Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Jan

The Definitive Guide to Oils

healthy oilsBefore you can hope to make it as a speculator and start slingin’ barrels for big money, you’ve got to understand exactly what’s gushing forth from the earth’s crust. Yes, that’s right – it doesn’t start and stop just with crude, and there’s far more to oil than dinosaur bones. In fact, most experts agree that the bulk of crude oil is derived from prehistoric single-celled plankton remains. Then you’ve got the abiogenic theory, which posits that…

Er, wrong oils. Sorry.

Today’s post is actually about edible oils. Well, they’re all technically edible – they can all be swallowed and digested – but as for being palatable, let alone healthful? That remains to be seen. Not all oils are created equal, especially given the fact that most of the ones people use nowadays are actually created in an industrial laboratory. No oil “exists naturally,” mind you. Olive oil isn’t harvested by leaving open containers under leaking, dripping olives on the branch, nor is that liquid sloshing around inside a coconut pure oil. I’m not trying to disparage processing in and of itself. It takes a certain amount of processing to get any sort of oil, but a good general rule is to avoid consuming the oils that require processing on a large scale. If it involves an industrial plant, multiple stainless steel vats, a deodorizer, a de-gummer, and the harsh petroleum-derived solvent known as hexane, I wouldn’t eat it. But that’s just me (and Grok, who probably wasn’t processing wild rapeseed to get the precious canola oil).

But this is the Definitive Guide to Oils. Everything goes. No stone left unturned. No oil left un-tasted and bereft of analysis for fatty acid profile, oxidative potential, and rancidity proclivity.


Canola oil comes from rapeseed, a completely unpalatable seed rich in erucic acid, which is bitter and rather toxic. Canola oil is rapeseed oil stripped of erucic acid, as I detailed in this previous post. It gets a lot of attention from doctors as a “heart healthy” oil (one of the “good” fats) rich in omega-3s, but the fact that canola processing generally uses upwards of 500 degrees means a good portion of the Omega-3s could be rancid on the shelf.

61% MUFA
21% Omega-6 PUFA
9-11% Omega-3 PUFA
7% SFA

Flax Seed

I mentioned the seed and its oil a few times, and, after being initially supportive of flax consumption, I now recommend minimizing intake. People generally use flax oil as an Omega-3 supplement, rather than for cooking – and this is a good choice, seeing as how flax is almost entirely made of PUFAs, which are prone to rancidity and oxidation when exposed to heat. Meat eaters, though, would be better off just taking fish oil. The DHA and EPA in fish oil are far more useful than the ALA in flax seed oil. Strict vegetarians, have at it – just don’t use flax seed oil to sautee your tofu.

19% MUFA
24% Omega-6 PUFA
47% Omega-3 PUFA (from ALA)
8-9% SFA


Corn oil boggles my mind. I can’t wrap my head around how extracting gallons upon gallons of liquid oil from a lowly corncob is actually possible. How isn’t it too much work for the payoff? I mean, I’m no corn eater, but I’ve chomped a few kernels in my day, and I don’t understand how squeezing oil out of this non-vegetable sounds like a good idea to anyone.

24% MUFA
59% PUFA (mostly O-6)
13% SFA

Olive (and variations)

Olive oil got a pretty good breakdown last year, so unless I’m leaving out some recent momentous news breaking out of the highly secretive olive oil world, there’s not much more to say. It’s a delicious salad oil, a decent sautéing oil, and it can even be used as moisturizer and shaving lotion. Olive oil is one area where CW gets it right. Enjoy this one, and keep a bottle of extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil on hand for salad dressings. It also does a decent job standing up to heat, but will lose it’s delicate flavors if heated too high. This is a good enough reason for me to use a different fat/oil when cooking at high temps. (Why waste precious (and often expensive!) olive oil when lard, for instance, will do the trick?)

