Fast2eat all-inclusive guide with the best and worst cooking oils for your health.
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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.
Shortening was once made from animal fat (lard). It has a long history of use in American kitchens that dates back to the early 1900s.
Vegetable shortening was developed in the early 1900s as a more economical and nutritional alternative to animal fat. It also provided a vegetable-based fat that vegetarians and people with religious dietary restrictions could use in cooking and baking.
Shortening is so called because it gives a “short” texture (as in shortbread). Shortening is a type of fat used in cooking and baking. The term “shortening” technically refers to any type of semisolid fat that is mostly solid at room temperature. This includes butter, margarine and lard.
The market term now almost always refers to shortening made from vegetable oils like soybean, cottonseed or refined palm oil, which are naturally liquid at room temperature. However, Vegetable shortening is made through a process called hydrogenation, which transforms liquid vegetable oil into solid vegetable fat by bombarding the oil with hydrogen atoms. This changes the chemical structure of the oil from mostly unsaturated to mostly saturated.
This causes the oils to become more solid, creating a thick texture that makes shortening good to use for specific types of cooking and baking. It also allows shortening to be very shelf-stable and stored at room temperature.
Until recently, shortening was almost always made of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Partially hydrogenated oil contains trans-fats, which have been implicated in causing heart disease. Newer products avoid trans-fats by using a mixture of unhydrogenated oil and fully hydrogenated oil.
When oils are fully hydrogenated, they are completely changed from unsaturated fats to saturated fats, so no trans fats are produced. Yet full hydrogenation results in a very hard fat, which no longer has a soft, spreadable texture. Therefore, fully hydrogenated oils are commonly blended with liquid oil in a process called interesterification, which results in a spreadable texture.
When an oil is only partially hydrogenated, it is still somewhat soft and has a creamy, spreadable texture. For this reason, the superior texture of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils makes them the ideal shortening. Unfortunately, partial hydrogenation also creates artificial trans fats, which have serious negative health effects. Trans fats raise your risk of heart disease, death from heart disease, heart attack and stroke. They also raise your “bad” cholesterol levels, lower your “good” cholesterol and cause inflammation and the hardening of your arteries. Trans fats can also make it hard for your cells to communicate, impairing the functions of your nervous system and affecting the brain and psychological health.
For these reasons, since 2006 the FDA has required all food labels to list the trans-fat content. Consequently, most food companies have reformulated their products to remove all or most trans fats. Most shortenings are now advertised as being trans-fat-free.
Still, check the label. If hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is listed first, the product may contain more trans fats than you want. To find out if your shortening contains trans fats, read the ingredients list. If it contains “partially” hydrogenated vegetable oil, then it contains trans fats too.
Most of the new shortenings are free of trans fats, and they are made with a combination of fully hydrogenated palm oil and soybean oil. The lack of trans fats in newer recipes means that these shortenings do not carry the same health risks as traditional shortening that does contain trans fats. However, the health effects of interesterified fats are still largely unknown. There simply has not been enough research yet to know how these fats affect the heart and metabolic health in the long term. A few studies in rats have found that high levels of interesterified fats have negative effects on blood lipids. However, these effects have not been seen when these fats are eaten in more normal amounts.
While shortening does supply the essential vitamin E and vitamin K, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats, it doesn’t supply anything in the way of other essential nutrients such as protein, fibre, iron or vitamin C. Just 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening can be a significant amount over the limit of saturated fat. Even more dangerous is the trans fat it contains. Aim to completely eliminate trans fats from your diet because they raise bad cholesterol levels, lower good cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.
Shortening has a higher smoke point than butter and margarine (it is less flammable), leading to its use in deep-fat frying and as a pan coating to prevent baked goods from sticking and is 100 % fat (compared to butter and margarine that contain milk solids). The fat content of vegetable shortening makes it useful for frying and for recipes that require pure fat. Therefore, it is very high in calories, offers no nutritional benefits, and contains neither carbs nor protein.
It is more economical than butter or lard; as it can be stored at room temperature it does not require refrigeration (it may last up to one year in an airtight container), and can extend the shelf life of some foods and baked goods.
Some vegetable shortening contains tiny bubbles filled with nitrogen. These bubbles are useful in recipes that require leavening. These vegetable shortenings may also contain emulsifiers that help stabilize the gas-filled bubbles and disperse the fat.
Because of shortening’s unique characteristics, it’s often used in baking. Vegetable shortening adds a flaky texture to foods such as pie crust and pastry shells. Nevertheless, some people prefer butter because it has a richer flavour and produces a chewier, crispier product. Therefore, which fat is superior for baking really depends on the texture and taste you prefer.
