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Guide to Cooking with Oils + Fats (Cheat-sheet included)

Health Tips

Guide to Cooking with Oils + Fats (Cheat-sheet included)

Brittany Carlson

There has been a lot of mixed information on how to use oils in the kitchen. We hear words like oxidize and rancid, but what do these words really mean? Oxidize means that the oil has reached its smoke point and has lost it's original chemical properties. When this happens, the oil becomes rancid, meaning it is no longer good for use. This is an issue because the oil's altered state can release free radicals into our bodies, contributing to all types of inflammation (think diabetes, heart disease, cancer...). For this reason it is crucial to be educated about how to use fats and oils so they uphold their original chemical structure, allowing us to safely consume them and fuel our bodies.

Cooking with High Heat

When cooking with high heat, saturated fats are where it's at. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They have a straight line chemical structure, and each carbon is saturated with hydrogen atoms, making them stable and ideal for cooking at higher temperatures.


Ghee is clarified butter, which means that the milk solids are removed. This makes it a viable option for people sensitive to lactose and casein. Try using ghee to saute spices to release flavors and health benefits. Ghee is frequently used in French and Indian cooking because it upholds the integrity of the food it is cooked with. It helps improve digestion, increases good HDL cholesterol, builds the good bacteria in our gut and aids in the absorption of nutrients.

Refined Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid and wonderful for cooking and baking. I specify refined coconut oil (versus unrefined) because the refining process removes nutrients that become rancid at low heats. For cooking and baking at stable to medium heat, it is ok to use unrefined coconut oil (less processed and contains all of the nutrients from the coconut). 

Like ghee, coconut oil is good for cholesterol. The lauric acid found in coconut oil increases HDL cholesterol in the blood, improving the overall good to bad cholesterol ratio. Coconut oil also lowers LDL cholesterol by promoting its conversion to pregnenolone,which is the precursor to many of our hormones. Plus, coconut oil is antimicrobiral (can help fight bacteria and viruses), supports thyroid function, helps balance blood sugar and more. 

Fun Fact: Coconut oil also creates heat in the body and is not stored as fat. So if you have circulation issues or get cold hands and feet easily, get into that coconut jar. People with Raynauds (like myself) use coconut oil to increase the thermogenesis, or heat, in their body to prevent from symptoms. 

Animal Fat like Duck or Pork Lard

These fats are great for high heat and big flavor! Careful though-- if the rest of the diet is not balanced, excessive consumption of these long chain saturated fats can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. 

Low to Medium Heat

Monounsaturated fats are ideal for light saute's. They are liquid at room temperature and solid when refrigerated. Olive oil and Canola oil are examples, however I do not recommend canola oil for health. 

Olive Oil

Be sure to buy olive oil that is cold-pressed and unrefined (the first pressing of the olives) to get all of the good nutrients from the olives. Buy olive oil that is sold in a darker glass bottle and store in a dark place to avoid rancidity. Olive oil contains a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory chemical called oleocanthal, which is like your natural ibuprofen. Olive oil has been used to benefit overall health and remedy digestive problems. It keeps the skin healthy and arteries supple. 

Canola Oil - a big NO here

This is oil is highly controversial. Some people say it can withstand high heat and others say it should be avoided all together. There hasn't been any real research done on canola oil for the past few decades. However, it is banned in baby formulas by the FDA, so I think that is reason enough to avoid it. It is made from the seed of GMO rape plants and has zero nutritional benefits when heated. 

Tip: Once an oil has reached it's smoking point and has become rancid, it should be thrown out and the pan should be wiped out. Start over with fresh fat/oil. 

No Heat: salad dressings and pesto

These are your polyunsaturated fats, which are always liquid, even when refrigerated, They are less saturated with hydrogen than monounsaturated and saturated fats, making them unstable to heat and prone to rancidity. These fats, which are your omega 3's, are also called essential fats because they are essential to the diet. The body does not make them on it's own. These oils are required for normal cell, tissue, gland and organ function.  The absence of essential fats will lead to disease. They should be refrigerated and never heated. A few examples are flax oil, hemp seed oil and walnut oil. You can also get these fats into your diet by eating chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts and algae.

Reminder: We need fats in our diet to build and construct our cells and build good cholesterol. They are critical to our health.