Fats for Cooking & Fats to Eat Uncooked

Fats contribute a great deal to food and cooking, but not every fat is suitable for every purpose.   Just as not every fat is suitable for cooking, neither is every oil available on your supermarket shelves suitable for a nutritious and healthy diet.   Certain fats such as beef tallow and coconut oil have been used for a very long time, while other fats such as cottonseed oil are very new to the human diet.

As a general rule, saturated fats are suitable for cooking while monounsaturated fats are suitable for light cooking and polyunsaturated fats should not be cooked at all.   Most cooking fats contain a combination of each saturated, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats for Cooking

Saturated fats, thanks to their molecular structure, are heat stable.   You can identify saturated fat readily because it stays solid at room temperature.   Due to its molecular stability, saturated fat is not as subject to oxidation as the less stable mono- and polyunsaturated oils.   Saturated fats are not chemically altered by cooking and so are suitable for high- and low-heat cooking.   You can, and should, certainly eat them raw as well.

  • Beef Suet from Grass-finished Animals
  • Beef Tallow from Grass-finished Animals
  • Mutton Tallow from Grass-finished Animals
  • Unrefined Cocoa Butter
  • Unrefined Coconut Oil
  • Palm Kernel Oil
  • Ghee from Grass-fed Cows

Monounsaturated Fats to Cook Gently

Some fats are contain ample saturated fat which is heat-stable and suitable for cooking, but also contain large amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids which are less heat-stable and more likely to oxidize than saturated fats (but are less likely to oxidize compared to polyunsaturated fats).   Alternatively, as in the case of butter, contain other compounds like milk solids which may necessitate cooking them gently.   The following fats should be heated gently due to a high monounsaturated fat content, but are still good fats for cooking.

  • Lard from Pastured Hogs
  • Bacon Grease from Pastured Hogs
  • Goose Fat from Pastured Birds
  • Duck Fat from Pastured Birds
  • Schmaltz   from Pastured Chickens
  • Butter (While it should be classified more as a saturated fat due to its fatty acid profile, butter also contains milk fats which lower its smoke point and therefore it should be eaten raw or gently cooked.)

Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated Fats to Eat Fresh & Raw

Polyunsaturated fats, like the other fats, play a vital role in health and wellness; however, they are not stable fats like their saturated counterparts.   Polyunsaturated fats go rancid easily and oxidize quickly when heated.   These fats should be traditionally prepared through cold-pressing and should be left in their natural and unrefined state.   US readers should take great care in purchasing cold-pressed oils as the term “cold pressing” is not regulated in the United States.   Expeller pressed oils extract the oil from its source under great pressure, and pressure creates friction and friction creates heat – sometimes a great deal of heat, so unless you know for certain that the pressure created by the expeller during extraction did not heat the oil to excess, it’s best to avoid expeller pressed oils.

Traditional cold pressed oils offer a complex flavor not achieved through other means, so not only does your body benefit from cold pressing but your meals benefit as well.   Polyunsaturated fats are delicate fats and should be treated accordingly: they’re not suitable for cooking, but can be used to dress salads and condiments.

Many polyunsaturated fats – particularly nut oils –   are very high in Omega 6 fatty acids.   While omega 6 fatty acids play an important role in health, they are too prevalent in the diet of most people, so I have excluded them from this list.

  • Extra Virgin Unrefined Olive Oil (Olive oil is comprised mostly of monounsaturated fats, and can be used for very light cooking; however, that destroys its vitamin E and I simply prefer to eat it uncooked.)
  • Flaxseed Oil

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What people are saying

  1. says

    Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for the great info re: cooking fats and oils. Just wondering about the source of the info, as I was taught that all animal fats are primarily saturated. Did you come across anything about avocado oil (mostly monounsaturated, like olive oil). I was given a sample once and it’s incredibly delicious–though I never did cook anything with it!

    Check out Ricki’s last post: Dr. Ornish, You Stole My Heart: Seven Grain Dirty Rice and Beans.

  2. Jenny says

    Hi Ricki –
    The source is NutritionData.com, which you’re probably familiar with. In case you aren’t, it’s a site that provides the nutrient profiles of numerous foods. It also offers a breakdown of fat by type.

    To answer your question, though: animal fats, like vegetable fats, contain the full spectrum of fats including saturated fats, mono- and polyunsaturated fats; however, lard and poultry fat contain higher amounts of monounsaturated fats than saturated fats. For example, lard is approximately 45% monounsaturated fat, 39% saturated fat and 16% polyunsaturated fat. Goose fat is 57% monounsaturated, 27% saturated and 16% polyunsaturated. So their highest proportion of fat is monounsaturated. By contrast beef tallow is 50% saturated, 43% monounsaturated and 7% polyunsaturated so it’s classified differently.

