Nutrition / Food

A Beginner’s Guide to Cooking With Healthy Oils and Fats

Your meals may be toxic if an oil is cooked past its smoke point.

Cooking can be both a fun and nutritious hobby for many people. In addition to adding a dash of creativity to your daily routine, cooking for yourself allows you to fuel your body with healthy and delicious food because you’re using hand-selected, quality ingredients.

Pair that with an Aaptiv workout and you’ll be unstoppable.

At the base of cooking, especially when frying or sauteing, are the fats. Fats can include oils, like olive oil and coconut oil; fruits, like avocado; and animal-based products, like butter, ghee, and tallow.

Each fat comes with it’s own characteristics and flavor to make a dish stand out. But, when it comes to cooking, there’s more that should go into deciding the fat that you’re going to cook with than just taste.

With the help of a nutritionist and health professionals, we’ll break down the chemical components that make up a fat, the smoke point of each popular fat, as well as which fats and oils you should avoid entirely.

The Science Behind Fats and Oils

There are plenty of nutrition and health-related topics out there shrouded in misinformation and confusion, but the topic of fats easily tops the list. “Of all three macronutrient groups (fat, protein, and carbohydrate), fat holds the most calories per serving (nine calories per gram), so, therefore it was assumed to be at the root of weight gain.

Thankfully these myths have largely been debunked. Now we know the importance of healthy fats and oils in our diet,” says Rachel Fiske, NC, CPT-NASM.

You now know that science backs the importance of implementing healthy fats into our diets to create optimal health. The next step is to learn how to cook with monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated oils to guarantee that you’re not destroying elements by burning healthy oils.

Each fat (or oil) has a heat threshold—known as the smoke point—to which it can support its natural chemical structure.

Once it passes the smoke point, not only are the nutrients depleted, but the oil goes through a chemical change. It can actually release radicals and toxins into our body (and that’s not good!).

The Most Popular (and Healthy) Fats and Oils

There are hundreds of oils and fats that one can choose to cook or assemble a healthy dish with. The following are some of the most popular plant-based and animal-based fats and oils, along with their associative smoking points and their nutritional value.

Coconut Oil

Smoke Point: High. Unrefined coconut oil has a high heat tolerance (people are raving about this one). You can use it for dishes reaching a heat of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, with virgin coconut oil reaching its smoke point at 350 degrees.

Why Use Coconut Oil: “The medium chain fatty acids in it are really good for our brains,” says Billi Green, RDN. “Although coconut oil is saturated fat, it is not as detrimental to health as we once thought. If you don’t like the strong flavor of coconut, there are many refined coconut oils on the market.”

Best With: Coconut oil has a wide range of use in cooking. Whether it’s sauteeing veggies and making a stir fry, to creating a curry, or even implementing it into your baked goods, the subtle sweetness of coconut oil makes it a staple to have in your kitchen.

Olive Oil

Smoke Point: It depends. “Regular olive oil has a medium smoke point around 450 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Claudia Sidoti, the head chef at HelloFresh. “Which means you can use it for low-temperature cooking like sauteing. But, when it comes to frying or deep-frying, try a different oil. Extra virgin olive oil (like this best seller) has a lower smoke point around 320 degrees Fahrenheit. So, although it can be used when cooking over low heat, I recommend reserving it for salad dressings, dips, and other cold dishes where its intense flavor can take center stage.”

Why Use Olive Oil: Besides its claim to fame as a nectar of the ancient Roman and Greek gods, olive oil has been a staple ingredient for many cultures before our modern era. It’s loaded with antioxidants and is considered a healthy monounsaturated fat. It will keep you fuller for longer. Plus, it can also increase healthy cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.

Best With: For extra virgin olive oil, “Think dressings on salads, drizzling extra virgin olive on your burrata or simply finishing your beautifully cooked fish,” says Matteo Frescobaldi, manager of Laudemio Frescobaldi.

Avocado Oil

Smoke Point: Very High. “Avocado has a high smoke point (500 degrees Fahrenheit). It is good for sauteing, basting roasted meats, and even frying,” says Green.

Why Use Avocado Oil: In the same way that we place a halo around avocados in their raw form, high quality avocado oil offers some incredible benefits.

Avocado oil is rich in lutein—which is an antioxidant for the body—as well as oleic acid—which is a fat that adds extreme nutrients to our cells. Like olive oil, avocado oil also contains minerals to reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.

Plus, with it’s high heat allowance, you’re able to add it to almost any dish without exposure to harsh toxins and free radicals.

Best With: Many recommend using avocado oil in replacement of vegetable oil as a healthy alternative. It’s a great choice to use when baking, roasting (particularly root vegetables), sauteing, or creating a stir fry.

