What’s the Deal with Oil?

I get asked a lot of questions about cooking oils. What’s the best to use? What to avoid? What is the best for baking/cooking? I am going to try to explain it all in this post.

What's the Deal with Cooking Oil

Cold Dishes

Avocado oil –  Avocado oil is pressed from avocados and is 50% monounsaturated, which also makes this a heart healthy oil.  I often use avocado oil in cold salads.  It has a mild nutty flavor.

Flaxseed Oil – Flax oil is a no heat oil that is best used in cold dishes and dressings.  It is another oil with a high amount of heart healthy monounsaturated fats.

Olive oil – Olive oil is high in antioxidants and polyphenols.  Both of those have been linked to a healthy heart.  Olive oil is also a monounsaturated fat, which helps keep the bad cholesterol (LDL) low and it can give the good cholesterol (HDL) a boost.

Sesame oil –  Sesame oil is also high in antioxidants and it adds great flavor to any dish.

Hot Dishes

Avocado oil – Avocado oil also has a high smoke point and can be great for high heat cooking.

Coconut oil – Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and contains no cholesterol, so it can be a great alternative to butter.  It’s a great vegan option as well.  If you are worried about the taste coming through into your dishes, don’t be.  I have not noticed that a strong coconut flavor comes through at all.  It is also high in polyphenols, which protect against heart disease.  Coconut oil has a moderately high smoke point, so it is great for sauteing.

Grape seed Oil – Grape seed oil has a moderately high smoke point, so it is a good choice for cooking.  If you buy it, make sure it is cold pressed to assure you get the benefits.  Grape seed oil is high in vitamins C and E.  It also contains some beta carotene.

Hemp Oil – Hemp oil is another great source of omega 3 fatty acids.  It has a rich, nutty flavor.  I have not tried it myself yet, but it seems a healthy option.

Macadamia Oil – I have never used macadamia nut oil, but it does have a bold flavor and a medium high smoke point.  It is also a good source of monounsaturated fats, making it a heart healthy oil.

Peanut Oil –  Peanut oil is a high heat oil that has a healthy balance of fats.  However, it is technically a legume, and should be avoided by anyone on a paleo diet.  For others, it can provide great flavor to your Asian dishes.

Toasted Sesame Oil – Toasted sesame oils adds great flavor to stir fries and other Asian dishes.  I love that the flavor is enhanced and a little goes a long way.  It has a lower smoke point that sesame oil, so it is best for a quick saute, rather than a deep fry.

Walnut Oil –   Walnut oil is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.  It has a medium smoke point which would be great for light sauteing.


Coconut oil –  I love using coconut oil in baking.  Because it is partially solid at room temp, it is a great replacement for butter.  I am not saying butter is bad for you, just not vegan.  I don’t use it.  If you choose to use butter, please make sure that it is pastured – meaning it came from grass fed cows.  Very important since a lot of cows eat GMO corn.  I make sure to buy unrefined coconut oil.  I love Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil.

Grape Seed Oil –  As I mentioned above, grape seed oil has a fairly high smoke point, so you can use it in baking as well as cooking.

Walnut Oil – Walnut oil has a nutty flavor that is great in salad dressings as well as some baking recipes.  Be careful not to use it too much since it does have a higher amount of omega 6 fatty acids.  It is also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Oils to Avoid

Canola – Canola oil comes from rapeseed, which is one of the most genetically modified foods.  It is also very high in Omega 6 fatty acids which can sometimes promote inflammation.  Since canola oil is added into a lot of processed foods, most Americans get way more than needed.  This is what Natural News says about Canola oil.

In addition to the genetic modification, the process of making Canola oil is troubling. The procedure involves a combination of high-temperature mechanical pressing and solvent extract, usually using hexane. Hexane! Even after considerable refining, traces of the solvent remain. Like most vegetable oils, Canola oil also goes through the process of bleaching, degumming, deodorizing, and caustic refining, at very high temperatures. This process can alter the omega-3 content in the oil, and in certain conditions bring the trans fat level as high as 40 percent.

Corn Oil –  Corn oil is almost always genetically modified unless labeled organic or non GMO verified.  That alone is a good reason to avoid it.  GMO corn is designed with it’s own pesticide built in.  That is pretty disturbing to me.  If you eat processed foods, you diet contains high amounts of corn oil, because it’s in everything!

Safflower oil –  Safflower oil is another oil that is very high in omega 6 fatty acids without a lot of omega 3 fatty acids to balance it out.  Again, safflower oil is used a lot in processed foods, so you may already be unknowingly getting it in your diet.

Soybean oil –   Another big GMO offender.  Soybean oil should be avoided as well.  In processed foods, soybean oil is often partially hydrogenated making it a trans fat.  Trans fats should be avoided at all costs.