    I haven’t tried avocado oil. I love avocados though and it has a very similar fatty acid profile to olive oil. I’m not sure if or how it was used traditionally. Nonetheless, I bet it’s fantastic on a salad.

  3. says

    Thanks for the info, Jenny (and yes, I have used nutritiondata before). And while I knew that all fats are generally a combination, I had no idea there were animal products higher in mono than sat fats! Re: the avocado oil, I wonder if it actually is a traditional oil, or just something cooked up (no pun intended!) by the avocado growers. As a monounsaturated (primarily–;) ) oil, it does work much like olive oil. Fabulous in salad dressing!

    Check out Ricki’s last post: Dr. Ornish, You Stole My Heart: Seven Grain Dirty Rice and Beans.

  4. lolaloves13 says

    Does anyone know of a lighter flavored Olive oil that is excellent in quality? I bought Bariani to make Mayo, and it was sooo bitter! I had to throw the mayo away. Has anyone tried the Wilderness family mayo made with the Olive oil? That I guess would be a better choice than any in the store. Right now I am using Hain’s safflower mayo. Trying to stay away from too much omega 6.

    • Simone says

      hi lolaloves
      I had the same problem with bariani, switched to adam’s ranch (the one made with mission olives is milder, they have a two types). http://www.adamsoliveranch.com/organics.html
      it’s worth investigating different types of olive oil, they can vary so much.
      the problem I have with homemade mayo (which I LOVE) is sometimes there’s an odd metal flavor. jenny recommended blending it less which I’ve done but it still crops up from time to time. has anyone else noticed something like that?

    • Jenny says

      That’s a fantastic idea, Rosy! I’m going to have to try it. I normally make it with olive oil, but it does have a strong flavor.

  5. says

    Thanks for a great post !
    About mayo
    I make different combos:

    1) 1/3 olive oil, 1/3 grape seed oil ( I know it is not ideal ) and 1/3 macadamia nut oil(very mono saturated – mild and pricy oil.
    2) 1/3 coconut oil, 1/3 macadamia nut oil and 1/3 olive oil. I find more than 1/3 coconut oil too strong.

    3) 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 macadamia nut oil.
    I know grape seed oil is a bad thing – BUT it is fairly mild and good in mayo and the price is fine- so when I am broke I do use it to dilute the more expensive macadamia nut oil.

    I really love Macadamia nut oil as a neutral healthy monosaturated oil- but the price here in Denmark is ridiculous.

    Check out Henriette’s last post: Danske journalisters hjernedødhed.

  6. says

    Great list, very useful info! Im still within my first year of eating whole and more traditional foods. Its definetly an amazing learning experiance (and shocking to know most of what I learned in school, etc is WRONG).

    Petra – There are a lot of places to get ethically sourced palm oil (although probably not local for most, if you are adverse to ordering online). Mountainroseherbs.com is organic/fairtrade/sustainable, so is agbangakarite.com I believe. Both are out of Oregon, although they obviously get a lot of products from out of the country since its where they grow naturally lol.

    Henriette – I wasnt aware grape seed oil was bad, I keep hearing so much great stuff lol Id love to know more about why, I like to stay informed(Im a google fiend)! You never really can know too much! :)

  7. Ruth says

    What about the fat that I skim off after making bone broth (your recipe, actually) with chicken bones? Would that be considered schmaltz? I never know whether to use it or not. If I do use it, how is it best used?

    Thanks for the post!

  8. says

    I’m curious about the comment about grapeseed oil being bad too. I’d read that it had a high smoke point so it wasn’t destroyed as much during cooking. Can someone clarify why grapeseed oil isn’t a good cooking choice? Thanks!

  9. kristin says

    Jenny,
    Great info, thank you! I have been wishing for a breakdown of veggies that are more suitable to be eaten raw compared to those which need to be cooked in order to maximize nutritional absorption. Is this something you’ve provided, or would you be willing?

    • says

      According to Dr. Price the best vegetable to eat raw would be lettuce. Contrary to popular dietary dogma and the emphasis on raw plant-food based diets, most vegetables are better served cooked or at least fermented. Vegetables can be powerfully rich sources of antinutrients including oxalate and goitrogens – both of which can be mitigated to some extent by light cooking.

      Raw vegetables are also bulky – providing a lot of volume but very little nutritional density for that volume which is why reliance on animal foods is essential.

      In general, raw vegetables are probably best kept to a minimum or served fermented. When serving them lightly cooked, serve them with ample fat to facilitate nutrient absorption or serve them in broth.

  10. Jen says

    Just found this website and I’m so happy to have all this important information in one place. I have a question about bacon fat. My family loves things cooked in this. We use pastured pork bacon without nitrites and I save the leftover grease in a jar, stored in the fridge. But I have a hard time believing it is not bad for you. Is it really a healthy fat?

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