Firm fats produce flaky pastry; oils yield more compact pastry. The proportion of shortening in doughs and batters varies according to the product, with bread and rolls containing about 1–2%, cakes containing 10–20%, and piecrusts containing over 30%. Increasing shortening proportions increases tenderness, but very high proportions may cause cakes to fall. When vegetable shortening is used in cookies instead of butter, the cookies may have a fluffy texture but lack flavour. If half butter and half vegetable shortening are used, both texture and flavour may improve. If butter must be excluded for religious or dietary reasons, butter flavouring or ground nuts could be added to the batter for their rich flavour and for the granular texture of nuts.
In addition to limiting your intake of foods that contain shortening, you can also replace shortening with other alternatives in recipes.
- Butter is probably the most popular alternative to shortening. Many people actually prefer butter because of the rich flavour it adds. Some people are hesitant to use butter because it is naturally high in saturated fat, containing about twice as much as shortening. In the past, health experts have claimed that eating saturated fat is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Therefore, butter is a suitable alternative to shortening in most recipes. Just be aware that the water in butter may create a slightly different texture than shortening would. Clarified butter, which contains very little water, is also a good alternative.
- Palm or Coconut Oil Shortenings – Coconut and unrefined palm oil are naturally high in saturated fat, which makes them solid at room temperature. This solid, spreadable texture means they are easy replacements for shortening. Many brands now sell alternative shortenings made from pure palm or coconut oil, which can replace shortening at a 1:1 ratio. But these options are not without drawbacks. Coconut oil may give foods a nutty or coconut flavour. And palm oil has come under fire because harvesting it has negative effects on the environment.
- Other Plant Oils – Most plant oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which causes them to be liquid at room temperature. So they are only a good choice for recipes that call for melted shortening. Some evidence shows that replacing saturated fat in the diet with unsaturated fat can reduce your risk of heart disease. However, some types of plant oils are also rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which most people already consume far too much of. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that the cooking temperature does not exceed the smoke point of the oil you use. Some plant oils are good choices for cooking, while others are not. Check out “Different Types of Cooking Oils – Choose Wisely” for more information on which oils are the best for cooking.
Made from: Shortening can be made from either animal fat or vegetable oil, but shortening made from partially or fully hydrogenated vegetable oil is more common nowadays.
Best for: Shortening is traditionally used in pastries such as cookies, pie crusts, cakes or frosting.
Not recommended for: It’s a good idea to limit your intake of shortening and use healthier alternatives when possible. Shortening can be replaced with alternatives like butter, coconut oil, palm oil or other healthy plant oils.
Pros: Shortening is used in baking to give pastries a tender texture. Many people use shortening because it’s cheaper, higher in fat and more stable than other types of fat.
Cons: Unlike some other types of fat, shortening contains 100% fat. Therefore, it is very high in calories and low in nutrients. Shortening is still highly processed and is typically only used to make fried foods or pastries that are high in added fat and sugar. Shortening was traditionally made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Partial hydrogenation creates a smooth, spreadable texture, but also produces harmful trans fats.
Note: Most types of shortening have been reformulated to be trans-fat-free. However, shortening is still highly processed and the health effects of the new methods are still unknown. Therefore, while it’s okay to enjoy the occasional treat, it is a good idea to limit your use of shortening overall.
Smoke point: (hydrogenated) 165°C (329°F)
Margarine is an emulsion containing about 80% fat, from either animal or vegetable sources, plus water, salt, emulsifiers, and sometimes milk solids. They are white to yellow in colour, with neutral or butterlike flavour and solid consistency.
Margarine has a high melting point, produces tender products, and is especially popular for use in puff pastes. Margarine is used for spreads and in cooking. Nutritionally, margarine is primarily a source of calories. None of the major brands has any dietary cholesterol since almost all is made from vegetable oils.
When shopping for margarine or spread, there are some pointers on how to choose one with “better” ingredients.
Most margarine products have labels telling how much saturated and polyunsaturated fat they contain. Look for a product with at least twice as much polyunsaturated as saturated fat. If a brand doesn’t give you a breakdown of fats, be suspicious. Although all the oils commonly used in margarine are high in polyunsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, they vary substantially.
Be wary of sodium content, which tends to be relatively high.
Some margarine, are mostly a mix of canola and soybean oils. Soybean oil is too high in omega-6 fatty acids which can lead to inflammation and other diseases. Canola oil is highly processed and treated with chemical deodorizers and solvents. On top of that, some brands also include safflower, sunflower, corn oil which are also notoriously high in omega-6 fatty acids.
Vegetable fats can contain anything from 7% to 86% saturated fatty acids. Liquid oils (canola oil, sunflower oil) tend to be on the low end, while tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil) and fully hardened (hydrogenated) oils are at the high end of the scale. A margarine blend is a mixture of both types of components. Generally, firmer margarine contains more saturated fat.
There are two types of unsaturated oils: mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, both of which are recognized as beneficial to health in contrast to saturated fats. As in butter, 100 % of margarine’s calories come from fat, but the fat is largely polyunsaturated. Some widely grown vegetable oils, such as rapeseed (and its variant canola), sunflower, safflower, and olive oils contain high amounts of unsaturated fats.
