This amazing post was written by Jenn Ryan, a freelance writer, and editor who’s passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. You can read more of her work at thegreenwritingdesk.com.
If you’re like many of us, chances are you’ve been bombarded with messages about what cooking oil is best to use and why you should never use those “bad” oils to cook your food. These messages can get confusing and at this point, no one seems super sure about what oils are ok to cook with and which ones are best left as salad dressings.
I’m here to help clear that up. In this article, we’ll examine several different “cooking” oils and which ones actually are ok to cook with—because even if you think you’re using healthy oil, when used at the wrong temperature, it can actually become hazardous to your body!
But first, let’s put the cooking factor aside and briefly look at what oils are commonly used and which ones are considered healthy.
Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Oils
Oils are a rich source of essential fats for many of us. Did you know that your brain is a minimum of 60% fat ? Makes all those low-fat diets look pretty outrageous, right?
Of course, not all fat is created equal, and the same goes for oils. There are healthy and unhealthy oils!
Healthy oils are oils that are unrefined and non-hydrogenated. What does this mean?
Refined oils use heat and are “cleansed” by chemicals to be manufactured into many of the oils you see at the store. Two of the most popular refined oils include canola oil and sunflower oil.
Hydrogenated oils are actually a source of trans fat, which is the worst known fat on the planet . Hydrogenation makes the oils more solid into an almost a plastic-like consistency by chemically altering the structure of the fats with a catalyst (which could be a toxic heavy metal such as nickel). You most often find these in processed food. Types of hydrogenated oils include soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil.
So What Oils Are Healthy?
Unrefined oils that you may consider including in your diet include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and even sesame oil. These oils are not exposed to heat during the extraction process, leaving the nutrients and flavor intact .
What Does Temperature Have to Do with It?
Temperature can affect cooking oils by turning them into… well, something they weren’t originally. This happens through a process called oxidation, which creates unpaired electrons in the molecules of the oils—in short, oxidation creates free radicals, which have been linked to chronic disease and cancer .
Certain oils are more susceptible to damage through heating than other oils. What are the main types of oils and which ones are more susceptible to oxidation?
Saturated fats are the least likely to oxidize and are very resistant to heat. These oils are generally solid at room temperature and include animal fats, coconut oil, and dairy products. They are the most stable of fats and contain no double bonds in their chemical structure; therefore, they are fully integrated (saturated) with hydrogen atoms.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are more stable as they have only one double bond whereas polyunsaturated has two or more double bonds. What this means is that they’re more fragile when it comes to heating and more susceptible to oxidation. They tend to have a low smoke point and should not be used above a certain temperature. These include fats found in fish, avocados, plant oils, olives, and nuts.
So What Oils Should Be Used at What Temperatures?
Here are some of the most popular cooking oils and more information about them as well as what temperature it should be used at. I’ll only be covering the healthy oils we discussed above—don’t use those other ones!
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
- How It’s Extracted: Extra-virgin olive oil, the best kind to buy, is extracted using a cold-press method rather than heating.
- Where It Comes From: Spain, Morroco, Greece, very rarely Italy. Check your label, do your research .
- Type of Fat: Monounsaturated
- Ideal Cooking Temperature: Below 350 degrees F.
- Smoke Point: 365-400 degrees F.
- When To Use: Best for salads, bread dipping, and light cooking.
Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
- How It’s Extracted: Extra-virgin coconut oil, the best kind to buy, is extracted using a cold-press method or a wet milling method .
- Where It Comes From: Most commonly the Philippines, Indonesia, and India
- Type of Fat: Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat
- Ideal Cooking Temperature: Around 350 degrees F or below, may withstand hotter temperatures due to its being saturated.
- Smoke Point: 350 degrees F
- When To Use: Best for baking, using as a butter replacer. You can also roast or fry vegetables or add to smoothies.
- How It’s Extracted: Avocado oil is cold pressed or centrifuged to extract the oil.
- Where It Comes From: Most commonly from California in the United States.
- Type of Fat: Monounsaturated
- Ideal Cooking Temperature: Below 520 degrees F
- Smoke Point: 520 degrees F
- When To Use: Best for high heat cooking or frying due to its high smoke point, but can also be tasty on salads!
Unrefined Sesame Oil
- How It’s Extracted: A quality sesame oil is produced using cold-press methods, but other, less quality ones will use a chemical extraction process. Check the label!
- Where It Comes From: Asia and Africa are some of the biggest producers of sesame seeds
- Type of Fat: Mostly polyunsaturated
- Ideal Cooking Temperature: Below 350 degrees
- Smoke Point: 350 degrees
- When To Use: Drizzle directly onto foods such as Asian dishes (especially noodles and tofu). You can also use it for roasting or sautéing veggies
Wait! What’s A Smoke Point?
This is the point at which the oil will actually begin to burn and you’ll see it smoking. It’s considered unhealthy to use oil above its smoke point temperature.
Didn’t see your oil on here? Check out this extensive table of cooking oils and their smoke points.
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