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What is the Best Type of Cooking Oil to Use?

Updated on June 1, 2016

Depending on the amount of heat used, olive oil and coconut oil are the best types of oils for cooking. Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated oil that should be used for low temperature cooking. Coconut oil is best oil for higher temperature cooking (especially stir frying) even if does contain saturated fat. This is because it can withstand heat much better. Certain types of saturated fat are not bad and are even healthy. Coconut oil is among the healthier plant-based medium-chain saturated fat. Coconut oil has may health benefits which I wrote about.

Olive oil is great for health and is considered a healthy fat. It is used heavily in the Mediterranean diet. However it is mainly used by itself in dressings and salads as opposed to for cooking. The problem with oils is that you do not want to overheat it. Some oils are more fragile than others. The healthier the oil, the more fragile it is. Unrefined oils such as virgin or extra-virgin olive oil has more health benefits. But at the same time, they can not withstand heat as well as the refined oils. On the other hand, refined oils are not as good for health as the virgin oils.

When oil is overheated, it breaks down and can turn rancid and into bad fats which can cause inflammation and arteriosclerosis . This can sometimes happen if you put olive oil at high heat. You will notice that high-quality olive oil comes in dark bottles that says to store away from heat and light (as these can destroy the health benefits of the oil).

Olive oil is only healthy when it is unheated, un-oxidized, and when it is not rancid. There is some debate on this. The question centers upon how much heat can olive oil withstand before it becomes harmful.

Some authorities say not at all and that olive oil should never be heated. Other say that it is okay to use it in low-temperature cooking. It is a judgement call. One has to balance the healthy-ness of an oil with its ability to withstand high temperatures. And has a great chart comparing the various oils on these two criteria.

Based on evidence that suggests that the main culprit of heart disease is inflammation rather than high fat or high cholesterol[4], some feel that the danger of overheating olive oil is much greater than consumption of plant-based saturated fat in coconut oil.

Try not to consume any vegetable oils such as corn oil, regardless of whether you apply low heat or not. That is because the oil has already been damaged in the manufacturing process where they had applied high heat and pressure. Since vegetable oil is often used in restaurants and process foods, it is best to avoid both these. Avoid packaged goods that contain "hydrogenated vegetable oils" in its ingredients. More on how to read food label.

Dr. Mercola Explains Fats in Cooking

Coconut Oil

Oils with more saturated fat can withstand heat better. Coconut oil has a lot of saturated fat and can withstand heat much better. In fact, unrefined virgin coconut oil can be a solid at room temperature -- depending on how you define room temperature. The oil turns into liquid at 76 degrees Fahrenheit and so can easily turn into liquid when placed in a hot pan.

Unrefined virgin coconut oil has many health benefits. And you should be getting unrefined virgin variety. The saturated fat in coconut oil is not as bad as some people may think. It contains the "not-so-bad" saturated fats which are the medium chain triglycerides. The trans fat and the partially hydrogenated oils found in processed foods are much worst. On YouTube, Dr. Mercola says that coconut oil is healthy. His article on HuffingtonPost explains all the virtues of coconut oil with references to scientific studies. In it, he says that for cooking, he uses coconut oil exclusively and that vegetable oils with polyunsaturated fats such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola are the worst oils to cook with.

Dr. Bernstein in his book Diabetes Solution says, "Organic coconut oil is perhaps the healthiest and tastiest oil for cooking and salads."[page 155]

Dr. Ron Rosedale's Nutritional Recommendations says ...

"If you must cook with oil, use olive, or even better, coconut oil or ghee."

One thing with coconut oil is that it will give your food a slight coconut taste and you can smell that coconut flavor as you cook with the oil. Some people like the coconut flavor, others do not. If you do not, you do not have to use too much coconut oil. If you are using coconut oil for the first time, start off very slowly until your body get used to it. For many people, they like the taste of olive oil better.

Does Coconut Oil Raise Cholesterol?

Because coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, it does raises cholesterol in many people. So people with very high cholesterol or who are concerned about cholesterol may need to use moderation.

And for some people, coconut oil may reduce cholesterol if it helps fix low thyroid function and increase conversion of cholesterol into pregnenolone. Low thyroid function can contribute to high cholesterol. [reference]

Article Coconut oil for cooking: Is it good or bad for you? reports that coconut oil is a healthier fat than butter.

Coconut Oil is Best Oil to Cook With

It is solid at room temperature and its saturated fat makes it stable during high temperatures.
It is solid at room temperature and its saturated fat makes it stable during high temperatures.

Article on World's Healthiest Foods says that coconut oil is healthful and is a good choice to use for cooking.[5]

According to the "Perfect Health Diet" pioneered by Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet (husband wife team), the best cooking oils to use are ...

"coconut oil, clarified butter, and beef tallow"

with the next best being ...

"palm oil, lard, olive oil, and avocado oil"

as referenced on their website.