Typical soft tub margarine contains 10% to 20% of saturated fat. Regular butterfat contains 52 to 65% saturated fats. It is recommended saturated fat intake to be as low as possible.
Omega-3 fatty acids are mostly obtained from oily fish caught in high-latitude waters. They are comparatively uncommon in vegetable sources, including margarine. However, one type of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be found in some vegetable oils. Flaxseed oil contains 30-50% of ALA, and is becoming a popular dietary supplement to rival fish oils; both are often added to premium margarine. An ancient oil plant, Camelina sativa, has recently gained popularity because of its high omega-3 content (30-45%), and it has been added to some kinds of margarine. Hemp oil contains about 20% ALA. Small amounts of ALA are found in vegetable oils such as soybean oil (7%), rapeseed oil (7%) and wheat germ oil (5%).
Omega-6 fatty acids are also important for health. They include the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (LA), which is abundant in vegetable oils grown in temperate climates. Some, such as hemp (60%) and the common margarine oils corn (60%), cottonseed (50%) and sunflower (50%), have large amounts, but most temperate oilseeds have over 10% LA. Margarine is very high in omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is typically 5:1 to 10:1. Large amounts of omega-6 decrease the effect of omega-3. Therefore, it is recommended that the ratio in the diet should be less than 4:1, although the optimal ratio may be closer to 1:1.
During the manufacture of margarine, makers may convert some unsaturated fat into hydrogenated fats or trans fats to give them a higher melting point so they stay solid at room temperatures. Unlike essential fatty acids, trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no known benefit to human health besides providing calories. Several large studies have indicated a link between consumption of high amounts of trans fat and coronary heart disease, and possibly some other diseases, prompting a number of government health agencies across the world to recommend that the intake of trans fats be minimized.
For a long time, margarine was a danger because it was high in trans fat which contributes to heart disease. However, nowadays people are wise to the dangers of trans fats, so most margarine does not contain trans fats because they are associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, but it’s still not a good choice for consumption. Still, check the label. If a hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil is listed first, the product may contain more trans fats than you want.
Replacing saturated and trans unsaturated fats with unhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease than reducing overall fat intake.
Margarine is rich in vitamin E. Unless fortified with micronutrients during manufacturing, there are no other nutrients in significant content. Vitamin A and vitamin D may be added for fortification.
The roles of butter and traditional margarine (80% fat) are similar with respect to their energy content, but low-fat margarine and spreads are also widely available.
- Vegetable-oil spreads contain less than the 80 % fat by weight required in margarine, but this does not necessarily add up to them being more healthful than regular margarine.
- Diet or reduced-calorie margarine though all of its calories still come from fat (about 45 % fat by weight), it is diluted with water, so it has half the fat and calories of regular margarine per tablespoon. It is not, however, suitable for cooking.
- Butter-margarine blends are anywhere from 15 to 40 % butter. Thus they contain some of the butter’s saturated fat, as well as its taste.
- Cholesterol-lowering spreads are brands of margarine that can actually lower total blood cholesterol by an average of 10 % when eaten in sufficient quantities daily. They are stated to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels without adversely affecting HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. These cholesterol-lowering spreads are intended to be taken in daily doses (each of them is slightly different) in order to have a beneficial effect.
Lard is made from hogs fat, has solid consistency, white colour, about 98% fat content, and mild, pleasing flavour and odour considered desirable in bread, crackers, cookies (sweet biscuits), and pie-crusts.
Nutritionally speaking, lard has nearly one-fourth the saturated fat and more than twice the monounsaturated fat as butter. It is also low in omega-6 fatty acids, known to promote inflammation; according to lard enthusiasts free-range pigs that eat greens, not grains, have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Because lard contains more saturated fat than veggie oils, it doesn’t go rancid as quickly.
Lard is lower in saturated fat than other animal fats, it contains about 40% saturated fat as opposed to butter’s 60%, and higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat—the type that gives olive oil its health halo. Lard is made up of 45% monounsaturated fat — compare that to only 32% in butter and 6% in coconut oil. Plus, in its natural form, lard has none of the trans fats that we know are bad for you. Making lard one of the best of the well-known solid fats.
With all these benefits, are there any cons to consuming lard? Some experts still believe it’s important to watch your saturated fat intake, as dairy and meat, even from pasture-raised animals, contain cholesterol. Getting more than 7% of your calories from saturated fat increases the risk for high cholesterol and heart disease, even though more recent research suggests this is not the case.
Experts go back and forth on lard. Health-wise, it’s no olive oil, but when you cook with lard, you get the bonus of adding extra Vitamin D to your diet, which no other fat except butter can claim (and it contains a lot more Vitamin D than butter). A tablespoon of lard from a pasture-raised pig has about 1,000 IU of vitamin D. By comparison, 1 tablespoon of butter has 9 IU of vitamin D, while the same amount of olive oil has none. In fact, lard is one of the highest dietary sources of vitamin D.
