Oils: The Good, The Bad and The Essential

The news is rife with talk of trans-fats, monounsaturated fats, which fats to eat, which to avoid, etc… My goal this month is to provide some clarity about oils. Which are therapeutic and why, and which sources are the right and wrong ones. This isn’t a complete list but more of a broad overview. Enjoy!!

Saturated Fatty Acids:

The chain of fats doesn’t have any double bonds which means that every carbon has a hydrogen attached to it. Saturated fat comes mostly from animal products and is linked to causing heart disease and other inflammatory conditions.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids:

These fats only contain one double bond. Monounsaturated fats can be found in beneficial foods such as avocado and olive oil. They have been found to provide protection from cancer.

Polyunsaturated Fat Acids:

These fats contain at least 2 double bonds in their chemical structure


Formed by the chemical process of Hydrogenation. This fat is virtually impossible for our bodies to break down. The link to heart and blood vessel disease causes this fat to be used less in cooking. Margarine is hydrogenated!

Essential Fatty Acids:

Fats that cannot be synthesized in the body. One should try to eat Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s in a 1:5 ratio instead of our current ratio of consumption: 1:18!!

  • Omega 3:We, generally, do not get enough omega 3’s from our diet (even a diet rich in fish). It is important to supplement with good sources of omega 3’s in order to promote a healthy inflammatory response. While some omega 6’s may promote inflammation, the omega 3’s will help the system switch to an anti-inflammatory mode.
    • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – Major component of cell membranes, photoreceptors in the eyes, cerebral gray matter and sperm. Helpful for pregnant women to take DHA to help with normal fetal nervous system development. Also very useful in helping to support those with mood disorders (such as anxiety, depression or bi-polar). Like EPA, DHA also has anti-inflammatory action.
    • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – Major component of tissue. Has been shown to help with promoting healthy cholesterol balance and helps to prevent heart disease. EPA is a much better choice for blood thinning and preventing blood clots than aspirin.
    • Alpha Linolenic Acid – Can be made from linolenic acid.
  • Omega 6: It is rare to have a deficiency in Omega 6’s. This type of fat is in all sorts of foods common to the Western diet.
    • Linoleic Acid – Used in cell proliferation. Regulates brain function and nerve impulses. Found in nearly every tissue of the body. Assists in treatment of diseases of inflammation. Found in nuts, seeds and whole grains.
    • Arachidonic Acid – Although this may be considered an essential fatty acid, it is a promoter of inflammation. Arachidonic acid is found in many animal products (particularly beef and chicken). Lessening the amount of animal products will help to decrease overall inflammation in the body.
  • Omega 9: Note: Always choose extra-virgin cold expeller pressed olive oil!
    • Oleic Acid – This heart-healthy fatty acid is found in Olive Oil. Olive oil has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol (good) and lower LDL cholesterol (bad) and has more antioxidants than any other oil.

Oils to sauté with: Almond, avocado, canola, hazelnut, olive, peanut, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and walnut.

Oils to never cook: Borage, Flax, Evening Primrose, Pistachio, Pumpkin, Wheat Germ, Sunflower (unrefined). These oils are generally used in nutritional supplements and should therefore be in their most pure, raw, fresh, organic and unrefined state, they can be used in food as long as the food is not cooked.

Oils to bake with: Canola, grapeseed, walnut, Safflower (high oleic), coconut, soy and peanut… Fine to bake with all oils listed in this section except for the oils listed in the “never cook” section.

Oils that can be used in sauces: Sesame, toasted sesame, olive, corn, coconut, canola.

Fats to fry with (if you must fry): Canola (refined), Peanut (refined), Rice Bran (refined), Safflower (High Oleic, refined), Sesame (refined), Sunflower (High Oleic, refined), Coconut.

Smoke Point: When an oil begins to smoke, it releases an acrid odor and free radicals are formed. Do not use any oil which has gone beyond the smoke point.

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