Cooking Oils 101: Everything You Need to Know About Oils

Cooking Oil 101

Nearly every cook cooks with oil—yes, even most of us health geeks at Life and Health Network, although in limited portions.  As it turns out, fats (oil is a type of fat) are an essential nutrient in the human diet.  For most individuals, it’s appropriate to get about 25% of your daily food energy from healthy fats and oils.  (To keep the percentage under 25%, it would be necessary to rarely, if ever, to fry or cook with oil.)  That said, it’s important to understand that not all oils are created equal.

Quick health summary

As we mentioned above, it is appropriate for most individuals to get 25% of their daily food energy from fat. However, we must make the distinction between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ fats. We want the fats we eat to be healthy  (high in mono- and polyunsaturated) fats, while we want to avoid unhealthy (saturated and trans) fats. Try to limit your saturated fat intake under 10% of your daily calories.

Saturated fats: Saturated fats typically derive from animal sources like lard and butter, contribute to higher levels of cholesterol in the blood, and are a risk factor for athesrosclerosis and heart disease.  It’s usually wise to cook with oils low in this fat.

Trans fats: Found mostly in foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils and may increase your risk of heart disease and many other diseases.  Avoid consuming trans fats whenever possible.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs): Also known as omega-9 fatty acids, n-9, and oleic acid.  Monounsaturated fats improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.  These fats are abundant in healthier oils like olive oil, canola oil, “high-oleic” sunflower oil, hazelnut oil, and almond oil.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs): Consist of omega-3 acids, also known as n-3, and omega-6 acids, also known as n-6.  They are important for maintaining cell membranes and for making prostaglandins, which regulate many body processes.  PUFAs are also necessary to enable the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to be absorbed from food and for regulating body cholesterol metabolism.

Dr. Randy Bivens says: “I’m reticent to recommend the intake of additional oil, whether it’s advertised as ‘healthy’ or not.  A balanced, plant-based diet, which includes nuts, grains, and cereals, has more than a sufficient amount of fats to remain healthy.”

Cooking Oils

Almond oil

Almond Oil

Avocado oil

Avocado Oil



*Life and Health recommendation: Limit or eliminate. That is all.

Clarified butter/Ghee


*Life and Health recommendation: Limit or eliminate, even more so than butter.

Canola oil

Canola Oil

Coconut oil

Coconut Oil

* Life and Health note: Even though the numbers would suggest that this is a very unhealthy oil, recent preliminary research implies that, because coconut oil is a natural oil, the saturated fats in it may in fact be healthier.  Virgin coconut oil, because it hasn’t been chemically treated, lacks the trans fat-creating partial hydrogenation that caused such an uproar to health scientists.

Corn oil

Corn Oil

Grape seed oil

Grapeseed Oil

Hemp oil

Hemp Oil



*Life and Health recommendation: For all of our sakes (including the pig), please avoid this at all costs.

Macadamia oil

Macadamia Oil

Margarine (hard/soft)


Mustard oil

Mustard Oil

Olive oil (extra virgin/refined/extra light)

Olive Oil

Palm oil

Mustard Oil

Peanut oil/Groundnut oil

Peanut Oil

Rice bran oil

Rice Bran Oil

Sesame oil

Sesame Oil

Soybean oil

Soybean Oil

Sunflower oil (linoleic/high oleic)

Sunflower Oil


[1] “All About Cooking Oils.” All About Cooking Oils. Miss Vickie. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[2] The Beating Edge Team. “Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101.” Health Hub from Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, 31 May 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[3] “Cooking Oil.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Nov. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[4] “Cooking Oils.” Cooking Oils | Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[5] Hezel, Anna. “Getting to Know Your Oils.” Food52. Food52, 29 May 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[6] “Oils, Fats, and Essential Fatty Acids.” Oils. Veg Health Guide. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[7] “Product Grade Definitions.” The Olive Oil Source. The Olive Oil Source. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

[8] Stradley, Linda. “Cooking Fats and Oil Types, Smoking Points of Fats and Oils, Monounsaturated Fats, Polyunsaturated Fats, Trans Fatty Acids.” Cooking Fats and Oil Types, Smoking Points of Fats and Oils, Monounsaturated Fats, Polyunsaturated Fats, Trans Fatty Acids. What’s Cooking America, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Avatar photo
Sarah Yoo

Sarah Yoo is the associate director of Life & Health but wears a few dozen hats as other this-and-thats, as is the norm in non-profit work. Her favorite part about working at Life & Health is meeting the people that Life & Health content has helped. Ultimately, Sarah dreams of doing humanitarian work in a developing country with her family.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Newsletter Signup

Stay connected!

Please wait...

Thank you for the sign up!