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What Oil Is Best for Healthy Cooking?

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Q. What oil would you recommend for cooking? I just read that safflower oil is high in linoleic acid and could increase the risk for heart disease.

Olive oil is great for salads and some cooking, but not for everything. I've been using canola oil when I don't use olive oil. Is that the best choice?

Is there an oil that would not be high in omega-6 fats? I am still confused.

A. For decades, nutrition experts have been recommending oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as safflower or corn oil. PUFAs lower cholesterol and were assumed to prevent heart attacks.

A new analysis of old data shows that we should not rely too heavily on vegetable oils high in linoleic acid. That's because of the Sydney Diet Heart Study. In this randomized trial, men eating safflower oil instead of butter and other saturated fat had higher rates of death from cardiovascular causes (BMJ, online, Feb. 5, 2013). Breakdown products of linoleic acid may be oxidized into compounds that clog coronary arteries.

Olive oil is rich in the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, and the recent study on the Mediterranean diet certainly supports its use. Participants had to consume at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily. For high-heat cooking such as stir-frying, we sometimes use peanut oil or grapeseed oil, even though they have more linoleic acid than we would want for everyday use. For baking, we like to use walnut oil, which is rich in omega-3 fats but rather pricey.

Other options include rice bran oil or cold-pressed organic canola oil. According to Mary Enig, PhD, author of Know Your Fats, the best approach is to "use a mixture of natural fats in moderation."

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36 Comments

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Use coconut oil for cooking.

I've read that all canola oil is GMO so how can it be organic?

I hear that coconut oil is one of the best for cooking. Is this correct?

What about coconut oil?

You didn't mention coconut oil. I understand that coconut oil can be subject to high heat, and that it's very good for you as well.

My lovely and lively wife has been using coconut oil a lot recently. Frying eggs, making popcorn, etc; it smells great and she says it is an excellent oil. What say y'all?

Coconut Oil is also excellent for high heat cooking.

I too, am dissapointed that you did not mention coconut oil. Among other benefits, it is great for baking.

The best fats for high heat cooking are saturated fats. Pastured pork lard, especially leaf lard. Tallow, schmaltz (chicken/duck fat) butter, ghee. Tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil, palm shortening. Vegetable oils in general should only be used cold, such as drizzling on salads etc.

I am extremely disappointed as well that coconut oil was not even mentioned. My suspicions have now been validated and I no longer have the same level of confidence in your information I once had. Do your own research people as the truth can be found if you dig deep enough. Keep in mind that People's Pharmacy is still part of big business and not all that is presented is necessarily completely factual.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: The study we were considering did not cover coconut oil. When we find one that does, we will be sure to write about it.

I have been baking with coconut oil for quite some time. My husband & I lost weight and feel great. One scientific claim.... coconut oil is the only oil that helps regulate blood sugar.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: We couldn't find the science for that claim. Can you tell us where to look?

What we found was mouse research showing that sugar is exceptionally bad for genetically obese mice. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2097092

I'm anxious to hear your assessment of coconut oil. There was a a lot of talk awhile back about coconut oil and dementia that went nowhere. Do you recommend coconut oil as an acceptable replacement.

I, too, wonder why no mention of coconut oil? I use almost exclusively.

Avocado oil has a higher smoke point.

I, too, would like to chime in for using coconut oil. As already mentioned I use it for almost everything from cooking eggs, to wok cooking, to smearing on toast, to salads, to popcorn, etc etc. The fact that this medium-chain do-gooder can stand up to high heat as well just seems to make it the ideal dietary and nutritional oil!

Not sure why you're recommending the very unhealthy canola oil in the same paragraph in which you are referring to Mary Enig's work. I'm sure she would not recommend canola or grapeseed oils as they are highly processed and prone to oxidation. Mary Enig recommends saturated fats including butter and coconut oil. Olive oil is good for salads but not recommended for cooking.

I'd also like to know how coconut oil stacks up with the others mentioned. We've used it extensively for cooking for the last year. We use the inexpensive brand available at WalMart. The first time we used it to make popcorn we were amazed at how tasty it was. The only downside for us is our smoke alarms seem to be more sensitive to coconut oil than other types of oil.

I too use coconut oil frequently. However, if you want a neutral-flavored oil that can withstand fairly high heat and is still very healthful, I suggest pecan oil. Some people don't care for the taste imparted by coconut oil, but pecan oil is light and surprisingly does not have any flavor. Kinloch Plantation Pecan Oil, produced in my home state of Louisiana, is available at Whole Foods as well as at specialty groceries.

Actually the flash point for palm oil is higher than coconut oil so should be used for frying. Buy minimally processed and organic oils!

Before I tell you what we have been doing for a number of years let me give you the results. My hubby's cholesterol is down 100 points and my formerly very dry, cracked and flaky skin is like a baby's bottom now. Yup, even at age 67. My Dr. commented on how good my skin is the last time I saw him.

Over thirty years ago I went with all the latest food fad and we eliminated most of the "bad" fats. My hubby's cholesterol continually went up and up. Finally I started using my head and reasoned this diet thing out. This was before I started reading health newsletters etc.