73% MUFA
3.5-21% Omega-6 PUFA
1% Omega-3 PUFA (not even worth mentioning, really)
14% SFA


MDA’s darling, coconut oil is truly a star. I went over why yesterday, and in past posts, but the gist of it is this: it’s a tasty, shelf-stable (no hydrogenation required) tropical oil with a ton of saturated fatty acids. In fact, it’s almost purely saturated, which is why most doctors and nutritionists will probably advise against its consumption. Not us, though. We love SFA. The refined coconut oil stands up to heat a bit better, and it doesn’t have a distinctive taste, but I can’t recommend it. Unrefined virgin oil is a murky, cloudy mess – but a delicious, creamy mess. Eat the unrefined by the spoonful.

6.2% MUFA
1.6% PUFA
92.1% SFA


Palm oil is controversial; just check out the comments section on my last post on the subject. Many palm oil plantations encroach upon the rapidly dwindling natural habitats of the orangutan, which are already in short supply in this world. The consensus seems to be that sustainable palm oil, especially the more complex, nutritious unrefined red palm oil, can be found. You’ve just got to look a little harder at the labels. West African red palm oil, for example, is considered to be pretty safe environmentally. Oh, and palm oil is also highly saturated and heat stable. Red palm oil is also stable, but it deserves special mention for its nutrient density – lots of CoQ10, Vitamin E, and SFAs.

39% MUFA
11% PUFA
50% SFA


Fish oil is another one of the widely accepted “good” fats. This time, though, we agree with Conventional Wisdom. The Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are unequivocally beneficial to us. They help balance our O6-O3 ratios (to a more appropriate, pre-agricultural level), while they also promote proper cell function, good lipid numbers, and improved insulin sensitivity. To bone up on more fish oil information, check out my Definitive Guide on the subject.

EPA and DHA levels vary by brand and type of fish. Check the label for yourself, or look at this handy table if you’re getting your fish oil from actual seafood.


Who doesn’t love a plump avocado with the right amount of give? If you can’t get your hands on a good one, the next best thing might be a bottle of avocado oil. Its fatty acid profile is similar to that of olive oil, but it has an even higher smoke point, making it a decent choice for cooking. Personally, I still wouldn’t use it for high heat cooking. The light, subtle taste lends itself far better to salad dressing, if you ask me. Buy in dark bottles to minimize oxidation.

70% MUFA
12% Omega-6 PUFA
1% Omega-3 PUFA
12% SFA


Walnut oil is one of the better tasting nut oils. It is high in Omega-6s, sure, but walnut oil isn’t something you’re going to use every day, or even every week. The stuff tastes great, though, and a small splash goes a long way at the end of a cooking session or onto a tossed salad. I definitely would advise against using this on a regular basis, especially for cooking, and you should always store it in a dark, cool spot in the house. For those that “do dairy”, try mixing a bit with some full-fat Greek yogurt, or unsweetened fresh whipped cream and berries: amazing.

23% MUFA
53% Omega-6 PUFA
10% Omega-3 PUFA
9% SFA

Macadamia Nut

I love this oil, but I also love the parent nut. The oil assumes the buttery, smooth, rich flavor of the macadamia nut, making it an interesting – but favorable – choice for salad dressings. It’s also remarkably high in MUFAs and low in PUFAs, so it won’t throw your ratios all out of whack. Makes a surprisingly good homemade mayonnaise, and can be used to sauté and cook in a pinch. The only drawback is its price; macadamia nut oil can get expensive.

71% MUFA
10% PUFA
12% SFA

Sesame Seed

The premier “flavor oil.” Sesame seed oil, especially the toasted variety, offers an unmatched and irreplaceable flavor profile. Certain Asian dishes work best with a bit of sesame oil, but if you’re wary of using it over high heat (which you probably should be), you can always add it to the dish after cooking. Despite the high PUFA content, sesame oil also contains a ton of antioxidants that can help minimize heat oxidation. I wouldn’t use this more than semi-regularly, though. Good to keep in your pantry (or fridge), but not an everyday item.

