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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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. No quite the definitive guide.
    Cold pressed hemp seed oil and 100% organic.
    Try again!

    Chris wrote on January 30th, 2014
  2. Hello Mark, what oil do you recommend using for shallow frying? (I don’t shallow fry/deep fry often, maybe a few times a year if that)

    Tasha wrote on January 30th, 2014
  3. I am a brand new at Paleo (5th day) and have been reading your web site every minute I get. I am really confused about which oil to use if I want to stir fry veggies or brown meat. My husband does not like the taste of coconut oil although I love it. What should I use?

    By the way, your emails go to my junk mail?? Can something be changed?

    I really appreciate your site and it has been a great guide for me.

    Carolyn LaPota wrote on February 26th, 2014
  4. I have found fish oil supplements end up floating on top of my toilet water…just what the hell they mix the actual fish oil with I dont want to know! For this reason I use flaxseed oil & can feel the difference especially in my fingers, my joints are freer & feel less inflamed compared to the supps. Cannot afford fish here at over $40/kg!

    Christie wrote on March 16th, 2014
  5. Would it not be ok to use grapeseed oil to make mayo since you are not heating it? I need a good neutral taste oil to make mayo with.

    kbg wrote on April 11th, 2014
  6. I have always used mainly olive oil and/or butter. I have also used sesame oil for stir-fry’s and bacon fat for almost every kind of cooking. We do a lot of bacon and I always have a supply of bacon fat I keep in the refrigerator. I use peanut oil when I fry a turkey and lard when we break out the Fry-Daddy (a rare occasion). Since beginning my primal journey, I have added coconut oil to the mix. I have a question, though. I have a recipe for a Greek salad dressing that calls for 2/3 olive oil and 1/3 corn oil. The reasoning is that with olive oil, the dressing becomes more like mayonnaise than dressing. The corn oil lightens it up. I don’t make Greek salad dressing very often, just using a French vinaigrette and adding feta cheese to the salad rather than to the dressing. Is there a light neutral flavored edible oil that is primal friendly, especially considering it will be combined with olive oil in a 1:2 ratio?

    Lou wrote on July 5th, 2014
  7. Newbie question: What is MUFA, PUFA & SFA?

    Trailsnet wrote on July 19th, 2014
    • Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated & Saturated Fats

      Warren wrote on July 19th, 2014
  8. Unless I’m missing something obvious, but this article doesn’t actually say what the acronyms stand for?

    Ghandi wrote on October 7th, 2014
    • Sorry, sorry, sorry!!! I have just seen the response above, I’ll put this little error down to the fact that the comments display oldest first rather than the newest at the top.

      No need to reply.

      Ghandi wrote on October 7th, 2014
  9. I have been suffering a sever eczema attack, a little over three months ago, which first announced itself in my early fifties. Water fasting 31 days over December and into January did nothing to help. I have been oiling my skin with coconut virgin oil for a number of years with questionable support.

    Seriously, it became so bad that I could not see myself continuing on like this. Life with the misery I was suffering was taking me to some very dark thoughts. Fortunately, I have a loving family who forced me to medical practices and I began the chemical dance. However, the chemicals only work so far for me an after a few weeks my symptoms began to worsen. I use them sparingly and then rest a day or so between applications of the watered down cream.

    I have not used AA oils, sunflower, safflower etc., in years. I am even very careful with rare uses of flax oil. PUFA are so easy to become rancid.
    Then I read on the Linus Pauling site that coconut oil does nothing for the skin and that AA oils were important for the skin. I bought some from a grocery store, not organic which I shall be getting next, and use it internally and externally, unheated, and my skin is better for it. I also bought organic flax seed oil but when I opened it, it was rancid. The Safflower oil certain helps externally and possibly internally. But, I have to wash it off my skin, after about six hours—I do not use any soaps, ever, but use baking soda in the shower with light finger rubbing instead. I find Safflower oil works in protecting my skin, possibly healing as well, much better (to my surprise) than virgin coconut oil. But this I shall continue to study, and if it must be used long-term, then as little and as infrequently as possible.

    I also read about MSM with added Vitamin C and a tiny amount of alcohol, (2 g MSM, 1tsp C and less than a thimble of Chinese salt cooking alcohol (inexpensive) or hard liquor and water) was good to imbibe and apply to the skin. Amazingly, it is the second support (after the AA—PUFA Sunflower oil) my system seems to need. I do up a days supply, 3x above recipe; but do not take any after 5pm as it does disturb my sleep, otherwise. During the first day my skin began to mend amazingly quickly. It immediately ended the electrical (electrocution) sensation that snaps around parts of my arms, legs and back. And the crazy damaged thick skin is dropping off and healthy skin is taking its place—my skin is so much improved after only two days–wherefore, this past half year or so, sloughing, mealy skin is all that I have seen. To see actual healing taking place is such a relief.

    I have no idea what is going on, especially since I have read and applied the warnings by avoiding all seed oils. I do not even like olive oil, the taste and the information I have read about it not being the good oil that so many places claim it to be. (Sorry Mark.)

    At least I have read that eczema is one skin condition that can be cleared up. . . but I suspect that there must be specific protocols for different people as I have been relentless in trying to follow what is usually suggested. Hopefully this time I have found the mix that seems to work for me.

    I haven’t even gone into what my herbalist has me on. Other than the liver detox (Milk Thistle liquid) I suspect little has resulted from that trip.

    Namaste and care,

    mhikl wrote on February 8th, 2015

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