I figured that man had been living on animal fats, not canola oil and the like, for thousands of years. We went back to natural eating. Real butter, coconut and palm oils, Extra Virgin Olive oil etc. When I make mayonnaise I use organic almond or avocado oil, depending what I need it for. From what I told you above you know the results have been amazing.

Get all the artificial oils out of your diet and the cholesterol numbers will take care of themselves and you will be a lot healthier. Also keep your cholesterol ABOVE 200 and below 300 for best health and longevity. The studies of Centurions, those who live to 100 and beyond, indicate that low cholesterol does NOT help us live longer lives!

How about Sunflower oil?
Also what do people think about olive oil and a bit of butter for frying?

Yoly from NM

We use a light olive oil for baking and some cooking. The light olive oil doesn't affect the flavor like n extra-virgin olive oil does. Does olive oil break down into something less healthy when subjected to high heat?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Only if your high heat makes it smoke and burn.

I am new to coconut oil but starting using 1 TB in my oatmeal every day. I had put on 15 lbs when I hit menopause that I couldn't get to budge. I had stopped using butter in my oatmeal a while back so it isn't like I swapped out the butter for coconut oil. That is the only thing I did different with my diet and the 15 lbs came off quite easily. I want to try to pop popcorn with it next.

Does walnut oil used in baking introduce a different taste? Do you recommend sesame oil for anything?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Walnut oil will have a slight taste of walnuts, often desirable in baked goods. Oil vs solid fat does change the texture of baked goods. Sesame oil, especially toasted sesame oil, is sometimes added at the end of stir-frying for the distinctive flavor.

why is peanut oil never mentioned. could you give me some info about it?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: It is rich in PUFAs, especially linoleic acid (omega 6 fat). It has a high smoke point, so it is often used for stir-frying.

Coconut oil has been used for hundreds of years as a cooking oil and as a natural balm for traditional healing. Today a whole generation is rediscovering its many health benefits and rightfully so!

The problem with coconut oil is that your food smells like suntan lotion! We don't find that very pleasant.

PP, one can use palm oil for high temperature frying and it does not have a taste. There are coconut oils that do NOT taste like coconut. I used to buy it but have found that in most of my cooking one really doesn't notice a coconut taste.

Now I use the virgin coconut oil and palm oil for most things. For mayonnaise I use either almond oil, avocado oil or sometimes sesame oil, depending what I am going to use the mayo for. I use Extra Virgin Olive oil for salad dressings.

Removing the vegetable oils has made a huge difference in my hubby's cholesterol and my dry, flaky skin. I make myself a hot chocolate treat in the afternoons and use two TB of coconut oil. What a difference it has made in my life!

Jamie, you are absolutely right ! Unfortunately it is difficult to find unadulterated lard nowadays. There is nothing better for pastries and frying chicken, but I haven't found any in a lot of years that doesn't have crappy chemicals in it.

Yes, good lard is available online but one must purchase large quantities. If you know of a source where one could buy a pound or two let me know please.

In the meantime we have been using palm oil or butter for baking. The goods don't have as good a texture but they work.

Most oils have a very low smoke point and the fats will break down. Olive oil and sesame oil have low smoke points-DO NOT USE THEM FOR FRYING!

Do we have any home economics majors or chefs that read this site? They would have studied these things.

I've seen lists of oils and their smoke points but don't remember where I saw them. I do remember that palm oil had a higher smoke point than coconut oil. I believe lard and bacon fat do as well. For frying (sauteing) I use palm oil or bacon drippings (organic). Haven't found a source for good lard.

Liz, what is "light" olive oil? Has it been cut with something else?

What are natural oils for cooking, eating?

To all who have mentioned PALM OIL as a good cooking oil, please remember that this oil comes from palm oil plantations, planted in Sumatra, Borneo and other Indonesian islands. These palm oil plantations were established by burning down native rainforest, home to Orangutans, Sumatran tigers and other very endangered animals. Palm oil plantations are the greatest threats to these endangered, and in some cases near extinction, native animals in these islands. We should think again before we participate in destroying habitat for endangered native species.

MJB, I appreciate your sentiments but one could say the same thing about the farming that ruined the plains for the buffalo here in our country. What is done is done. Think of all the virgin prairies now planted in soy beans and corn!

Those palm plantations are giving workers jobs. The best thing one can do is support organizations that help set aside good habitat for the indigenous fauna and flora. Support companies that raise these tropical products with the least harm to the environment.

to get lard, visit your local meat plant and ask them to save you a bunch of hog fat, then render it yourself. go to your search engine to find out how to render the fat.

I have been using grapeseed oil for higher temperature frying ever since it was recommended in a cooking school class. It is lighter than olive oil in flavor and has a great many health benefits. It doesn't have the disadvantage of making food taste like suntan lotion.

Grapeseed oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Many think this is bad and leads to inflammation. It is also high in Omega 6's which is generally out of balance in our diets.

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