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Get the Skinny on Cooking Fats

by Barbara Minton
See all TBYIL articles by Barbara Minton

(The Best Years in Life) Even the healthiest fats can become major health hazards if they are used improperly in cooking.  If a fat is to be used safely in cooking, it must be one of only a few that are able to resist chemical breakdown, rancidity and oxidation.  Fats that have broken down during cooking form dangerous free radicals and should never be consumed.  Free radicals speed the aging process and shorten the path to degenerative disease. So when you decide to cook with fat, getting the right fat or oil for the temperature you are going to use is critical.

The important factor in determining a fat's resistance to oxidation and its potential for becoming rancid at both high and low heat is the degree of saturation it contains. Saturated fats have only single bonds in the fatty acid molecules, while monounsaturated fats have one double bond, and polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds.  It is the double bonds that are chemically reactive to heat.

Before we examine individual fats and their suitability for cooking, right off the bat let's eliminate the vegetable oils known as corn, soybean, and canola.  Although mainstream "health" reporting has for years championed  these oil as being the healthiest on the planet, they are in reality quite dangerous to use in cooking or for any other purpose.  Unless they are labeled as organic, corn, soybean, cottonseed and canola oils are genetically modified, have undergone heavy chemical processing, and are loaded with pesticide.  They are way too high in omega-6 fatty acids, and contain trans fats produced in processing.  These oils should are not fit for human consumption whether they have been heated or not.

Worthy fats for cooking

Coconut oil - beats all the others for maintaining integrity when used for cooking, because more than 90% of its fatty acids are saturated, making it a highly stable oil. You can buy a large container of extra virgin coconut oil and keep it in your pantry for years without it losing its integrity and becoming rancid.

The health benefits of coconut oil are legendary.  Research has shown it acts to relieve stress, maintain positive cholesterol balance, aid in weight loss, boost immunity, aid digestion and regulate metabolism.  It provides relief from kidney problems, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer and osteoporosis.

Many of these benefits are attributed to the lauric acid, capric acid, and capylic acid it contains.  These fatty acids are antimicrobial, antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-fungal.

Butter - has been the whipping child of the diet dictators and the food police for decades, but that is changing.  Today butter is slowly being recognized as a health food. Its saturated fat at 68% puts butter next after coconut oil in suitability for cooking. But there's more to butter than the frying pan.

Butter contains many anti-cancer factors including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Scientists in Sweden have found that women who consume four or more servings of high-fat dairy foods daily reduced their risk of colorectal cancer by 41% compared with women who consumed less than one serving daily. Butter contains two other powerful cancer fighters that slow the aging process too - vitamin E and selenium.

Butter is rich in nutrients that protect the heart.  Vitamin A is needed for health of the thyroid and adrenal glands, which help maintain proper functioning of the whole cardiovascular system.  Butter contains lecithin, a substance needed for proper assimilation and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents. 


Other animal fats (think bacon grease, lard and tallow) - You are probably saying "Yikes" at this category because animal fats have been sorely maligned.  But the truth is that animal foods like meat, liver, whole milk, cheese and eggs contain ten to one hundred times more vitamins and minerals than plant foods do. The nutrients in animal fats, such as vitamins A, D and K, arachidonic acid, DHA, choline and cholesterol and are critical for brain function. And the best part is that animal fats are highly stable and well suited to cooking. 

A century ago our ancestors used animal fats exclusively, yet less than one in a hundred Americans back then was obese, and high cholesterol and coronary heart disease were unknown. Today research is showing that people who have the highest percentage of saturated fat in their diets have the lowest risk of heart disease.

Extra virgin olive oil - is the backbone of the Mediterranean diet, the only documented diet that lowers risk of death from all causes. In addition to bolstering the immune system and helping to protect against viruses, olive oil has been found effective against cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression and osteoporosis.  It is fabulous for use as a dressing on raw vegetables, and it makes the carotenoids they contain bioavailable for humans. The best way to use olive oil in cooked food is to wait until the food has cooled a bit and then add it in.  This works well in pasta dishes, soups, stews, beans, lentils or with other cooked vegetables. 

Olive oil is considered a monounsaturated oil.  It is 14% saturated and as such is more volatile than coconut oil or butter.  However if care is taken, it can be used in a light saute or stir fry and still maintain its integrity. Be sure the bottle you buy says it is 100% extra virgin olive oil.  Many brands of "olive oil" are adulterated with cheaper oils.

Avocado oil - is quite similar to olive oil in fat composition.  It provides a similar profile of health benefits and can be used in the same manner as olive oil.

Nut oils - Nut and peanut oils have a pleasing taste, but they are high in polyunsaturated fat, making them a poor choice for high heat cooking.  If you must, use them only for light baking.

Oils that should not be heated at all

Two oils popular for their high Omega-3 content are fish oil and flax oil.  These oils are cancer preventive and work wonders on the brain.  Flax oil is the at the center of the Budwig Protocol that has brought many cancer patients back from the jaws of death.  Clearly these oils should be part of your diet.  But they are extremely polyunsaturated and should never be heated.

If you pass a fish counter, your nose will let you know how quickly fish oil becomes rancid.  This is a good reason to buy only frozen fish, which is usually frozen immediately after being caught. Cook fatty fish such as salmon and tuna lightly at the lowest temperature possible to preserve the integrity of its oil. Never over cook it.

See also:

Six Healthy Oils to Include in Your Diet

How to Buy Olive Oil Without Getting Scammed

Canola Oil is Not What You Think

For more information:

About the author:

Barbara is a school psychologist and the author of Dividend Capture, a book on personal finance. She is a breast cancer survivor using bioidentical hormone therapy, and a passionate advocate of natural health with hundreds of articles on many aspects of health and wellness. She is the editor and publisher of AlignLife's Health Secrets Newsletter.

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