than the same amount of butter or lard. The reason it’s solid at room temperature is that it has a high content of saturated fat. Nutrition experts recommended using it only sparingly.
So, you’re better off using other oils, like extra-virgin olive oil. The exception: baking. Consumers seem to have bought into the hype that it’s among the healthier options, and vegans, who eat no animal fat, may use it as a butter substitute. That creamy, fatty quality makes coconut oil a great vegan butter alternative for baked goods. If you do want to use it for other methods like sautéing or roasting, know that it has a relatively low smoke point. It is often used in commercial baked goods. It has a mellow, slightly coconut-y flavour that works with a variety of other flavours, sweet and savoury alike.
Its fat can boost metabolism. This has a high amount of medium chain triglycerides, so it’s good for people who have some trouble absorbing fats due to certain medical conditions. However, it’s also fairly high in saturated fat, so it may possibly increase your total cholesterol.
There are many varieties of coconut oil:
- Virgin Coconut oil (VCO) – This coconut oil is derived without the use of any substances or methods which alter the composition of natural coconut oil. That means virgin coconut oil is extracted from mechanical methods. Virgin coconut oil has a sharp coconutty aroma and tastes like coconut. Extra virgin coconut oil is actually a misnomer, as it is the same as virgin coconut oil.
- Solvent-based extraction – In this method, hexane is used to extract coconut oil from the slurry. It yields more oil and is thus popular. This oil should not be used for edible purposes, and even for the skin.
- RBD (Refined, Bleached and Deodorized) Coconut oil –This is the most widely used coconut oil. It is not as good as virgin coconut oil, but it is ideal for cooking and cosmetic purposes. This oil has very little of the characteristic coconut aroma.
- Hydrogenated Coconut oil – In this oil, the small amount of unsaturated fats too are hydrogenated and thus making it unhealthy. It might contain some trans fats as well.
Made from: the kernel or meat of mature coconuts
Best for: general cooking and baking. It is particularly loved for making popcorn and chips.
Not recommended for: Frying.
Pros: Coconut oil is composed of a special kind of saturated fat called a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). MCFAs are burned rapidly by the liver and used for energy instead of being stored as fat. Coconut oil, like palm fruit oil, also has a long shelf life.
Cons: we shouldn’t leap onto the coconut oil bandwagon with abandon just yet. While the newest research suggests that not all saturated fats are created equal, and coconut oil may be a better option than butter, from a heart health perspective, it still can’t compete with unsaturated fats like olive oil.
Note: Because the jury’s still not out on the impact of saturated fat on cardiac health, you may want to be conservative in the amount you use compared to sources of unsaturated fat if you are concerned about heart disease.
Other uses: Coconut oil is one of the best natural things for our skin. Coconut oil is a multi-use miracle product. Use it as a make-up remover, a moisturizer, or even a way to clean teeth by swirling the oil around in the mouth for 20 minutes or so before spitting out.
How to store: Coconut oil is the most stable oil. It has a remarkable shelf life of 2 years and does not go rancid at room temperatures or even higher temperatures. So, you can buy the largest size of coconut oil and not be worried about storage. However, it is important to buy coconut oil from a reputed brand.
- Refined, dry – 232°C (450°F)
- Unrefined, dry expeller pressed, virgin – 177°C (350°F)
Palm oil comes from the fleshy fruit of palms trees native to Africa, where it has been consumed for thousands of years. Unrefined palm oil is sometimes referred to as red palm oil because of its reddish-orange colour. It is important to note that palm oil should not be confused with palm kernel oil. While both originate from the same plant, palm kernel oil is extracted from the seed of the fruit. It provides different health benefits. Crude palm oil comes from squeezing the fleshy fruit, and palm kernel oil which comes from crushing the kernel, or the stone (nut) in the middle of the fruit. It is semi-solid at room temperature and differs from palm kernel oil in nutritional composition. Palm kernel oil is extremely high in saturated fat and is used chiefly in soap making.
Dende is a deep-orange oil that comes from the fruit of the red palm (but not the same palm as the source for palm oil). It is a common ingredient in Brazilian dishes.
All around the world, palm oil consumption is increasing. However, when it comes to cooking oils, palm oil is typically considered the most controversial of the options – for both health and environmental reasons. There is a debate over whether consumption of palm oil is associated with health risks or benefits, despite it being free of trans-fat. On one hand, it’s reported to provide several health benefits. On the other, it may pose risks to heart health. There are also environmental concerns related to the steady increase in its production.
In fractionated palm oil, the liquid portion is removed by a crystallizing and filtering process. The remaining solid portion is higher in saturated fat and has a higher melting temperature.
Since about 1900, palm oil has been increasingly incorporated into food by the global commercial food industry because it remains stable in deep frying, or in baking at very high temperatures, and for its high levels of natural antioxidants, though the refined palm oil used in industrial food has lost most of its carotenoid content (and its orange-red colour).
Palm oil is one of the least expensive and most popular oils worldwide, accounting for one-third of global plant oil production.
Palm oil is also high in saturated fat. Because they’re at risk for heart disease, people with diabetes should pay close attention to their saturated fat consumption and avoid sources of the fat like palm oil, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Palm oil is 100% fat, half of which is saturated. It also contains vitamin E and red palm oil contains antioxidants called carotenoids, which your body can convert into vitamin A. The main type of saturated fat found in palm oil is palmitic acid, which contributes 44% of its calories. It also contains high amounts of oleic acid and smaller amounts of linoleic acid and stearic acid.
Palm oil is usually a deep red colour and is very high in antioxidants, vitamin E and carotenoids which can be converted to Vitamin A. Palm oil can help improve vitamin A status in people who are deficient or at risk of deficiency. Red palm oil has also been shown to help boost vitamin A levels in adults and young children.