Flaxseed Oil

Smoke Point: Low. You should not heat this oil in the oven or on a stove top. This will destroy the fat compounds in the fat and turn toxic in our systems.

Why Use Flaxseed Oil: According to nutritionist and The New York Times best-selling author Ann Louis, “Flax oil is a rich source of Omega-3 fats that help regulate cellular processes, influence membrane function, and produce hormones.

Flax also promotes fat burning and decreases fat storage, thereby revving up metabolism for effective and long-lasting weight loss. Research shows that flax oil helps to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, mitigate migraines and arthritis, and balance blood sugar levels by providing the satiety factor.”

Best With: Even though it can’t be heated, Louis believes that there are many great uses for flaxseed oil. “I use the oil in drizzles on baked potatoes and as a salad dressing. The flax seeds (in their raw form) are also a great addition to smoothies or as gluten-free crusts on a variety of foods, such as fish and chicken.”

Hemp Seed Oil

Smoke Point: Low. You should consume this oil in its raw form to gain the most nutritional benefit.

Why Use Hemp Seed Oil: “Seeds and seed oils provide the parent oils that strengthen cell membranes, optimize hormones, and power up your body-slimming system,” says Louis.

“Of those, hemp seed oil is a metabolic rockstar with its 3:1 Omega-6-to-Omega-3 ratio, you can’t get much better than that! It is also nutrient rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, D, and E. Hemp also has strong anti-inflammatory benefits, most likely related to its abundant GLA (Gamma linolenic acid, which is in the Omega 6 family). Overall, it can sustain energy, encourage weight loss, reduce food cravings, lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar and lipid profiles, and tamp down inflammation.”

Best With: Louis recommends, “drizzling the oil on your favorite veggies or use in your favorite salad dressing. It should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer in between uses.”

Ghee

Smoke Point: Very High. Ghee is a great option for frying and baking, as it can withstand heat up to 485 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why Use Ghee: In the same way that people enjoy butter, they’ll enjoy ghee. It’s a more refined and clarified version of cow (or goat’s milk).

ECPI University sheds some light on the power of ghee. It contains anti-inflammatory properties, CLA anti-cancer properties, and a multitude of vitamins. In addition to the nutritional value, ghee is also safe for those with dairy allergies.

Best With: Anywhere you may think to use butter, ghee can be a great substitution (since it’s the actual fat of butter).

Lard

Smoke Point: High. You can heat pork lard up to 370 degrees Fahrenheit before passing the smoking point.

Why Use Lard: If you like bacon, you’ll enjoy the taste of lard, as it is essentially pork fat. (Bacon is one of the fattiest cuts of meat.) For many individuals, using and cooking with lard can be scary, as it contains saturated fat.

However, studies are debunking the myth of saturated fats causing heart disease. Given that fats like lard are high in calories, there’s something to be said about consuming a high fat and high carb diet.

For those on nutritional programs like keto and paleo, lard may be a go-to oil or fat when limiting carbohydrates. With that being said, make sure that you’re getting lard from healthy, pastured pork.

Best With: Whether you’re putting it with your eggs in the morning or including it in baked goods like biscuits, lard is delicious with a wide variety of different foods.

Tallow

Smoke Point: Very High. The heating threshold of tallow is 420 degrees Fahrenheit. So, you can use it in a wide variety of high-heat meals that include frying and baking.

Why Use Tallow: Another favorite for those on keto and paleo, tallow—which is beef fat—contains a large amount of vitamins and minerals, including CLAs, which fight off cancer and promote fat loss.

But, like all animal-sourced products, it is important to know where your tallow is coming from. “Fat from pastured animals is lower in saturated fat than fat from conventionally raised animals, meaning that tallow from grass-fed beef will have less fat in it than tallow from CAFO-raised beef (confined animal feeding operations),” says Lisa Howard, author of The Big Book of Healthy Cooking Oils.

Best With: Many consider tallow a go-to when deep frying any sort of meat or vegetable. It’s safer than many other forms of fat due to its high smoke point. People also chose it as the go-to because of its immense amount of flavor.

Fats and Oils to Stay Away From

“[The] fats [that are] best to avoid altogether include hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, such as margarine, Crisco, and buttery-spreads (such as Earth Balance); all trans-fats (another name for hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated); commercial vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, and soy; and fats from commercially-raised meat (non-organic or grass-fed).

If organic meat isn’t available, it’s best to opt for leaner [proteins], such as fish and poultry without skin to lower your intake of toxins,” says Fiske.

Now that your nutrition is in check, take a look at our newest workouts on the Aaptiv app.

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