This guide to cooking fats and oils will break it all down for you so you can cut through the confusion. Discover which are the healthiest fats to cook with and which ones you should avoid and why.
But Fat Makes You Fat!
How often have you heard someone say “fat makes you fat”? I’ve heard it A LOT over my lifetime, especially when I was younger and the full force of the ‘low fat / no fat’ marketing machine was in full swing. It’s not as bad these days, but the message is still far too prevalent, given it’s not actually true!
“Eat less, move more” is another classic misnomer. Or how about; “Just reduce fat and count your calories and you will lose weight”. Hmmm, not really that simple.
This comes from the idea that your weight is tied to the amount of fat you eat. Because fat has more calories (9 per gram) than protein and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram each) so you should eat less of it.
However, your body processes all these calories differently.
- Calories from carbohydrates (which convert to sugar in the body) will raise your insulin levels. You will have sugar highs and lows and then seek more food because sugar stimulates your appetite.
- Calories from protein will make you feel full for longer as it only steadily raises your blood sugar (insulin) so your body can manage it.
- The calories you consume from fat do not affect your blood sugar and will also keep you satiated longer removing the need to snack between meals.
Difference Between Dietary Fat and Body Fat
There is a big difference between the fat you eat (dietary fat) and body fat. The fat you eat does not make you fat, carbs do. And if you eat too much, your body will always process that food before it starts looking within for a fuel source; your stored fat.
What allows your body to burn fat is having consistently low insulin levels. Insulin is the fat-storing hormone. It keeps your fat stores locked away if it is constantly elevated (from eating). You can keep your insulin levels low with a low-carb lifestyle. Read more about the types of body fat.
How to Choose the Right Fat for Cooking?
Choosing the right cooking fat or oil can be confusing, especially when a lot of the oils in the supermarket are marketed as ‘heart healthy’. This label is given to processed seed oils, such as vegetable or canola oil as they are low in saturated fat. These are very popular and very cheap cooking fats and oils but should be avoided at all costs.
However, saturated fat is actually good for you. Read more here.
Healthy fats can be split into two categories of use – animal-based and plant-based.
Animal-based fats are solid at room temperature and are suitable for cooking at high temperatures. Coconut oil is the exception as it can be used for cooking and is solid at room temperature.
Plant-based oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, and flaxseed oil should be used cold such as in salad dressings, dips and homemade mayonnaise.
Note: Keep Flaxseed oil in the fridge. It’s unstable and goes rancid approximately 6 weeks after pressing so should be used quickly. Maybe try eating flaxseeds whole instead and sticking to olive and avocado oil for cold cooking uses.
Vegetable oils are polyunsaturated. This means, they are unstable at high temperatures and oxidise easily, which makes them unsuitable for cooking. Vegetable oils are also high in Omega 6 fat which is extremely inflammatory on your body.
Vegetable oils are ultra-processed. Created using chemical extraction, they are bleached and deodorised to make them more pleasant. See how canola oil is made. It’s the same process for all the oils on the ‘Always Avoid’ list below.
You can read more about Industrial Seed Oils in the blog post Guide to Seed Oils
Fats You Can Use for Cooking
- Coconut oil
- Lard (pork & bacon fat)
- Tallow (beef fat)
- Duck fat
Oils Best for Cold Uses
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Cold pressed sesame oil
- Flaxseed oil
Always Avoid These Oils
- Canola/rapeseed oil
- Soybean oil
- Vegetable oil
- Sunflower oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Vegan or plant ‘butter’
- Grapeseed oil
- Rice bran oil
- Walnut oil
- Vegetable shortening (eg. Crisco oil)
Always cook with fats that are solid at room temperature. Use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) & avocado oil for cold uses like salad dressing and mayo and avoid the seed oils.
Even if you don’t cook with seed oils, know that restaurants and takeaway food places use them. They are also used in most processed and packaged foods you will find in the supermarket. Always read the ingredients.