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Cooking Oils: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

For years cooking oils have been at the center of controversy.

Some of that controversy stems from the 1960s and 1970s. That’s when the whole “fat is bad” idea began spreading. All of a sudden the centuries old practice of cooking with oil came into question. At the same time, “new & improved” oils came on the scene. Margarine, polyunsaturated oil & low fat cooking were on everyone’s mind.

It is true that some oils are bad for you. But not all of them are bad. Today we will go over the most common oils and discover which are winners and which to ditch.

Before getting to the list, here are some oil basics.

  • Cooking oils and fats in general become rancid easily. That means they react to oxygen. So it is best to store them in tightly sealed containers. Ideally store them in a cool place away from light.
  • Freshness counts. If oils don’t smell or taste fresh, get rid of them. Rancid fats and oils are very toxic and will interfere with normal fatty acid metabolism. Avoid them.
  • The more processed the oil, the more chance it has trans-fatty acids. These are very toxic. They cause problems ranging from inflammation to diabetes and cancer. They also decrease testosterone levels and fertility.
  • Heating oil above 160° Celsius (320° Fahrenheit) converts it to the toxic trans-fatty acid form. That means it is best to cook with oils at lower temperatures.
  • We need a balance of healthy oils. Essential fatty acids (EFA) come in two basic forms – Omega-3 and Omega-6. We need both, but in a balanced way. Most people get far too much Omega-6 compared to Omega-3. This leads to inflammation and other health problems.
  • The source and processing of oils matters. Certified organic and cold-pressed oils are always better. The more natural and less processed, the healthier it is.

Now let’s get to specific oils. Remember that we are talking about good oils for cooking. There are other good oils, but NOT for cooking. I’ll add a list of these after the cooking oil lists.

The Good.

  • Butter (both salted and unsalted). Good for baking and spreading. Turns brown easily if used to sauté. Salted is harder to digest. Unsalted goes rancid more quickly. Be sure to refrigerate.
  • Coconut Oil. Good for baking and frying. Doesn’t smoke or turn brown easily. Store in a cool, dark place.
  • Ghee (clarified butter). Use for baking and frying. Won’t smoke and turn brown as easily as regular butter. No refrigeration needed. Keep in a cool, dark place.
  • Olive Oil. Salad dressings, marinades, wine sauces and sautéing. Keep in a cool, dark place.
  • Palm Kernel Oil. Baking and frying. Keep in a cool, dark place.

The Bad. (All of these go rancid very easily.)

  • Almond Oil. If you use it, get organic. Always refrigerate.
  • Peanut Oil. Contamination is common. Only use if certified organic.
  • Safflower Oil. Only buy the “high oleic” variety. Keep in a cool, dark place.
  • Sesame Oil. Use organic only. Keep in a cool, dark place.

The Ugly.

  • Canola Oil. Made from hybridized rapeseed. Almost always contaminated and often partially hydrogenated. In many commercial salad dressings. Avoid it. If you must use it, make sure it is organic.
  • Corn Oil. Often contaminated by pesticides. It is also very highly processed. Since 85% of corn is genetically modified, odds are that it comes from GMO corn. Avoid it.
  • Cottonseed Oil. Cheap oil used in prepared and processed foods. Commonly used in margarine (see below). Contaminated and toxic. Don’t use it in any form.
  • Margarine. Amazingly, some people still use margarine. It damages health in many ways. Heart disease, macular degeneration and cancer are just some of the potential results of using it. One of the big issues is the trans-fatty acids it contains. Even if the label says, “zero trans-fats” it has some.

There are other good fats and oils. However they are not good for cooking. These are mostly nutritional supplements and non-cooking food oils.

The Best of The Rest:

  • Borage Oil. Used as a supplement. Not for cooking. Be sure to refrigerate this.
  • Evening Primrose Oil. Often used to help reduce symptoms of menopause. Refrigerate always.
  • Fish Oil. Great for helping restore Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios. Never cook with it.
  • Flaxseed Oil. Fine as a supplement or for salads. Just don’t cook with it.

As you can see, you can’t cook with just any oil. Hopefully the above guide will help you make better choices.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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Resources:

“Cooking with Fats and Oils,” Healthexcel information sheet given out by Metabolic Typing Advisors.

Food Pharmacy, Laurus, LLC. Software for fine-tuning individual dietary plans based on multiple factors.

Hyperhealth Pro, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2010.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • SandyMarch 3, 2013, 7:14 am

    is it harmful to use rancid almond oil on the skin?

  • Dr. BruceMarch 3, 2013, 7:35 am

    Hi Sandy,

    Because rancid oils create oxidative stress, it’s best not to use them either internally or on your skin.

    Dr. Bruce

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