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The terms “healthy oils” and “healthy fats” are popular, but can be misleading. Healthy for whom? And “healthy” on what basis? For a diabetic heart patient, saturated fat is a primary concern, as it can raise LDL cholesterol and contribute to the progression of heart disease. Oils (like all fats) are not health food, but are a necessary part of a satisfying diet. In part 1 of this series, we learned that research suggests replacing saturated fats with fats higher in polyunsaturated fats (first), and monounsaturated fats (to a lesser degree) can lower the risk of heart disease.

The healthy oils chart below lists 15 oils and 3 animal fats in order of saturated fat content, starting with those containing the lowest amount of saturated fat. While all oils contain at least a little, you might be surprised that some oils promoted as “healthy” in some contexts have a very high amount of saturated fat. We have included beef fat (tallow) and chicken fat on this list, not because we would expect you to buy it and cook with it, but to demonstrate the value of minimizing it. Our recipes are primarily designed to help you replace saturated fats with healthier ones.

Fat grams
(per 1 TB)
Oil or fatSmoke
Primary fat content
and production
.8-1Safflower500PUFA; chemically extracted
.9 – 1 Canola 400 MUFA; chemically extracted
1Almond430MUFA; pressed or extracted
1-1.3Flaxseed225PUFA; expeller cold pressed
1.4-2Sunflower440 PUFA; chemically extracted
1.7-2Corn450PUFA; chemically extracted
1.8 – 2 Olive 400 MUFA; cold pressed,
expeller pressed or extracted
1.9Sesame450MUFA/PUFA; pressed or extracted
2Avocado520MUFA; cold or expeller pressed
2Grapeseed400PUFA; pressed or extracted
2Walnut320PUFA; pressed or extracted
2Soybean450PUFA; chemically extracted
2-2.3Peanut450MUFA, less PUFA; pressed or extracted
4Chicken375Some MUFA
6Beef tallow
400Some MUFA
7-8Butter300Minimal MUFA
7-10Palm450MUFA; cold or expeller pressed
12Coconut4501 each of MUFA/PUFA; cold
or expeller pressed

Saturated fat ranges can vary from one brand to another. No production method is shown for the animal fats, since these are rendered, rather than extracted. Generally, oils contain 14 grams of fat per serving, which is split between varying combinations of saturated fat (grams shown above), monounsaturated fat (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs). The more saturated fat it contains, the lower the amounts of MUFAs and PUFAs.

Smoke point is an important consideration in choosing the right oil, because oils begin to break down at that temperature. For more information on smoke points, and recommended oils based on them, be sure to see part 2 of this series, and remember that unrefined oils have a lower smoke point than shown above. For considerations as to how the oil is processed, see part 2. Relying more on expeller pressed oils and less on chemically extracted ones can reduce your exposure to hexane and other chemical solvents.

Oil storage and usage: Finally, oils keep best stored in a cool, dark place. Heat, air and light all shorten the life of oils by generating free radicals that affect taste and quality. It’s best to buy oils in small batches and look for dark bottles or containers that protect them from light. Cold-pressed oils should be refrigerated, and consider also refrigerating flavorful oils that will not get used often.

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