Sunflower oil – While sunflower oil can be a good source of vitamin E, it is very high in omega 6 fatty acids.  In order to balance those omega 6 fatty acids out, you will need to make sure you are getting enough omega 3 fatty acids in your diet as well.  I choose to not use it at all.  If you look at the labels in processed foods, many of them contain sunflower oil, so you may be already getting too much in your diet.

Vegetable Shortening –  Vegetable shortening is shelf stable and has a long shelf life.  It is dangerous because it can often contain trans fats if the oils have been partially hydrogenated.  I would avoid this all together.

I hope that has cleared up some of the confusion.  I definitely learned a few new things writing this post.


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127 thoughts to “What’s the Deal with Oil?”

  1. This post is very interesting, are these your own findings or did you have to do much research to find this information? If you do not mind me asking
  2. Hi, I'm from Brazil and have heard many people saying and showing evidences (studies, maybe not reliable?!) that coconut oil is not good at all as opposed to what we have thought of it. Do you have any information in this respect? Thanks very much indeed, J.
    1. The only info I found on coconut oil being unhealthy, was from the mainstream media here. That is the same media that says sugar free and fat free products are the way to go. We all know that isn't true. I would also like to add that all oil should be consumed in moderation.
      1. Here's a chart from Saskatchewan Canola that visually compares fats in various oils - you'll notice coconut oil is at the bottom.
        1. Here are more that show the benefits of using Coconut oil (should be cold pressed not heat processed). Canola is a GMO, and the people promoting it have an agenda to make their product look great. One has to look past the saturated fat, and look at how it works to see the health benefits and the essential amino acids that it contains. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/benefits-of-coconut-oil.htm http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/coconut-oil.shtml‎ http://eatdrinkpaleo.com.au/your-ultimate-guide-to-coconut-oil-benefits-types-uses http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil‎ http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-oils/organic-coconut-oil/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html
        2. I can't see the chart, but if it's a company that makes canola, of course they are going to say positive things about it. Canola oil is GMO and they use hexane in the extraction of the oil.
  3. Nothing negative from these sources: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-suplements/ingedientmono-1092-coconut%20oil.aspx http://wellnessmama.com/5734/101-uses-for-coconut-oil http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/dining/02Appe.html It's the partial hydrogenation that creates trans-fats, that destroys the essential fatty acids, anti-oxidants. It's bad rap came from a misunderstanding about saturated fats, not all are created equall(ly bad). Some are necessary for a properly functioning body. The main fat in coconut oil is called Lauric Acid, which helpes to increase levels of good HDL and is thought not to negatively affect the ratio of LDL to HDL, which effectively helps your body properly balance the cholesteral in your blood. It also helps to speed up the metabolism, which may help you to loose weight. Stay away from soy, wheat, corn, sugar, processed foods, diet anything, artificial everything and you will be well on your way to health and better body management. :)
  4. Hi! This list is great, thank you! I have one question...do you recommend staying away from cooking with olive oil? We cook a lot of stir-fry type dishes using olive oil. Is this not recommended?
    1. Glad it could help! I stopped cooking with olive oil. I read that when olive oil heats up, it releases a toxic chemical. It's fantastic for cold dishes though.
  5. I use Macadamia Nut Oil and I love it. I find Coconut Oil tends to make veggies taste a little coconut-ty, so I prefer it more for sweet dishes and Macadamia for savory, because of it's nutty flavor. I wouldn't consider it a "bold" flavor, as I have yet to taste it when I use it in a dish. Not overpowering, I really enjoy using it.
      1. Along with Coconut, others like Avocado, hazelnut or macadamia oils may also work, if kept in the fridge will become solid, and used like margarine, but quickly melt. Coconut should be cold pressed, unrefined or virgin in order to gain the best health benefits, which would also be my preference.
  6. I used coconut instead of veg oil or shortening in pizza dough, biscuits, brownies, pie crusts, etc. Butter works well, but the health benefits and results are much better than other oils I've used for baking. We haven't noticed any 'extra' flavor in the foods. It is a bit more expensive, as are most of the alternate oils. I've provided a few links for the nutritional benefits earlier. I've found more, and none that negate the positive benefits. I've switched to flax seed or grape seed oil for dressings (don't use while cooking with heat, destroys nutrients). Coconut also works well for home made mayo, including vegan egg substitutes. Sesame or rice oils have worked well as a sub for saute purposes.
  7. How do you store your coconut oil? Do you keep it in the fridge? I have a jar in my panty that became liquified during from the heat during the summer. Now it is partially solid and partially liquid. Do you think its still good to use?
    1. I store mine on the counter, since it's used almost daily. It has partially liquefied, but it's usually good for over a year. You can always store it in a cooler place, to get solid again, if desired. With as many uses around the house, as well as in the kitchen, it really shouldn't last that long. :)