43% MUFA
43% PUFA
14% SFA


Restaurants like to tout that they use “healthy” peanut oil in their deep fryers. Okay, the relatively MUFA-rich peanut oil may be a better choice than corn or sunflower oil for high heating, but it’s still a legume (already off limits) oil prone to rancidity. In the UK, it’s known as groundnut oil. Avoid both.

46% MUFA
32% PUFA
17% SFA

Sunflower Seed

Insanely high in PUFAs with little to no Omega-3s to balance them out, sunflower seed oil is a pretty bad choice for sauteeing, baking, roasting, and even salad making. Trouble is it’s everywhere, and it has a reputation for being healthy. Just don’t keep the stuff in your house (not a problem; it’s flavorless, odorless, and completely boring), and keep dining out in cheap chain restaurants to a minimum (or you could do what I do and request everything be cooked in butter), and you should be able to avoid sunflower seed oil.

19% MUFA
63% PUFA
10% SFA


Like sunflower seed oil but worse, the oil derived from the “bastard saffron” is about 75% Omega-6 PUFAs with not a speck of Omega-3 in sight. It’s also lower in MUFAs and SFAs. What’s not to dislike?

14% MUFA
75% PUFA
6% SFA


At least most of the oils I’ve mentioned come from technically edible plants, in some form or another. Cottonseed oil, however, comes from cotton. You know, the stuff that shirts are made of? Yeah. It’s everywhere, from margarines to cereal to shortening to frozen desserts to bread, because it’s cheaper than other oils (you can thank its status as one of Monsanto’s big four genetically modified crops for that) and it only needs “partial hydrogenation” to maintain stability. Luckily, that won’t be an issue for PBers who already avoid all that stuff in the first place. Warn your friends and family, though.

17% MUFA
52% PUFA
26% SFA

Grape Seed

Skip this stuff. It does have a buttery taste, and it gets a lot of hype as a worthy replacement for olive oil, but it’s got high oxidation potential, especially if you follow the recommended instructions and use it for deep frying or high heat sauteeing. It’s rather pricey, too, so there’s no good reason to use it.

16% MUFA
70% PUFA
9% SFA

Soybean Oil

Soybean oil is about as ubiquitous as corn and canola (again, thanks to Monsanto). In fact, you’ll often see an ingredient list include “canola and/or soybean oil.” Huh? Do food manufacturers honestly not know what kind of fat is going into their product? Best avoid the crapshoot and skip anything that “might contain” soybean oil altogether. The fact that it’s often partially hydrogenated suppresses my appetite even further. No thanks.

23% MUFA
51% Omega-6 PUFA
6% Omega-3 PUFA
14% SFA

As you can tell, seed and nut oils probably shouldn’t make up a significant portion of your diet. Some, like coconut, olive, macadamia, palm, avocado, and fish, are great, but the vast majority of oils are unnatural and way too high in PUFAs. And just remember, with some of the more questionable/borderline oils, a little bit goes a long way.

I haven’t covered every edible oil known to humankind in this article. For information on other oils reference these tables and start up a discussion in the comment board or the forum.

What are your preferred edible oils and why? Let me know your thoughts. Grok on!

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  1. I use high oleic sunflower oil to make my mayonnaise. It’s much higher in monounsaturated fats than the regular, I’ve heard comparable to olive oil.

    Any comment?

    Durga wrote on January 22nd, 2012
  2. Help. I love to fry plantains and need high heat. I use olive oil, coconut oil and ghee for all my other needs but they don’t work well for frying plantains! Any ideas? Shame on me because I use safflower oil for making them…

    Sonya wrote on February 27th, 2012
  3. What is better for cooking, butter or coconut oil?

