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Healthy Cooking Oils: The Essential Guide

Posted by cleanteam

clean guide to cooking oils


Healthy Cooking Oils -- which are the best? Which ones should I avoid?

Today, I want to answer these questions and share with you the Healthy Cooking Oils Guide created by my team.

If there’s one thing in your diet you could change today that would have a huge impact long term on your health, it’s this one. It's quite simple: use healthy cooking oils, change your health. Let's start with why fats are important and then get into two ways to upgrade your fats and cooking oils.

Oil, fat, and health

If we are eating a mostly clean diet, much of our diet’s fat content comes from whole foods and oils. For example salmon or other fatty fish, grass-fed animal products, nuts and seeds, avocado, and coconut oil are all healthy sources of fat.

In the nutrition world, we see a range of diet styles that advocate fat intake between 10% to 30%. While the amount of fat you eat is very dependent on lifestyle and genetic factors (i.e. how well you break down saturated fat, how active you are), what is clear is that fats are important for our health).

Fats are needed for hormone production, the building healthy cells, improved skin quality, energy, and help us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

But not all fats are created equal.

The presence of  large amounts of poor quality fats in our diet can do real damage to our health. And when we cook with them, we just make the damage even worse.

Here are two ways to upgrade to healthy cooking oils you are using and improve the overall quality of your diet.

#1 Avoid vegetable seed oils

Vegetable seed oils like canola oil and corn oil are a recent addition to our diets. We have seen a heavy introduction of these oils into the United States started at the beginning of the century and has continued to increase over the years.

They were originally marketed as “heart healthy” alternatives to saturated fats but we are now seeing the health repercussions. These include increased inflammation, free radical damage, and reduced cellular metabolism.

One of the main issues with vegetable oils such as soybean, cottonseed, corn and canola oil is their high amount of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids or PUFAs. While PUFAs are not intrinsically bad, it’s the amounts we are eating today that are creating problems for our health. PUFA’s are also highly unstable.

During the processing of these oils, chemical solvents, and high temperatures are used creating free radicals and often rancid oxidized oils. These are not the items that we want to include in our diet.

Too Much Omega 6

By now, we’ve all heard about the importance of fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids. Doctors recommend you increase the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in our diet by taking fish oil and/or eating fish.

This can be helpful in reducing inflammation and quieting symptoms but it doesn’t address the root cause, the increase in omega 6 intake -- particularly from vegetable seed oils.

Many scientists and anthropological research suggest that our hunter-gather ancestors ate roughly a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.(2)

Throughout most of our evolution, diets tended to be more abundant in omega 3 fatty acids mostly through seafood and low in omega 6 seed oils.

With the inclusion of industrial seed oils over the last 100 years, our consumption of vegetable seed oils has dramatically increased. With this increase comes the shift in ratios of omega 6 to omega 3’s in our body. If we are shooting for 1:1 or 3:1 ratio, some estimates say we are currently at a 20:1 or even 25:1 ratio! (3)

And with this dramatic increase in consumption, we get all the inflammatory conditions associated with increased omega 6 usage.  In fact, a high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the body is associated with an increase in all inflammatory diseases. These include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, even cancer.

Not all plant oils are the same

When I speak about refined seed oils, I’m not talking about all plant oils. Coconut, palm and olive oil are all excellent.

However, the oils listed in our Healthy Cooking Oils Guide below should be avoided, or at least greatly minimized, because of their pro-inflammatory, high omega-6 content. These include some of the ones we've already mentioned like soybean, canola, corn and cottonseed oil. Until that day comes the best thing we can focus on is the thing we can control the most, the oil that we use in our own kitchen.

A note about restaurants

Most restaurants cook with very poor quality oils. You can avoid these oils by ordering salads, steamed and baked foods. But most of the time, it’s impossible to avoid them when eating out.

You can give yourself some protection by taking a small amount of vitamin E (100-400 IU) on days when you are eating out. Vitamin E protects lipids and prevents the oxidation of PUFAs in the body.

Because eating out is something we all do, we hope to see more health-conscious restaurant owners offering to cook with better quality oils like coconut oil. Until that day comes the best thing we can focus on is the variable we control the most, the oil that we use in our own kitchen.

#2 Cook with stable clean oils

Cooking with healthy cooking oils is one of the best things you can do for your health. In general, oils with more saturated fat are more stable at higher temperatures. These include coconut oil, palm oil, grass-fed butter and ghee (clarified butter). Olive oil and avocado oil are also good options for very low-temperature cooking.

Coconut oil is our overall favorite. It’s easy to find and stays stable at medium temperatures. It’s also antibacterial, promotes weight loss, rarely goes rancid and loved by both vegans and omnivores. There is also some suggestion that coconut oil, over time, can displace the damaging PUFAs in our tissues from years of vegetable oil consumption.

Lastly, don't be worried that coconut oil will make all your food taste too "coconuty". Coconut oil that is organic and extra virgin isn't overpowering at all.

So with that said, here is our Clean Guide to Cooking Oils. This will help you make the best oil choices and improve the quality of your overall diet.

Clean Cooking Oil Guide

Download a print version of the guide here

A few key points to remember

  • Don’t cook with nut and seed oils like walnut, almond, pumpkin, and flax. These are less saturated and more prone to oxidation and rancidity.  If you are going to eat these oils, use them in their raw and cold-pressed state.
  • Keep an eye out for smoke while cooking. Smoke rates of oils are important because they sign the beginning of oxidation and degradation of the oil. This degradation increases the production of free radicals which cause inflammation in the body.
  • Baby steps - that's the name of the game. If you are new to the world of clean eating, don't get overwhelmed with this information. Just start by switching your oils at home.


Final Thoughts

One of the best changes you can make for your health is to avoid consuming and cooking with vegetable seed oils. Instead, cook with coconut oil, avocado oil, or ghee.

Over time, the simple change of introducing healthy cooking oils can reduce inflammation, free radical damage and improve the overall nutrient density of your diet.

Happy cooking,

Alejandro Junger, M.D.


  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/179S.full?ijkey=5c7af875f3dc71a303f7df78c52145e8b7c31643
  2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/1/179S.full?ijkey=5c7af875f3dc71a303f7df78c52145e8b7c31643
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19022225
  4. PUFA Chart Image from Stephan Guyenet's Whole Health Source Blog


Topics: Clean Eats


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