      1. Hi, I'm confused over coconut oil and coconut butter as I use the oil ALOT and would love to switch to using butter instead of lurpak or marg for spreading but there is also need for it in recipes. Any info greatly appreciated.
        1. I love the versatility and all the healthy bio-friendly uses of this wonderful nut! Two interesting links to read more about how they are made (and wiki why only buy/use Virgin Coconut oil for cooking/eating). Making your own C-butter will save a lot of money, and even more if you harvest the meat from "fresh" nuts. Even the milk/water has great recipe uses. If you can get the husk and the shell, they can be burned, releasing a nice smelling, natural mosquito repellant, among many other uses - especially if you have access to a tree branch shredder. http://ancestralchef.com/how-to-make-coconut-butter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_oil
  8. You may have already answered this, but I'm going to ask anyways :) What do you use for everyday sauteing and roasting? I have coconut oil that I will start to use in some baking, but what do you substitute for vegetable oil when baking? We also make popcorn on the stove, but use canola oil. Any good sub you know for that as well? I've just recently starting reading your blog and love it!
      1. What kind of oil do you use for meat marinades that you will end up stir frying? I don't want to use olive oil since I'll be frying. Coconut oil turns hard when I put the meat in the frig to marinade. Thanks ahead for your help. Many of the other oils are very expensive.
  9. Hi. Interesting info on oils. I've gone the other way and have eliminated all oils from my food. Plenty of reason to if you read Dr's McDougall, Ornish, Esselstyn, and others who eschew all added processed fats. They view all oils as highly processed foods that damage endothelial cells when separated from their fiber rich food source. It's worked very well for me having lowered my cholesterol by over 60 pts. Good thing is that most of your recipes are easy to make without oil by using things like apple sauce or sauteing in water or broth. Anyway, it's worth considering for those who really want to remove excess dense calories from their food, and/or who want to follow a heart disease reversal diet.
    1. Thank you. Yes, most of my recipes can easily be made oil free. I personally don't use too much oil as a general rule. What do they say about things like nuts and avocados? I would be curious to find out.
  10. Lots of good comments, and great post. Melissa, can you comment on different types of coconut oil and other palm oils. Are they all good? I came across a cheaper coconut oil that says non-hydrogenated. It does not say virgin coconut oil and does not have the typical coconut smell. It is good for cosmetic purposes and some cooking. Would it be good for baking...much cheaper.
    1. I haven't heard about that one, but I did find some info on it. http://www.livestrong.com/article/424742-rice-bran-oil-vs-olive-oil/
  11. You won't believe this... my daughter has acne on her forehead. She has used proactiv and it worked but I don't like chemicals. So, I have been looking at my organic coconut oil sitting on the shelf in the kitchen wondering about it as a moisturizer. SO, I put it on my face and hair. Works wonderfully. Then a couple of days ago I got the bright idea to have my daughter put it on her face also. In two days her acne is dramatically better. There were no "hard knots" then next morning after the first application. I am thinking this might an answer. With the products that we have bought, including the proactiv, her skin was so dry and cracked looking. Now it looks so much better! Thought it might be worth a try for others!!!
  12. I have to disagree with your best cooking oils list. You need to look at more than just the smoke point. Even though grade seed oil has a high smoke point, it is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it oxidize quickly when exposed to any degree of heat. Grape seed oil should be on your list of oils to avoid. I find the following article extremely informative about oils because it explains how the fatty acid profile is the most important factor in determining if it's okay to cook with, not the smoke point. http://www.yogitrition.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-cooking-with-oils/
  13. You have an ad for hydrogenated palm oil on this page, but you haven't mentioned palm oil at all in your 'good' or 'bad' lists. Palm oil is one of the most commonly used cooking oils where I live (Southeast Asia) so I'd be interested to read your take on palm oil.
    1. I didn't see the ad. I have heard that palm oil contains many health benefits, but some say that harvesting it is effecting the rain forests. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=harvesting-palm-oil-and-rainforests
  14. First off, I really do like your site. I tend to agree with most of your postings wholeheartedly. I love the idea of a sugar free lifestyle but I have to disagree with some of this entry. I cook hot dishes with 100% sunflower oil always. Yes, there are probably healthier (and crazy expensive) options out there that are better but you failed to mention that sunflower oil not only contains mostly unsaturated fats, helps lower bad cholesterol and is a GMO-free alternative to oils like canola or veggie oil. It also contains a healthy dose of Vitamin E. I definitely think you're selling it short putting it on the "naughty list". Most of the information gathered here looks like it came from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-499546/The-cooking-oils-make-healthy--dont.html Due to it looks like some of the sentences are written word for word.
    1. I respect your opinion and I will do some more research on sunflower oil. When I write posts, I really try to formulate the information in my own words. And if I don't, I cite the source like I did further up in the article with Natural News. I re-read that and I guess I didn't realize that one was close to the original source. I am going to re-write the sentence.

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