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

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

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

Coconut

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

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

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.

Avocado

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

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

Peanut

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

Safflower

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

Cottonseed

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!

P.S. If you liked this article share it with your friends by clicking the “Share This” link below.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Mark please update your guide.

    There are different types of sunflower oil http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-sunflower%20oil000000000000000000000.html

    and I cannot see what you’d have against the high oleic version.

    The lack of taste is actually a plus because it lets you taste the food and not feel you’re eating oil with a spoon.

    Sonia wrote on July 29th, 2010
  2. I love coconut oil. Another benefit it has is the lauric acid content, which kills lipid coated viruses

    Jeff wrote on November 10th, 2010
  3. i always keep a bottle of virgin coconut oil at home. recently, i started taking a spoonful of vco a day.

    urinary tract infection supplements wrote on November 17th, 2010
  4. I have a question about the grape seed oil. I bought a bottle of it yesterday, and from the back the breakdown of fats is as follows. In 1 tbsp, there is a total of 14g of fat:
    2 g saturated fat
    1.5 g PUFA
    10 g MUFA

    So it’s mostly MUFA…should be great to use then, right?

    Also, I can’t seem to find coconut oil anywhere. :( I live in the Chicago area and I don’t frequent different types of stores all that often, but in four different ones I’ve been, I haven’t found any…

    Natalie wrote on November 28th, 2010
  5. Hmm..I have a bottle of “Saffola” safflower oil at home, but its fat distribution is different from what you have above.

    According to the nutrition facts on the bottle, it’s mostly MUFA with a bit of PUFA. I looked online and according to
    http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/574/2
    it also shows that safflower oil has pretty good ratios.

    This means that safflower oil is not a bad choice to eat right?

    David wrote on December 9th, 2010
  6. I am a bit confused about the difference between “conjugated linoleic acid” which is good and “linoleic acid” which is not.

    I purchased a supplement of CLA and discovered its derived from safflower oil, which my first reaction to say this is bad PUFAs. When is CLA ok? Is CLA from beef different from CLA from plants?

    Tina wrote on February 6th, 2011
  7. I usually keep Olive, Toasted Sesame and Sunflower oil in my kitchen.

    I use coconut milk often, but have never tried coconut oil, so I’ll have to give that a go.

    I’m wondering what you would recommend as a high-heat low-taste oil to replace sunflower. I currently use it whenever I would use butter but don’t want the taste in my dish.

    As a side note:

    All of my oils are the Spectrum brand, minimally processed if at all and the olive (which is the only one I buy in a large enough quantity to worry about it keeping) comes in a very dark green bottle. They only have a three month shelf-life once opened so I can’t forget about the bottle and pull it out months later to use like I just bought it, but that’s to be expected from things that aren’t processed to hell and back. I can smell and taste the difference between this brand and all the others I’ve tried. While it is a bit more expensive it’s a good value compared to other oils of similar quality.

    Morghan wrote on March 28th, 2011
  8. I really appreciate your article. we have struggled with what oil to use for cooking. we are very health concerned and read labels, and I am always on line looking up ingredients in foods. so thanks for your article. we will look for coconut oil in our supermarket.

    Judy Burn wrote on August 27th, 2011
  9. Why is walnut oil not something you want to use every day? That section is confusing. Is it because it’s expensive? Fattening? What?

    Holly wrote on September 20th, 2011
  10. hemp oil is the best !

    kesso wrote on October 17th, 2011
  11. what about hemp oil im guessing it aint great for cooking etc because it is high in PUFAs but it is has a very good omega 3 omega 6 ratio so probably very good for salads right? bet it goes rancid easily though

    marc wrote on November 6th, 2011

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!