A Guide to Using Fats and Oils

Posted by Healthful Elements Staff

This post is an installment in our 52 Health Hinges series. Remember, “Small hinges swing big doors.”

Last week, we established that fat is good for you, and – despite conventional thinking – it’s not something to avoid.

In fact, avoiding fat can contribute to hormonal imbalance and blood sugar dysregulation, leading to inflammation and, eventually, the onset of chronic disease.

One of the cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory diet is eating the right fats and using them properly. If you use your fats and oils incorrectly they can become damaged and oxidized, which, in turn, causes inflammation.

Here’s a guide on how to use your fats and oils for optimal benefit and health.

Ideal for High Heat
The more saturated the fat, the more stable it is, making it less likely to be damaged or oxidized when cooking. When cooking over high heat, your best choices are:

  • Coconut oil
  • Butter – Ideally, use butter made from organic and grass-fed sources; often called “pasture butter” on the label.
  • Ghee (clarified butter) – Ghee is made from removing milk solids and water from butter. Many times, even those with a dairy sensitivity will be able to tolerate ghee.
  • Tallow (beef fat), lard (pork fat), or duck fat
  • Palm oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Avocado oil *

* There are differing opinions about avocado oil. Some experts, like Dr. Frank Lipman, who we highly respect, say that it’s a good high-heat cooking oil (with a purported high smoke point (over 400F or 200C)). Others say that it’s moderately stable and should only be used for low-heat cooking. 

Moderately Stable – Light Sauté
This is the tricky section. These oils are good for you, but you can make a good thing bad through incorrect use. Too much heat will damage and oxidize these oils, making them rancid and inflammatory. These oils are lovely cold (think about a drizzle on top of your food once already cooked), but if you use care, they can handle a light sauté:

  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil

Cold Use Only – No Cooking
These oils are healthy, but will not tolerate any amount of heat without oxidizing and becoming rancid and inflammatory. These should be used cold/raw only:

  • Almond oil
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Pumpkin seed oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Walnut oil

Never. No. Nada.
Man-made saturated fats should be avoided. Period. Trans fats are man-made, and are also called partially hydrogenated oils. Even though they’ve been banned by the FDA, producers still have until 2018 to remove them from their products, so it’s up to you to read your labels to make sure you know what you’re eating. 

(Speaking of labels, the FDA’s rules for labeling trans fat allows for some leeway. If a serving contains .5 grams or less, the food manufacturer can claim it has “0 trans fat per serving.” So it’s not difficult to consume several grams of trans fat – it’s easy to go on believing we’re consuming no trans fats at all. Sneaky.)

Man-made saturated fats include:

  • “Buttery Spreads” like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Earth Balance
  • Margarine (which is one molecule away from being plastic!)
  • Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils

Industrial seed oils are inflammatory to your body and should not be consumed. These oils are highly processed (this processing is required to get the oils out of the seed), and the processing damages the oils, making them rancid by the time they reach the consumer. These oils are not recommended for consumption. Not heated, not raw, not at all.

  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Corn oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Soybean oil

An Aside on Canola Oil
Admittedly, the advice on canola oil is mixed. You will find some advising that canola oil is fine for use (even for cooking, as it has a high smoke point), and some that don’t recommend its use.

Personally, I have chosen to not use it. There are so many other fats that ARE proven to be healthy, so why bother with canola oil?

Here are the reasons why I’ve ditched it and put it on the “never” list:

  • It’s predominately made from the seed of genetically modified (GMO) rape plants. I avoid GMOs in my diet. (I feel a future Health Hinge coming on…)
  • The FDA has banned canola oil in baby formulas. If it’s not good for babies, why would it be good for anyone else?
  • Even if we assume it’s not harmful, there are no nutritional benefits either.

Sources: Diane Sanfilippo and Andrea Nakayama 

Posted by Healthful Elements Staff


Thanks for the helpful article. One question about the lists - walnut oil is listed under both "Cold Use Only" and "Never." Could you please clarify which list it should fall under? Thanks!

Good catch, Tracy. I took it out of the “never” list.

I really appreciate these articles, Jill.  But I have a concern about the man-made spread, Earth Balance.  My body cannot ingest dairy very well (I'm not necessarily lactose-intolerant, but I have some not-so-great reactions to dairy), so using butter on a GF muffin or even on a baked potato is not a good option for me.

So, what would you suggest I use for those times I might want some "butter" on my ear of corn or whatnot?


Try ghee! Many people that can’t tolerate dairy can handle ghee (also called clarified butter).

You could also try coconut oil - I think that sounds good on a muffin or ear of corn…

Thanks for this article - very informative! 

My hubby likes to cook with groundnut oil, but I don't see it listed in your article.  Can you please tell me if it's safe to eat? 

Thank you x

Hi Kris - I hadn’t heard of groundnut oil before, so I had to look it up! I learned that groundnut oil is another name for peanut oil. This is relatively heat stable, so could be safely used for a light saute (like sesame oil). Store in the refrigerator.

I certainly appreciate this blog, I was just recently diagnosed with hashimotos a month ago and trying to wrap my head around it all, talk about foggy brain

Hi Julie, welcome! We have a lot of great information on our blog, so please do look around! If you’d like individualized guidance to help piece it all together, please feel free to schedule an Introductory Session. We’d love to talk with you.

Another great article on this topic.

My husband likes his food chared/cryspy so I often cook his food on high heat with avocado oil. I have a large Blackstone outdoor griddle that works perfect for this! In this process there tends to be oil smoking and I find that Blackstone recipes expecially call for this. Is this really bad? Are grill and BBQ restaurants super unhealthy because of the high heat they use?

Add comment