Lard does not last quite as long as shortening does. Refrigeration will help. Refrigeration is a good idea anyway because the pastry-like foods commonly made with lard will turn out best if everything (ingredients, rolling pin, work surface, bowls, etc.) is kept cold until baking.
Lard also just makes things taste better—there’s a reason your grandma used it in everything from pies to scrambled eggs. Just don’t fill up your deep fryer. Lard has a low smoke point. It’s a higher smoke point than olive oil or butter, but lower than veggie or safflower oil. But it can handle a 400-degree oven, and you can toss it in a sauté pan instead of butter to fry eggs or sauté veggies. And it’s tasty—really tasty. Its smoky, unctuous flavour is the secret ingredient in some of the best pie crusts and baked goods, and it can be used to baste chickens at the end of cooking to get a crackly skin, and confit chickens or ducks. It also has the reputation of producing ultra-flaky pastry crust. Lard is sometimes used in biscuits and pie dough, as it is very rich and makes an extremely tender, flaky crust. Lard is particularly important for traditional pie crusts, such as the one for apple pie. Substitution is not advised. Lard also can be used in roast potatoes. There’s no comparison in cooking beans with lard and cooking them with oil.
Larding is the process by which lardons (bits of lard) are injected into meat. This is sometimes done before cooking a tough piece of meat.
Types of lard that you can get at high-end specialty markets or online include:
- Fatback lard is created by grinding and heating the skin and subcutaneous fat from, primary the back and sides of a hog. A process known as rendering.
- Leaf lard is rendered from fat taken from abdomen and kidney region. Leaf lard is used especially in baking. Leaf lard is the firmest, least flavourful, and least aromatic of any rendered hog fats. The best lard considered to be minimally processed.
- A product simply called “lard” is any fat rendered from a hog.
Cans of lard are available in grocery stores, but most of these products have been hydrogenated so they’ll last longer and are probably not what you want.
Bacon grease is lard. Same goes for fatty bacon, pork shoulders, and pork butts. Store-bought lard from the grocery store can’t compete with high-quality lard from a butcher.
That aside, if you’re ready to add lard to your diet, there’s an important caveat to its health benefits: Lard that’s sold solid at room temperature and doesn’t need to be refrigerated does contain trans-fat and likely less of the good-for-you vitamin D. Plus, it’s not nearly as good for cooking, commercial lard is “like poison”. Instead, consider making your own lard, which is very easy to make. Ask your butcher for back fat or leaf lard or getting a pasture-raised, organic cut of pork like bacon or pork belly and rendering it at home, which is as simple as slicing off the fat, cutting it up, and cooking it low and slow on the stove or in your oven. If you’ve been slow-cooking a pork shoulder (preferably with some cuts in the fat tissue to let the lard drain out) for a while or sizzling away bacon, the fat that has rendered in the bottom of the pan is lard. If the drippings are allowed to sit in a tall glass container, lard will float to the top. One tip: pour that fat through a very fine strainer to remove any burned, black flecks. Those burned bits can turn your lard. Be sure to allow enough time for the non-lard content to settle out; reheating may be required. Once settled, the lard must be refrigerated. Store in tightly sealed container in the fridge or freezer, and it can keep for months. Home-made lard can have a bit of a roast pork flavour, which is very good for making beans.
Made from: any part of the pig where there is a high proportion of adipose tissue.
Best for: can be used in everything from pies to scrambled eggs. You can toss it in a sauté pan to fry eggs or sauté veggies. It can be used to baste chickens at the end of cooking to get a crackly skin, and confit chickens or ducks. Lard is also used in biscuits and pie dough, as it is very rich and makes an extremely tender, ultra-flaky pastry crust. Lard also can be used in roast potatoes, and in cooking beans with it.
Not recommended for: Don’t fill up your deep fryer. Lard has a low smoke point.
Pros: Lard one of the best of the well-known solid fats. It is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and it boasts a punch of Vitamin D.
Cons: Lard is high in Saturated Fats.
Note: The best way to use it, as is true of most fats, is to use it in moderation!
How to store: Lard does not last quite as long as shortening does. Refrigeration will help.
Smoke point: 190°C (374°F)
Ghee also known as Ghrita, is a class of clarified butter that originated in India. It is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asian cuisine, traditional medicine, and religious rituals.
Ghee is made by slowly melting regular butter. The butter separates into liquid fats and milk solids. Once separated, the milk solids are removed, which means that ghee has less lactose than butter. The resulting ghee has a rich, nutty flavour, almost like popcorn butter.
Butter is made up of three components: fat, water, and milk solids, which house the proteins. Ghee is the butter without the milk solids. It’s simply the fat and water. It’s more concentrated in fat than butter because its water and milk solids have been removed.