Emily Deans, MD writes ...

"For baking and cooking, use butter, lard ... or coconut oil!"

Coconut oil is healthy too

It is the saturated fat that make coconut oil able to withstand high heat. Some people may be wary of saturated fat. However, the unrefined saturated fats from coconut oil is actually healthy. This kind of saturated fat does not cause obesity nor does it cause heart disease.

Andy Bellatti say on his site that ...

"All saturated fats are not created equal! Unrefined coconut oil’s saturated fatty acids provide cardiovascular benefits."

Saturated fat increases the healthy HDL cholesterol. Without enough dietary fat and cholesterol, some can experience depressed mood, irritability, and are at a greater risk of depression [reference].

Your brain needs saturated fat to rebuild its mylien sheath which insulates neurons. Coconut oil contain lauric acid which is a anti-inflammatory fat. It can supply the brain with an alternative fuel besides glucose and is touted to improve Alzheimer's symptoms in some.

Consuming healthy fats (and that includes coconut oil) is one of the ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

Olive Oil for Low Heat Cooking

Here are various opinions on the subject of what cooking oils to use.

Dr. Mark Hyman writes ...

"Use extra-virgin olive oil, which contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals. It should be your main oil except for high-temperature cooking." [page 300 The UltraMind Solution]

He says to use unrefined sesame oil for high-temperature cooking.

In the book Smart Fats, it writes ...

"Olive oil is on of the most reliable cooking oils and is one of the most healthful oils for general use. Its high oleic acid content makes it very stable for cooking. It is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients." [page 186]

It further writes that ...

"Coconut oil is perhaps the best "high temperature" cooking oil for those who do not want to cook with animal products such as butter. It is very stable at high temperatures because it contains negligible amounts of unsaturated fatty acids" [page 189]

When Dr. Andrew Weil came onto the Doctor Oz Show (video here), he said that olive oil is his primary cooking oil. If he doesn't like the taste of olive oil in some dish, then he would use a little bit of canola oil instead. He likes olive oil because it contains good fats. It is the type of fats that he wants people to consume according to his anti-inflammatory pyramid.

In the book Reversing Diabetes, Dr. Julian Whitaker writes ...

"One of the best properties of monounsaturated fats is their stability. Unlike polyunsaturated fats, they can withstand heat without breaking down into harmful substances, so they are a superior choice for cooking. The king of the monos is olive oil, for its extraction and processing do not call for the harsh methods that hard seeds and nuts require." [page 141]

Many other experts says that olive oil is too heat sensitive to be used even in low heat cooking. They recommend use of olive oil only in salad dressings.

Smoke Point of Olive Oils

You must match the type of oil with the temperature of cooking. Pick an oil with the appropriate temperature tolerance. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to break down. A higher smoke point indicates a higher tolerance for heat. You can see the smoke point of various oils on wikipedia.

Burnt oil is worst for health than the type of oil. You also want to avoid having the oil go rancid. Since oils are sensitive to heat and light, you should store them in cool place in dark bottles.

The reason why you don't want to use olive oil for high-temperature cooking is that it has a lower smoking point temperature than some other oil. The smoking point of an oil is when the vapors from heating the oil start to become apparent. This is when the oil starts to break down changing its composition and starting to create oxygen radicals which can be harmful to health. Therefore it is important not to heat an oil past its smoke point.

The smoke point of an oil depends on other factors such as how the oil was processed and is quoted at different temperatures at different sources. The same oil refined will have a higher smoke point than unrefined.

The smoke point of oil varies from sources to sources. Some say that stove top frying can easily heat olive oils beyond their smoke point and hence should not be used in frying. In general, extra virgin olive oil (unrefined) will have a lower smoke point than olive oil (somewhat refined).

Wikipedia notes the use of various oils and notes that olive oil (refined) is more suited to sautee and stir frying than virgin olive oil.

Why You Should Not Use Grapeseed Oil

While grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, it is not a good oil to cook with (despite its claims).

ButterBeliever wrote more about grapeseed oil. Although grapeseed oil does have a high smoke point, it is around 70% polyunsaturated fat which is very easily oxidized. And nearly all of that polyunsaturated fat is omega-6. The article on writes ...

"However, the PUFAs are still being oxidized and forming free radicals at lower temperatures than the smoke point."

So to determine whether an oil is good for high temperature cooking, look not at the smoke point, but the type of fat it contains. Saturated fat is most heat tolerant. Mono-unsaturated is next. And polyunsaturated is least heat tolerant. also writes that grape seed oil is not a good oil to cook with (although it is great to use on hair). It mentions the extraction process that uses hexane.

Dangers of Over Heating Oils

Journal of Foodservice has article that whose abstract points out that ...

"heated cooking oils, especially polyunsaturated oils, may pose several types of health risks to consumers of fried foods and even people working near deep fat fryers. Heat degrades polyunsaturated fatty acids to toxic compounds; saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are resistant to heat-induced degradation."