    William wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  4. Mectech is supply the best technology, edible oil refinery machinery, edible oil plants, solvent plant extraction, and vegetable oil refining plant and biodiesel plants in vegetable oils, fats industry.
    Sort Desc: Mectech is supply the best edible oil refinery plants, vegetable oil refinery equipment and technology in vegetable oils, fats and related fields.

    Mectechfilters wrote on March 12th, 2012
  5. I’m a little confused. I’m doing some reading up on the Paleo lifestyle as I’m looking to change into it, and I just got done reading The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain. This book advocates using Flax Seed and Olive Oil and says to stay away from Coconut Oil because of it’s high density of saturated fat.
    What gives?

    Lynne wrote on March 12th, 2012
  6. Can you tell me if Oregano Oil is healthy?

    Karen wrote on April 2nd, 2012
  7. As someone who cannot stand the taste of olives or avocado, it is extremely difficult to find a replacement to use on salads. I need a very neutral oil with no strong flavour. I use coconut oil and butter for cooking so there is no problem there. I have seen pumpkin seed oil and almond oil but I’m not sure these would be suitable for salads. Any suggestions?

    Shawn wrote on April 3rd, 2012
  8. I have been trying to find a mild oil to make homemade mayo out of and was using organic sunflower oil without knowing better. I only use olive and coconut oil for everything else to bake or fry with so if anyone has a good idea as to an oil I could use for this purpose that is based on a primal diet, it would be much appreciated! :)

    Brittney wrote on April 12th, 2012
  9. You present yourself as an expert but you’re not giving any objective evidence. I suspect that you’re full of BS like many of your Paleo brethren.

    Bob Vila wrote on April 21st, 2012
  10. Dear Author,

    When writing about the Sunflower Seed Oil, you missed the point that it can come in 2 variations

    1. Refined (the tasteless/odorless one you mentioned)

    2. Not refined (dark yellow oil with a characteristic taste/aroma that is widely used in salads)

    A.K wrote on June 25th, 2012
  11. “For information on other oils reference these tables…”

    Link no longer works–does anyone have the new location, or is this resource GFG?

    Q#2: I wish Mark had spelled it out clearly…is he selected based on minimizing PUFA and maximizing MUFA and/or SFA? With a bit of input from the ration of O6:O3?

    Of the oils with *neutral* flavor, which would be the best choice under primal guidelines?

    secret agent girl wrote on June 28th, 2012
  12. Hello, anyone reading this, try a virgin coconut oil called, Memory Oil. It is very healthy, tastes great, and also reduces epilepsy and alzheimer’s. I put it on my bagels, spaghetti, pasta, rice, corn, popcorn and etc. it’s soo good! Give it a try! 😉

    Rodney Downsling wrote on July 12th, 2012
  13. CAFMOP (Coconut, Avocado, Fish, Macademia, Olive, and Palm) Oils it is then. Thanks

    TwinDad wrote on July 17th, 2012
  14. Ugh, and just today someone at the grocery store I worked at asked me where to find the safflower oil, said it will get rid of belly fat, I’m not so sure that coconut oil may have the same properties, but be way healthier

    liziethewildgirl wrote on August 15th, 2012
  15. Any excess canola/sunflower/nut oils in my pantry are used for soapmaking. Along with low grade olive oil they make a wonderful soap.

    Sharron Arnold wrote on September 10th, 2012
  16. thank you so much it really helped a lot for my project!

    Jane Thompson wrote on September 20th, 2012
  17. so…this is CONFUSING
    you didnt sort the oils good or BAD
    and you mixed your comments so some sound good AND bad!

    yours is the 6th site i looked at and their all DIFFERENT!!
    C O N F U S E D

    tim wrote on October 1st, 2012
    • Tim,

      Best evidence says that using pasture butter (more omega-3), olive oil or coconut oil for cooking and everything else is likely the safest. The rest are mostly INFLAMMATORY PUFA filled (omega 6) oils and it is a wonder why we even need them. As a rule, almost all ‘vegetable oils’ which were once thought better than the alternative saturated fats are in fact NOT. They oxidize, they go rancid, and they do not hold up to heat well which breaks them further. Ironic as it is, stick to using lard, butter or coconut oil on the stove. You won’t be sorry. It’s good for you and what we’d all want flavor wise anyway. Any more questions, just post again.

