Choosing Healthy Fats

Extra virgin olive oil, ground flax seeds, raw almond butter, avocado, extra virgin coconut oil, goat cheese, raw walnut butter

Fats are essential for our body. Meaning we need to include them in our diet in order to survive. About 60% of our brain is made up of fat. Choosing the wrong kinds of fats and oils or not treating them properly can lead to increased risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

The best types of fats are the unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are important for the body and are known to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and exist naturally in unrefined oils (olive oil), avocados, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and unrefined seed oils. Polyunsaturated fats are the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats that exist naturally in seeds, nuts, legumes, green leafy vegetables, cold water fish, and some grains. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats that a person should get is 2:1 or 4:1. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and exist in flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, and cold water fish. Omega-6 fatty acids are in safflower, sesame, sunflower, soy, canola, and corn oils and in meats. Most Americans consume excessive amounts of omega-6 in their diets and not enough omega-3. It is important to keep a balance of these in order to improve health.

The other types of fats are the saturated fats and trans fats, these are the fats that are solid at room temperature and are most harmful for your health. Saturated fats exist in animal protein (red meat is the highest in fat), dairy, butter, and lard. Trans fats are synthetically produced and exist in processed foods like fast food, pastries (crisco, margarine), and candies. The best way to avoid these fats is by reducing consumption of commercially processed foods.

Knowing what types of fats to use when cooking is important. Fats and oils can get damaged if heated above their melting point and become rancid and harmful to us. Olive oil, for example, has a low melting point of 325 F and should not be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting, or baking at high temperatures. It is recommended to be used without heating like in a salad dressings or drizzled over already cooked foods. Choosing unrefined oils and naturally occurring fats is best. Refined oils usually have a higher smoke point, but are chemically processed and don't provide any nutrients. Here is a list of good quality fats and oils to use and their smoke points:

Smoke Point (°F)
Unrefined Flax Seed Oil
Shouldn’t be heated
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Shouldn’t be heated. Contains nourishing substances (antioxidant) that are harmed when heated close to 300 F. Use as seasoning after cooking.
Virgin Coconut Oil
Good for low heat sauteing or roasting
Toasted Sesame Oil
Okay for low heat sauteing or roasting, but best if used as seasoning after cooking.
Unrefined Sesame Oil
Good for medium heat 
Good for medium heat 
Unrefined Palm Oil
Good for medium-high heat
Almond Oil*
Good for medium-high heat
Grapeseed Oil**
Good for high heat
Extra Virgin Tea Seed Oil
Good for high heat
Ghee or Clarified Butter
Good for high heat
Avocado Oil*
Good for high heat

*Almond oil and avocado oil are refined oils, but are the best choices if any of the others are not available because they still contain some monounsaturated fats. 

**Grapeseed oil is a good option, but also very high in omega-6 fatty acids which are usually already over consumed. 

Note that it is also important to use the best quality of unrefined fats and oils. Go for organic products when possible. Should be USDA Organic Certified. 

I recommend using virgin coconut oil when cooking with high heat. Coconut oil has many health benefits, It supports thyroid function, heart health, and helps prevention of Alzheimer's. Although it has many health supportive benefits, it is still a saturated fat, and like everything else, should be consumed in moderation. It does have a strong taste and will penetrate through your food, but I find it quite tasty. My personal favorite way to cook is to do a "healthy sauté" with chicken broth or vegetable broth instead of oil and I like to get my fats from other foods like raw nuts, seeds, olive oil (without heating), and animal proteins. Keep in mind that the recommended daily servings for seeds and/or oils is 2-3. A serving size would equal 1 Tablespoon oil or 2 Tablespoons seeds. 

I hope this gives you some guidance when choosing what type of fats to consume in order to live a healthier life and reduce risk for diseases. 


Flavors of Health by Ed Bauman, Ph.D. and Lizette Marx, N.C.
Natural Chef Training Program Textbook, Bauman College

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