Butter = yellow, milk solids = white. If you were to make clarified butter, you’d simply skim/strain off the white milk solids from the top. For ghee, keep heating the butter until the milk solids brown and sink to the bottom. Once they’ve sunk, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth. The remaining golden liquid is your ghee. It keeps much longer than butter, has a high smoke point, and you can cook pretty much anything with it (like searing meats or sauteing veggies). Ghee and clarified butter are similar cook-wise, but ghee adds a rich, nutty flavour. This makes your pancakes char-free and exceptionally tasty.
Because ghee and butter both derive from cow’s milk, their nutritional profiles and fat content are very similar. However, because ghee does not contain the same levels of dairy proteins as butter, it may be better for people who do not tolerate dairy products well. One of the best ghee benefits is that it’s free of lactose and casein protein. Some individuals have a milk allergy, which may stem from a heightened sensitivity to casein, and others may be hypersensitive to lactose. For individuals with a casein allergy, the reaction may include swelling of lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat; hives; or congestion.
Those with lactose intolerance have a difficult time digesting the milk sugar lactose, but symptoms are generally much less dangerous than a casein allergy. Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, gurgling and cramps. The majority of people who have sensitivities to either casein or lactose don’t have an issue with ghee, as these elements have been removed through skimming and straining. Often, those with dairy sensitivities can tolerate ghee (consult a doctor if you have a severe allergy).
Various research studies have looked at the possible benefits and risks of heart disease of including ghee in a person’s diet.
According to researches, ghee contains more than 60% saturated fat, which has led to concerns that ghee might increase the risk of coronary artery disease(CAD) in India.
However, other studies in north India suggests that the fat and cholesterol in the blood was healthier in the people who ate more ghee and less mustard oil as sources of fat in their diets. Results included lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels and higher HDL or good cholesterol levels. This study only compared results between ghee and mustard oil and not butter. Some forms of mustard oil are banned for consumption in the United States, Canada, and Europe because they contain erucic acid.
Ghee is full of fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fatty acids, and ghee benefits can range from building stronger bones to enhancing weight loss.
Ghee is rich in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 which can help balance hormones. It is also rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) — the essential fatty acid found almost exclusively in grass-fed animals which is now believed to protect against cancer, heart disease, and type II diabetes. Others have found that it supports digestion, has shown promising results as potential food for decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease and can help with weight management. Vitamin K is essential to many aspects of health, such as blood clotting, heart health and brain function. It’s also incredibly important when it comes to keeping your bones healthy and strong. This is because vitamin K is directly involved in bone metabolism and increases the amount of a specific protein that is required to maintain the calcium in your bones. Ghee supplies a small amount of vitamin K but can make a big difference when combined with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. Adding a few servings of ghee into your day is an excellent way to squeeze in some extra fat-soluble vitamins. Ghee can help boost your intake of vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K, all important nutrients that play a role in everything from maintaining healthy vision to keeping your skin glowing. Ghee is jam-packed with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid associated with a long list of health benefits. Some studies have found that CLA may be effective in reducing body fat, preventing cancer formation, alleviating inflammation and even lowering blood pressure.) Keep in mind that grass-fed dairy provides a higher concentration of this important fatty acid. Opt for grass-fed ghee whenever possible, or be sure to use grass-fed butter if you’re making ghee at home.
Ghee contains a fatty acid called Butyrate, or butyrate acid, which plays an essential role in digestive health. Some studies have suggested that it may help support healthy insulin levels, and provide relief for individuals suffering from conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It may also have anti-inflammatory effects like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even certain types of cancer. However, this important fatty acid is also made by the gut flora when you eat fibre, a person does not need to consume saturated fat to obtain this. Additionally, some studies have suggested that butyrate may provide relief from constipation. A review out of Poland, for example, noted that butyric acid has been shown to reduce pain during defecation and improve peristalsis, or the contraction of muscles in the intestines, to help propel food through the digestive tract.
All in all, while you shouldn’t go chugging the stuff, it could be a good thing to incorporate into your diet, especially to replace butter or other cooking oils.
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to burn and smoke. Not only does heating a cooking fat above its smoke point put it at a greater risk of hitting its flash point and causing a fire, but it also breaks down important phytonutrients and causes the fat to oxidize and form harmful free radicals.
Ghee is an excellent choice for cooking because of its high smoke point and beneficial effects on health. The smoke point of ghee is 251°C (485°F), which is much higher than the smoke point of butter at 176°C (350°F). This means that you can easily use ghee for baking, sautéing, frying and roasting without the risk of destroying the important nutrients that it contains that provide all these wonderful ghee benefits.
It has a Strong, Buttery Flavour – By removing the milk solids and water from butter, ghee is left with a stronger, more intense flavour than regular butter. Its taste is also often described as nuttier, richer and deeper than butter. When you’re cooking with ghee, you may find that you’ll need even less to get that same satisfying, buttery flavour.
