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Oils and Fats in the Kitchen

Cooking / Recipes, Diets, General Nutrition, Healthy Eating
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Over the last few years, due to the publication of several studies, dietary fat / oil has lost some of its reputation as an “evil” macronutrient that should be avoided at all costs. Many oils have been found to be beneficial and essential to optimal health. Healthy oils / fats are generally derived from plant, not animal sources. But, there are several considerations to make when storing and cooking with healthy plant oils because they tend to be more sensitive to light, heat, or air than the solid saturated or animal based fats.


The primary goal when storing oil is to reduce the amount of oxidation (exposure to oxygen) that can lead to rancidity. This is especially important when dealing with less stable mono- and polyunsaturated oils, such as olive or canola oil. When storing these oils, ensure that they are stored in containers that are air tight and limit their exposure to heat and light. Dark colored glass containers work best for storage.  It is not advisable to store oils next to the stove where they will be exposed to variable temperatures. These unstable oils should not be kept for longer than 4 to 6 months to ensure optimal freshness.

Solid fats such as butter, coconut oil, or shortening can keep much longer and are not as reactive to oxygen. But, the reason many of these fats are stable and non-reactive is that they are high in either trans- or saturated fat, making them poor choices for health. There has been some research that the type of saturated fat in coconut oil does not increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, but can actually lower it, but more conclusive research is needed before specific recommendations for intake can be made.


Oils for Cooking and Baking

When choosing oils for cooking, the most important component is the oil's smoke point.  The smoke point is the temperature where the oil begins to smoke and can begin to produce free radicals and toxic fumes. Fats with high smoke points (best for deep frying) include rice bran oil, almond oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and sunflower oil. Frying food is not an ideal cooking method for health due to the high calorie and fat content of fried foods. Fats with medium smoke points (best for baking or stir-frying) include canola oil or peanut oil. Olive oil can be used for low heat cooking methods, but should not be heated to high temperatures.

Oils for Dressings, Drizzling, and Dipping


Oils that should be used exclusively for salad dressings, drizzling over foods, or dipping are those with the lowest smoke points and should not be heated at all because the health benefits they provide are lost when heating. These oils include flaxseed oil and wheat germ oil, both of which are a source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3s are particular sensitive to heat and light exposure.

I always think about the intented purpose before I choose which oil I will use. For example, is it the flavour, texture or smell which is important or is it just a vehicle for cooking? For everyday cooking on the stove I use rice bran oil whilst I try to keep a few olive oils close at hand and use them daily for dressings and sauces. When visting a growers market I stock up on a good quality olive oil and use them to drizzle over a dish when I know the flavour, smell and texture will be appreciated, typcially over a salad, soup or pizza. 

Remember that all fats are high in calories and a little goes a long way. If you are watching your weight, watch your portion, but remember there is no need to be afraid of adding healthy fats and oils to your diet.




1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535.short

2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/96/3/498.short


4. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/1438-9312(200210)104:9/10%3C661::AID-EJLT661%3E3.0.CO;2-D/abstract

5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009912004001201

6. http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/05/heart-healthy-cooking-oils-101/




Oils and Fats in the Kitchen