embracing nutrition and functional medicine

Simple Healthy Swaps – Cooking Oils

ESTIMATED READING TIME 5 MINUTES

Healthy cooking oils

Healthy Cooking Oils – Simple Healthy Swaps

Welcome to our regular feature highlighting simple healthy food swaps. This month, cooking oils come under the spotlight. 

With so much misinformation out there about cooking oils, let’s try and cut through the confusion so you can make healthy informed choices.

The most important thing to remember when choosing a cooking oil is various types of oils behave differently when they’re heated, depending on their molecular structure.

So, first, read on for a quick cooking oil 101.

Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Saturated fats have stable bonds between their atoms. This means they’re not as easily damaged by heat as other types of oils. They’re usually solid at room temperature. Some examples of saturated fats are coconut oil, ghee and butter.

Unsaturated fats have weaker bonds between their atoms. Within this category, you’ll find monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado oil, and high oleic sunflower oil – this is obtained from sunflower seeds developed to have a higher content of monounsaturated fats than they would naturally. These oils are usually liquid at room temperature but can turn thick and gooey when they’re kept at cold temperatures.

Monounsaturated fats are more easily damaged by heat than saturated fats but are still fairly stable.

Polyunsaturated fats have atoms attached by weak bonds, so heat easily damages them. They are naturally liquid at room temperature. They include traditional sunflower oil, corn oil, soya oil, walnut oil, flaxseed and grapeseed oils. 

Some oils such as sesame oil and rapeseed oil contain both monounsaturated oils and polyunsaturated oils.

The temperature at which an oil breaks down is called its smoke point. Beyond this, it will be damaged by heat and will start to oxidise. Free radicals are then produced. These need to be neutralised by antioxidants, otherwise they will damage body cells.

Processed Oils

You might be wondering why most commercially available cooking oils are made from polyunsaturated oils like sunflower oil, which shouldn’t be heated.

Most of these oils have been through a refining process, using chemical solvents and deodorisers. There’s a mine of misinformation put out by manufacturers who want to make money by claiming their oils are healthy. The original sunflower seed may indeed have been healthy, but by the time it’s gone through processing, the oil will be damaged, and may contain traces of solvents. Although refined oils end up with a slightly higher smoke point than they would do naturally, once the oil is heated it will inevitably degrade further, meaning it’s not a healthy option at all.

One other major disadvantage of these oils is that they tend to be made from sunflower or rapeseed. These contain high levels of fats in the omega 6 family. If these aren’t balanced out with sufficient omega 3 from fish or seeds, an imbalance will be created in the body, leading to unwanted inflammation. The Western diet is unnaturally high in omega 6 oils because of the widespread use of these types of cooking oils.

Unrefined oils on the other hand are usually extracted by pressure, rather than chemicals. This retains the natural nutrients present in the oils. They often contain sediment particles, are cloudier in appearance and usually have a stronger taste. They tend to be less stable and break down at a lower temperature than do refined oils. So, smoke points will differ between refined and unrefined oils of the same variety, with unrefined oils better reserved for lower-temperature cooking.

The Verdict

Once you know the type of oil, its smoke point and whether it’s been processed, you can better understand what it’s suitable for. No one oil is perfect for every situation – it depends on how you’re going to use it.

Generally, saturated fats like coconut oil, ghee or butter are suited to higher-temperature cooking, and monounsaturated fats for lower-temperature cooking. Olive oil has a relatively high smoke point, plus it’s rich in natural antioxidants including vitamin E. These do help protect it from damage when it’s heated. So, it’s suitable for moderate heat cooking. Avocado oil has a similar smoke point to olive oil.

Finally, polyunsaturated fats like flax oil, walnut oil and other nut and seed oils should be reserved for salad dressings or drizzling over cooked food. Store your polyunsaturated oils in dark bottles to exclude light and air. Better still, keep them in the fridge.

Refined vegetable oils are best avoided altogether.

Because any fat can oxidise if it’s heated enough, it’s best to use lower-temperature cooking methods whenever you can, like slow cooking. Or steam-sauté veggies with a small amount of water and pour over a little omega-3 rich oil such as flax oil once they’re on your plate.

For even more ways to use healthy fats in your cooking, Make sure to watch our Instagram Lives, as we’ll be hosting one soon covering this topic. For personal advice and support, contact us here.

Did you know you can request a FREE 15 minute Discovery Call

Do you need personalised natural support to improve your healthy food choices? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.

Share This Post

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get the latest updates, offers & more

You may also be interested in:

Contact Embracing Nutrition

Please enter your details below and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE - WHY NOT SIGN UP TO OUR NEWSLETTER

FOR ALL THE LATEST NUTRITION & WELLNESS NEWS & OFFERS

Request a Discovery Call

Please enter your contact details below and some details of your Fibromyalgia for your discovery call and we will get back to you to arrange a suitable time for your FREE 15 Minute Call

Request a Discovery Call

Please enter your contact details below and some details of your Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for your discovery call and we will get back to you to arrange a suitable time for your FREE 15 Minute Call

Request a Discovery Call

Please enter your contact details below and some details of your symptoms for your discovery call and we will get back to you to arrange a suitable time for your FREE 15 Minute Call

Request a Discovery Call

Please enter your contact details below and the reason for your discovery call and we will get back to you to arrange a suitable time for your FREE 15 Minute Discovery Call

Choose your Preferred Time of Day to be contacted ( You can choose more that one option)


Choose your preferred days to be contacted ( You can choose more than one option )

Booking Reschedule Request

If you wish to reschedule your appointment, please fill out the reschedule booking request form below.

Booking Re-schedules need to be approved and are processed manually. You will receive confirmation of your rescheduled booking once processed.

If you would rather cancel your appointment, then please close this form and select Consultation Cancel Request from the menu.

Booking Cancellation Request

If an appointment is cancelled with less than 24 hours-notice 50% fee will be incurred. If an appointment is not attended a 100% fee will be charged.

If an appointment is cancelled with less than 24 hours-notice by Embracing Nutrition, a 50% reduction of your next appointment will be made.