Ghee is generally used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking for curries, dals, sautéing and for flavouring desserts. Treat ghee like any other cooking oil. Roast meat with it, stir-frying, saute vegetables, melt it over steamed vegetables, cook pancakes. Ghee can be used as a substitute for butter, and many people think that ghee might be a more healthful alternative for using in cooking. Use ghee for any cooking in a skillet like stir-fries, scrambled eggs, sauteed veggies, etc. Really just use it to cook however you like – you won’t have to worry about burntness – or add it onto bread, toast, crackers, muffins, waffles, popcorn, sandwiches, or other baked goods to replace butter. The possibilities are endless.
You can also make your own ghee from butter. A person can make ghee at home using regular unsalted butter. Melt the butter slowly and skim off the solids that gather on the surface. Continue to cook the butter until all the milk solids have sunk to the bottom and the liquid is clear — this is clarified butter. Continue to cook for a few more minutes until the milk solids at the bottom of the pan turn brown. The cooked milk solids give the ghee its flavour and colour. Sieve the liquid into a jar or bottle and let it cool and solidify.
Studies have found that ghee may improve some heart health markers. However, make sure to choose dairy ghee and not vegetable ghee.
Ghee is made from butter and is not vegan. If you’re following a vegan diet, it’s best to stick to other healthy dairy-free fats.
In moderation, ghee can be an incredibly healthy dietary addition. However, it is possible to overdo it, and eating too much can actually have a negative impact on your health. Like any type of fat, if eaten in excess, ghee disadvantages can range from diarrhoea to indigestion. Long-term, an extremely high-fat diet may also result in issues like weight gain and heart disease.
Additionally, some studies have found that the cholesterol in ghee may oxidize when exposed to high heat. The oxidation of cholesterol is linked to several adverse health effects, including heart disease and even cancer.
However, if enjoyed in moderate amounts, most research indicates that ghee can make a nutritious addition to the diet. For best results, pair it with a balanced diet and other heart-healthy fats, like olive oil.
Potential adverse effects of ghee include an increase in LDL cholesterol levels and the formation of oxidized cholesterol during its production.
Since the milk solids have been removed, ghee is shelf-stable at room temperature (after all, there wasn’t refrigeration for most of our history). You can keep ghee in the pantry and it should stay good for months, unless you introduce extra moisture or ingredients – for example, spreading jam on your gluten-free toast and then dipping the same knife into the ghee, or swallowing a spoonful and then going back for more with the same spoon. If you use ghee sparingly and won’t get through it in a few months to a year, or don’t want to worry about ‘double-dipping’, you can store your ghee in the fridge. It will firm up in cooler temperatures but will soften if you take it out of the fridge a half an hour or so before you want to enjoy it.
It provides certain cooking advantages over butter and is definitely preferable if you have a dairy allergy or intolerance. However, at this point, there isn’t any evidence suggesting that it’s healthier than butter overall. Both can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Made from: Ghee is made by heating butter to remove the milk solids and water. However, it is heated longer than clarified butter to bring out the butter’s inherent nutty flavour. LIke regular butter, it is usually made from cow’s milk.
Best for: Incredibly versatile and easy to use, ghee can replace other fats in your diet and can be used for roasting, sautéing or baking a variety of dishes.
Not recommended for: Ghee may be better for high-temperature cooking, but butter has a sweeter, creamier taste that may be more suitable for baking and cooking at lower temperatures.
Pros: It has a high smoke point, is free of lactose and casein, and is high in beneficial compounds like CLA and butyrate. It also contains several fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, E and K. Ghee benefits include improving digestion, reducing inflammation, promoting weight loss and strengthening the bones. Compared to butter, it has a higher smoke point, more intense flavour, and a greater amount of short- and medium-chain fatty acids — not to mention a host of ghee benefits.
Cons: Eating too much can have a negative impact on your health, like weight gain, diarrhoea, indigestion and heart disease. Additionally, some studies have found that the cholesterol in ghee may oxidize when exposed to high heat. The oxidation of cholesterol is linked to several adverse health effects, including heart disease and even cancer.
Note: While ghee should be limited, a person can occasionally include it in a varied and balanced diet.
Other uses: Use ghee in natural beauty care recipes. Ghee is still used in Ayurvedic massage and as a base for herbal ointments to treat burns and rashes.
How to store: Because its milk solids have been removed, it does not require refrigeration and can be kept at room temperature for several weeks. In fact, like coconut oil, it may become solid when kept at cold temperatures.
Where to buy: ghee is widely available at most grocery stores and health shops and can typically be found in the ethnic food section or next to other oils, such as coconut oil. You can also easily purchase ghee online from many major retailers or even try your hand at making ghee at home. Be sure to look for grass-fed, organic ghee whenever possible. You can buy ghee, just as you can buy clarified butter, but if you’ve got some butter on hand and about ten minutes of free time, there’s really no need to.