      Dr Jason wrote on October 1st, 2012
  18. hey guys. I was just wondering if Apple Cider Vinegar is healthy. Also, I’ve been mixing apple cider vinegar with olive oil, is this unhealthy because of improper food combining?

    please get back to me!

    Trevor Doge wrote on October 4th, 2012
  19. Good day Mark,

    So after reading through this whole oil debate…

    What oil should i be using???

    Terence Compton wrote on October 7th, 2012
  20. Hi Mark! I know that there was a post about olive oil shots but I can not find it, I’m rather skinny and was going to take olive oil shots to boost my calories (along with lots of eggs and nuts for protein). Would taking olive oil shots be healthy?

    Travis wrote on October 10th, 2012
  21. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on rice bran oil and mustard seed oil, as these are the only ones I use for cooking (olive and avocado for salads)l.

    Nina Booth wrote on November 4th, 2012
  22. This is fantastic, thanks! I do wish it was in a chart form for easy reference though

    Karrie wrote on November 8th, 2012
  23. I like Andreas raw organic oils. I’ve never tasted anything like them. He has chia oil among others. I like his oils by the spoonful or on salads.

    Cricket wrote on December 14th, 2012
  24. So what oils ARE GOOD for Paleo cooking?

    Pamela wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  25. Not a lot of detail on what the problem with rice bran oil is. I’ve seen two questions asked about it and only one answer “it’s not good”. I’ve gone and grabbed a load of data from around the web (see below) and I can’t see it’s a bad oil to use for sauteeing or even deeper frying if you want a neutral flavour. Also, that gamma oryzanol… what’s that all about?

    38-39% MUFA
    35-37% PUFA
    20-25% SFA
    Omega3 1600mg/100g
    Omega6 33400mg/100g

    Fatty acid Percentage
    C14:0 Myristic acid 0.6%
    C16:0 Palmitic acid 21.5%
    C18:0 Stearic acid 2.9%
    C18:1 Oleic acid 38.4%
    C18:2 Linoleic acid 34.4%
    C18:3 α-Linolenic acid 2.2%

    Vitamins Amounts Per 100g %DV
    Vitamin A 0.0IU 0%
    Vitamin C 0.0mg 0%
    Vitamin D ~ ~
    Vitamin E 32.3mg 162%
    Vitamin K 24.7mcg 31%
    Thiamin 0.0mg 0%
    Riboflavin 0.0mg 0%
    Niacin 0.0mg 0%
    Vitamin B6 0.0mg 0%
    Folate 0.0mcg 0%
    Vitamin B12 0.0mcg 0%
    Pantothenic Acid0.0mg 0%

    Sterols Amounts Per 100g %DV
    Cholesterol 0.0mg 0%
    Phytosterols 1190 mg ~

    Also contains γ-oryzanol (approx. 2% by composition)

    TOTKat wrote on January 25th, 2013
  26. so you don’t mention hemp seed oil. what do you know about it? i take two tablespoons per day and i hope i’m doing the right thing.

    paris wrote on February 26th, 2013
  27. What about tea seed oil or camellia oil,can you break it down for me?

    celeste wrote on March 12th, 2013
  28. can’t take this NO hemp oil!

    dario wrote on March 26th, 2013
  29. Hey, they don’t sell any coconut oil in my city, what other oil would you recommend me to cook at high heat?

    Kendy wrote on May 4th, 2013
  30. Great article, very helful summary of all the information I have been trying to collect. The only helpful thing that is missing would be the addition of smoke point to your fat type breakdown. I find lots of conflicting information about the smoke points of various oils (I’m thinking specifically about olive oil).

