There are a few factors to consider when deciding which oils to use as healthy fats. But to keep it simple, we’ll start with the basics.
You want an oil that provides monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats. Unsaturated fats reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of chronic disease and inflammation. Oils that contain more unsaturated fats are vegetable oils like avocado oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil. Saturated fats aren’t necessarily bad fats. You would just want to use them in smaller quantities. These would include coconut oil, ghee or clarified butter, and palm kernel oil.
A good indication of whether something contains saturated fat is if it’s solid at room temperature.
The second factor to consider is whether it’s higher in omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids. Although you need both, the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is four to one. In the typical standard American diet, most people are closer to fifteen to one or twenty to one. Keeping the ratio in check minimizes inflammation and decreases the risk of autoimmune disease and chronic disease. This factor isn’t as important if you’re already consuming a diet that’s rich in omega-3s but since the average person is not, the oils to include are walnut oil, flaxseed oil, and fish oils. Oils that are higher in omega-6s include peanut oil, safflower oil, and grapeseed oil. These oils are best used when cooking things at high heat which brings us to the third factor which is the smoke point.
Heating in oil past the point that it starts smoking damages its molecular structure causing it to produce free radicals that can harm cells and increase inflammation. A good rule of thumb to follow is the higher the smoke point, the better it is for cooking. While oils with low smoke points would be best used as finishing oils. Oils with a high smoke point include sesame oil, rice bran oil, and clarified butter. An oil that would be better used as a finishing oil includes extra virgin olive oil.
So which is the healthiest? It depends on what purpose the oil is serving so it’s best to have a variety around which can also help diversify flavor.
Comment below with your favorite oil.