Smoke point: (depending on purity) 218- 251°C (425-485°F)
Made by churning cream until it reaches a solid state, butter comes in sweet (unsalted) and lightly salted varieties as well as whipped and reduced-calorie versions.
Whipped butter, which is packed in tubs and comes sweet and lightly salted, has had air or nitrogen gas beaten into it, making it soft and easy to spread at refrigeration temperatures.
Reduced-calorie butter, with about half the calories of regular butter, has—in addition to cream—water, fat-free milk, and gelatin.
Butter has long been used as a spread and as a cooking fat. It is an important edible fat in northern Europe, North America, and other places where cattle are the primary dairy animals. In all, about a third of the world’s milk production is devoted to making butter.
It is solid but soft at room temperature and melts easily. Its colour is generally pale yellow but can vary from deep yellow to nearly white depending largely on what type of food the animals were eating. (Butter is typically paler in the winter, for example, when dairy cattle feed on stored hay rather than fresh grass). In the United States, vegetable colour can be added to commercial butter in order to improve yellowness.
Real butter does not contain any trans fats. However, it does contain high levels of saturated fat, which can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease if not eaten in moderation. However, fats are essential for a healthful diet, a person should limit their intake of saturated fats and increase their intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are healthful fats. It is recommended that a person should get no more than 5 to 6% of their total daily calories from saturated fat, which is about 13 grams per day. Good sources of healthful fats include fish, nuts, seeds, and olives.
Butter contains more than just saturated fat. People are often surprised to learn that about a third of the fat in butter is actually monounsaturated—the same sort of heart-healthy fat that’s in olive oil and avocado. The same or similar is true of most animal foods, by the way. Although we tend to think of meat, eggs, and dairy products as containing mostly or only saturated fat, this is not the case. Up to half of the fat in beef is monounsaturated. Two-thirds of the fat in an egg is unsaturated. Ironically, the only foods I can think of that contain virtually all saturated fat is plant-based: coconut and palm oil.
It is recommended that anyone who is aiming to lower their LDL cholesterol should get no more than 5–6% of their total calorie intake from saturated fat. On a 2,000 calorie diet, this equates to 11–13 g of saturated fat per day. Therefore, two tablespoons of butter provide more saturated fat than most people should be consuming daily. Eating lots of saturated fats can increase a person’s LDL cholesterol level. As butter contains a lot of saturated fat, people with high cholesterol should be mindful of how much they consume each day. It is suggested replacing it with healthy fat alternatives such as avocados and olive oil.
Butter is a high-energy food, containing approximately 715 calories per 100 grams. It has a high content of butterfat, or milk fat (at least 80%), but is low in protein.
There are a lot of fat soluble vitamins in butter. This includes vitamins A, E and K2 and minor amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. If you’re eating a healthy diet that includes animals and plants then you are probably getting enough of vitamins A and E already—you’ll get more of both of these nutrients from olive oil. But vitamin K2 is fairly rare in the modern diet and many people don’t know about. Vitamin K2 can have powerful effects on health. It is intimately involved in calcium metabolism and a low intake has been associated with many serious diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Butter is one of the relatively few dietary sources for vitamin K2, a nutrient that is important for strong bones. Although, if it’s K2 you’re after, there are better sources, such as natto (a fermented soybean preparation common in Japan) and other fermented foods. Grass-fed butter may even reduce heart attack risk due to the high Vitamin K2 content. Make sure you get grass-fed butter to get the maximum health benefits. Organic raw grass-fed butter is the best option.
The colour of butter is caused by carotene and other fat-soluble pigments in the fat. Butter is full of beneficial short and medium chain fatty acids and CLA. All of which help support your immune system, protect your brain and keep you healthy.
Butter is an excellent source of the 4-carbon fatty acid butyrate, which can have various health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, and powerful protective effects on the digestive system such as anti-cancer effects, especially in the gut. The 4-carbon fatty acid butyrate is created by bacteria in the colon when they are exposed to dietary fibre. This may be the main reason fibre has health benefits for humans. So, one way to get more butyrate in your gut is to eat more fibre, which promotes the health of those bacteria. Another way is to eat foods that contain a good dietary source of butyrate, including butter, which is about 3-4% butyrate.
Grass-fed butter contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) which has been shown to improve body composition in several studies. This fatty acid has powerful effects on metabolism and is actually sold commercially as a weight loss supplement. CLA has been shown to have anti-cancer properties as well as lowering body fat percentage in humans. However, some studies on CLA show no effect on body composition.
Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are found in butter and other full-fat dairy products but also coconut and palm oil. Although you’ll see a lot about the health benefits of CLA and MCTs online, the research to support these claims has been rather underwhelming, so far.
Choline is an essential nutrient that has many important functions in the body, including synthesizing neurotransmitters and protecting neurons. The average intake for this nutrient is only about half of what’s considered to be adequate. Although butter does contain small amounts of choline, whole eggs, meat, fish, and cruciferous vegetables are much better sources.