    My main question is: Is EV olive oil dangerous to cook with specifically because of its low smoke point? Or is there additional danger due to the “delicate nature” of the mono and poly unsaturated fats? ie, if a manufacturer reports a smoke point of 350 degrees (which is not unheard of, even for EVOO), is that a sign that it is ok to cook with at low temperatures? Or should it be avoided for more complex reasons related to its structure? Further, should that smoke poitn not be trusted?

    I’ll definitely be incorporating coconut oil into my general cooking routine regardless, but I’m mostly curious because I’m not clear on the answer.


    Cait wrote on May 5th, 2013
  31. * * * * (MMMMMMMMM) MACADAMIA NUT OIL * * * * … not at all expensive. You need to get your hands on a bottled of Olivado’s. The best price I have found !

    Lindsey Hogg wrote on June 13th, 2013
  32. Very good information you have provided but not anything on rice bran oil pls do the same. I have silly idea of mixing rice bran oil and olive oil in equal proportion(1:1) and use for cooking pls advice.This is my humble request to you.Thanking you, with warm regards

    Pradeep wrote on June 20th, 2013
  33. thanks this was soooooooooo much help

    blossom wrote on June 21st, 2013
  34. Hi Mark, I was wondering what you thought about Rice Bran Oil?

    Helen wrote on August 26th, 2013
  35. About sunflower oil, unrefined sunflower oil is dark with very strong flavor. And for Russians and related nations it’s kinda a cultural thing to consume it as salad dressings.

    Julia wrote on September 5th, 2013
  36. Egoma oil (also know as shiso oil or perilla oil).
    This oil has an Omega 3 – Omega 6 ration which is even higher than flax seed oil!
    It smells much more neutral as well.

    Jack wrote on September 10th, 2013
  37. I work on a ship and nearly everything is deep fried. I have just found out that they use soyabean oil. What is the best oil I can suggest to them (realistically) to buy within their measly budget? we have already complained about the amount of deep fried foods and discussed alternative cooking methods.

    Arcoiris wrote on November 3rd, 2013
  38. I should preface that I’m a chemist with 14 years experience, many of which have been in medical research. This is a pretty good write up and answered my question (I was curious about the nutritional information of cottonseed oil used to store some smoked oysters I like – sucks to find out that it is a bad oil).

    But I also have a couple critiques of your article. First, you mention oil “going rancid” quite a few times, and while you don’t go into detail about what that means, the implication is that it is very bad. The reality is, going rancid is just the process of fatty acids being hydrolysed from triglycerides. Carboxylic acids tend to smell foul. The good news is twofold: 1, if an oil has gone rancid, you’ll know – it stinks. 2, it doesn’t affect the nutrition of the oil. Your body hydrolyzes the triglycerides as well, so if the smell doesn’t bother you, then you shouldn’t be afraid of it (now if there is moisture in the oil, that could mean bacterial contamination, but bacteria NEED water, so as long as the oil is dry, it should be fine). I just wanted to clear that up.

    Bob K. wrote on December 23rd, 2013
  39. I have become addicted to cooking with coconut oil because of the fantastic aroma! (I love coconut, any way you want to serve it). I scoop the solidified oil out of the tub with a spoon, drop a dollop in the pan, and then eat whatever is left on the spoon.

    OK, so maybe I am not diligent in getting most of the solid oil off the spoon, but “licking the spoon” from the coconut oil tub is way better than licking the spoon from the wheat-filled cookie dough bowl! :)

    grisly atoms wrote on December 24th, 2013
  40. Mark, seriously WTH???

    Animal fats are conspicuously missing from this list of cooking oils, and if it’s because they are solid at room temperature than please remove coconut oil from this list too

    Lard and Tallow are the kings of the kitchen as far as this guy is concerned.

    nick wrote on January 21st, 2014

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