Olive oil is primarily monounsaturated fatty acids. Coconut oil is primarily saturated fatty acids. Hence both are more heat-resistant than to polyunsaturated vegetables oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and others.

Nevertheless, the author of The World's Healthiest Foods, Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating says that he does not recommend using extra virgin olive oil for cooking due to heat damaging the oil. He is fine with avocado oil and coconut oil for high heat cooking.

Palm Oil

Dr. Bruce Fife talked about the benefits of palm oil in Underground Wellness radio, such as red palm oil. He said that because the oil has such a high smoke point, it is quite suitable for high-heat cooking such as stir frying. Half the oil is saturated fat and 40% monounsaturated.

Sesame and Grapeseed oil

In some of the above references, we saw that some people like the use of sesame and grapeseed oil for higher temperature cooking. Certainly these oil can withstand better heat than olive oil. And if you don't like the saturated fat of coconut oil, then these two seed oils might be the way to go.

Sesame oil has a full flavor and is often used in Asian cooking. It also has a nice consistency during stir-frying that does not evaporate out. So a little bit can go a long way.

Wikipedia writes that ...

"Despite sesame oil's high proportion (41%) of polyunsaturated (Omega-6) fatty acids, it is least prone, among cooking oils with high smoke points, to turn rancid when kept in the open. This is due to the natural antioxidants present in the oil. Light sesame oil has a high smoke point and is suitable for deep-frying, while dark sesame oil (from roasted sesame seeds) has a slightly lower smoke point and is unsuitable for deep-frying. Instead it can be used for the stir frying of meats or vegetables, or for the making of an omelette."

Sesame oil is high in the antioxidant vitamin E. But is also high in the less healthful omega-6 fats.

Similarly, grapeseed oil has antioxidant of vitamin C and E. And also a bit high in omega-6.

While sesame seed oil is about 41% polyunsaturated and has about 43% monounsaturated, grapeseed oil is 70% polyunsaturated and 16% monounsaturated. So in terms of the healthy monounsaturated oils, sesame oil is better.

Avoid Vegetable Oils

Whatever you do, don't cook with vegetable oils. Dr. Mercola writes in his article "Top Five Health Foods to Avoid" that vegetable oils are the worst oils to cook with:

"Cooking with vegetable oil results in the formation of molecules more toxic than trans fat"

Even if you don't cook or expose vegetable oils to high heat, do not consume them. They have already been oxidized and gone rancid by the time they are on the store shelf. The manufacturing process had already subjected these oils to high temperature and pressure.

Read my other article for more detailed explanation of why you should not consume vegetable oils.

Book Primal Body, Primal Mind writes that ...

"Vegetable oils, particularly commercial soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and canola oils, are an unnatural, ... extremely prone to rancidity and cause mutagenic and atherogenic changes in the human body. ... They should never, ever be used in cooking." [page 113]

And it concurs that coconut oil is best for higher heat cooking:

"Use organic coconut oil, palm oil, organic lard, or quality tallow for higher-heat cooking or sauteing." [page 114]

Wet Sauté

If you are sautéing easily cooked foods such as spinach, kale, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc, you can use olive oil at low heat. You want your vegetables to be on the slightly raw side anyway, and not overcooked them. Except for mushrooms which should always be well cooked. And tomatoes is one of the few fruits that is more nutritious when cooked.

But for stir frying meats like chicken, which require greater heat at a longer duration, I would use coconut oil. Coconut oil is good for frying foods such as stir frying chicken, meats, and vegetables. This is because coconut oil can withstand higher temperatures than other oils (such as olive oil), and therefore the oil does not get damaged or oxidize during the cooking process.

Another way to cook is to wet sauté. This is when you use water instead of oil to sauté of food. This usually works great with vegetables. But obviously for some foods such as frying an egg, water would not work too well and you would need some oil so that they do not stick to your pan. By the way, the use of not-stick Teflon pans is not recommended. I would use coconut oil to fry eggs.

Alternatively, use a combination of water and oil -- not at the same time. They do not mix. You first slightly cook the food initially with a little bit of water in a pan. When the water drys out. Continue frying with oil. Since the food will now be almost cooked you would not have to fry it in the oil too long. This prevents the oil from overheating.

Adding water when cooking also helps reduce the production of Advanced Glycated End Products (or AGEs) which is considered unhealthy and associated hardening of the arteries, stiff joints, arthritis, cataracts, wrinkles, and even Alzheimer's disease. This is the "browning effect" that causes meat to become tough and food to discolor.

Also keep stirring during cooking, so that the oil does constantly stay on the hot pan. I do not make baked goods, and I do not deep fry. If I do bake (for example salmon), I do it without oil. For vegetables, steaming is a great way to cook that does not require oil and preserves the nutrients of the vegetables.


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