Palm oil is an excellent source of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E with strong antioxidant properties that may help protect the delicate polyunsaturated fats in the brain, slow dementia progression, reduce the risk of stroke and prevent the growth of brain lesions.
Palm oil may increase certain heart disease risk factors in some people. Repeatedly reheating the oil may decrease its antioxidant capacity and contribute to the development of heart disease, it may cause plaque deposits in the arteries. It’s important to note that these are only potential risk factors and not evidence that palm oil can actually cause heart disease.
Palm oil contains more saturated fats than canola oil, corn oil, linseed oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. Therefore, palm oil can withstand deep frying at higher temperatures and is resistant to oxidation compared to high-polyunsaturated vegetable oils. The oils are suitable for high-temperature sautéing or frying due to their high smoke point.
Like coconut oil, palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature. However, its melting point is 95°F (35°C), which is considerably higher than 76°F (24°C) for coconut oil. This is due to the different fatty acid compositions of the two oils.
Palm oil is an extremely versatile oil that has many different properties and functions which makes it so useful and so widely used. It is semi-solid at room temperature so can keep spreads spreadable; it is resistant to oxidation and so can give products a longer shelf-life; it’s stable at high temperatures and so helps to give fried products a crispy and crunchy texture; it’s also odourless and colourless so doesn’t alter the look or smell of food products. In Asian and African countries, palm oil is used widely as cooking oil, just like we might use sunflower or olive oil here. Its taste is considered savoury and earthy. Some people describe its flavour as being similar to carrot or pumpkin.
Palm oil is sometimes added to peanut butter and other nut butter as a stabilizer to prevent the oil from separating and settling at the top of the jar. In addition to nut butter, palm oil can be found in several other foods, including Cereals, Baked goods like bread, cookies and muffins, Protein bars and diet bars, Chocolate, Coffee creamers and Margarine
In the 1980s, palm oil was replaced with trans fats in many products due to concerns that consuming tropical oils might jeopardize heart health.
However, after studies revealed the health risks of trans fats, food manufacturers resumed using palm oil. The oil now is often found in products such as bread, ice cream, and other processed foods, as it is trans-fat free, as well as some cosmetics such as makeup and soap.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding palm oil because many palm oil plantations have contributed to the decimation of the rainforest. There are several ethical issues regarding palm oil production’s effects on the environment, wildlife and communities. Replacing tropical forests and peatland with palm oil trees is devastating the environment, wildlife and people’s quality of life. In order to accommodate oil palm plantations, tropical forests and peatland are being destroyed. Deforestation is anticipated to have devastating effects on global warming, as the forests play a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gasses by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. In addition, the destruction of native landscapes causes changes in the ecosystem that threaten the health and diversity of wildlife.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an organization committed to making oil production as environmentally friendly, culturally sensitive and sustainable as possible. They only award RSPO certification to producers who adhere to their standards by following certain guidelines, including:
- No clearing of forests or areas that contain endangered species, fragile ecosystems or areas critical to meeting basic or traditional community needs.
- Significantly reduced the use of pesticides and fires.
- Fair treatment of workers, according to local and international labour rights standards.
- Informing and consulting with local communities before the development of new oil palm plantations on their land.
RSPO represents the largest, independent, third-party standard for more sustainable production of palm oil. Certified palm oil protects the environment and the local communities who depend on it for their livelihoods, so that palm oil can continue to play a key role in food security.
Despite the benefits, other oils are recommended for use in cooking such as olive oil.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to avoid using products with palm oil as its use is now so common across the world. To lessen the impact, looking for products that only contain sustainable palm oil is a good start. An extremely versatile ingredient that’s cheaper and more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils, palm oil is found today in half of all consumer goods. Palm oil is in nearly everything – it’s in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in grocery stores, everything from pizza, doughnuts and chocolate, to laundry detergent, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick. Palm oil is also found in biodiesel used to power cars (more than 50% of the European Union’s palm oil consumption in 2017 reportedly went to this purpose). It’s also used in animal feed and as a biofuel in many parts of the world (not in the UK though!).
You may never have walked into a grocery store with it written on your shopping list, but you’ve certainly walked out with bags full of it. We wash our hair with it, brush our teeth with it, smother our skin in it, and use it to powder our cheeks, plump our lashes, and colour our lips. We clean our houses with it, fuel our cars with it, and eat it in chocolate, bread, ice cream, pizza, breakfast cereal, and candy bars.
Made from: The fruit (not the seeds) of the palm tree which is native to Africa.
Best for: It is often used for sautéing, deep frying or in baking at very high temperatures because it has a high smoke point.
Not recommended for: since you can get similar health benefits from other oils and foods, it’s probably best to use other fat sources for most of your daily needs.
Pros: It’s got nutrients like vitamin E and the antioxidant beta-carotene—even more so if you buy the unrefined version, usually called Red Palm Fruit Oil. It’s also known for its long shelf life.
Cons: It’s got a higher percentage of saturated fat than most other plant oils—still a red flag according to most nutrition experts.
Note: Palm oil is one of the most widely used oils in the world. However, the effects of its production on the environment, the health of wild animals and the lives of indigenous people are deeply concerning. If you want to use palm oil, purchase ethical, RSPO-certified brands.
Other uses: This oil is found in toothpaste, soap and cosmetics. In addition, it can be used to produce biodiesel fuel, which serves as an alternative energy source.
Smoke point: Difractionated 221-235°C (430-455°F)
Fast2eat all-inclusive guide with the best and worst cooking oils for your health:
Cooking Oils Recommended by Canada’s food guide
But it says “These foods contain healthy fats: nuts; seeds and avocado”.
“Make a healthy choice – What you eat on a regular basis matters for your health.”
Canada’s food guide .