Where your butter comes from (and how the animals were treated) do affect the quality of the product (including vitamin content). Regular or non-grass-fed butter contains significantly less, if any, of these nutrients. When looking for good quality butter, raw and cultured is best. This might be hard to find, however. Organic butter is your next best thing, with store-bought CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) butter being at the bottom. But even if you can’t afford (or find) quality butter, commercial butter still outshines the butter “alternatives” any day.
Butter should be used in low-temperature cooking since the smoke point is 150-190°C (302-375°F).
Butter is one of those foods that can turn bland meals into masterpieces. It is used as a condiment and for cooking in much the same ways as vegetable oils or lard.
Butter, with yellow colour, solid consistency, and about 80% fat content, is valued for its sweet flavour, pleasant aroma, and ability to contribute great tenderness to baked products. It is popular for speciality bread, cookies, and pastries and is rolled into doughs from which flaky and tender pastries, such as Danish pastry and puff-paste products, are made. Because of its high cost, it is used, alone or in shortening mixtures, mainly in higher priced baked goods.
It is fairly perishable, requiring storage at low temperature, and is not easily creamed (blended with sugar), producing cakes with lower volume and coarser grain than those made with more easily creamed shortenings.
Oils that are high in unsaturated fat but low in saturated and trans fats are heart-healthy substitutes for butter. These include avocado, olive, and sunflower oils. Some people use margarine in place of butter, but there is conflicting evidence regarding this replacement. Margarine uses vegetable oil, so it often contains less saturated fat than butter, which contains animal-based fat. However, hard margarine can also contain saturated and trans fats, so it is best to check the nutrition labels. It is possible to quickly compare the nutritional profiles of different butter alternatives. Looking at the nutritional information on food packaging can also help people make healthful choices. The aim should be to limit the intake of saturated and trans fats as much as possible.
Butter is high in calories and fat, so people should eat it in moderation or replace it with healthy unsaturated fats. Eating a lot of butter may contribute to weight gain and could play a part in raising levels of LDL cholesterol. A person can continue to enjoy butter in moderation as part of a healthy diet unless their doctor tells them otherwise.
While using small amounts of butter occasionally shouldn’t be a problem for most people, there are far healthier fats to be choosing. The clear, unequivocal evidence remains that it is better for our hearts to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Other sources of healthy unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado and plant oils, such as cold-pressed olive, avocado or canola oil. Consider avocado, hummus and nut or seed butter as good options for a less-processed, more whole food approach, or use no spread at all. Rather than focusing on specific foods (such as butter) or nutrients, it’s important for us to focus on the bigger picture – which is our overall dietary pattern. A heart-healthy eating pattern is based largely on minimally-processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit. It includes some whole grains in the place of refined grains. It also includes legumes, nuts, seeds, and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish. It may also contain non-processed lean meats or poultry and/or dairy.
It’s true that some intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids is important to our health (take Omega-3 fatty acids for example), but excessive intake is actually linked to chronic disease. It’s really about balance. In fact, excessive consumption of these oils is actually linked to cancer, heart disease, damage to bodily organs, impaired growth and obesity.
Made from: by churning the cream from cows’ milk until it reaches a solid state
Best for: It is used as a condiment and for cooking. It is popular for speciality bread, cookies, and pastries and is rolled into doughs from which flaky and tender pastries, such as Danish pastry and puff-paste products, are made.
Not recommended for: Butter should NOT be used in High-temperature cooking since the smoke point is 150-190°C (302-375°F). Butter in small amounts is fine, but it may cause problems if you eat way too much (for example, by adding a few tablespoons to your morning coffee). Plus, it is not as healthy as extra virgin olive oil, which is the world’s healthiest fat.
Pros: Butter has substantial amounts of vitamins A, E and K2 and minor amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. It also contains carotene, short and medium chain fatty acids, butyrate and CLA. All of which help support your immune system, protect your brain and keep you healthy.
Cons: Real butter does not contain any trans fats. However, it does contain high levels of saturated fat, which can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease if not eaten in moderation. Butter is a high-energy food, containing approximately 715 calories per 100 grams but is low in protein.
Note1: For a product to be called butter, it must be derived exclusively from milk and ingredients that are obtained from milk, including at least 80% milk fat. It may also contain water, salt, lactic acid producing microorganisms and flavour-producing microorganisms. When you see products in the grocery store that are packaged up like butter, or use words such as “butter-flavoured” without specifically stating the product is butter, it’s likely they have been altered in such a way that it no longer meets the content requirements above.
Note2: Make sure you get grass-fed butter to get the maximum health benefits. Organic raw grass-fed butter is the best option.
How to store: It is fairly perishable, requiring storage at low temperature.
- 150-190°C (302-375°F)
- Clarified – 250°C (482°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 .