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A Guide to Choosing Healthy Oils

Originally published in 2008

If you're not sure how to choose healthy oils for cooking, it's worth studying the essential differences between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Once you understand the basic characteristics of these fatty acids, you'll know which commonly available oils are good for your health, and which ones are best limited or avoided altogether.

The fundamental differences between the three types of fatty acids that are found in all commonly available oils are as follows:

Saturated fatty acids pack together tightly, making oils that contain a large percentage of them extremely stable when exposed to heat and light. Oils that have a high percentage of saturated fatty acids are your best choice for cooking.

Monounsaturated fatty acids do not pack together as tightly as saturated fatty acids do. They are relatively stable when exposed to heat, so oils that contain a high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids are decent choices for cooking.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids do not pack together very well. They are unstable when extracted out of whole foods, so oils that have a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to produce significant amounts of free radicals when exposed to heat. These oils should not be used for cooking.

So in evaluating plant oils for cooking, it should be clear that oils that contain a high percentage of saturated fatty acids are more stable than those that contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids. When exposed to heat and light during processing, storage, and use, oils that contain a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids tend to contain more free radicals than oils that contain mainly saturated and/or monounsaturated fatty acids.

To put this information to use, here's a look at the fatty acid composition of fourteen oils that are commonly available at regular grocery and health food stores:

Coconut Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Coconut oil is by far the healthiest cooking oil. These days, you can find quality coconut oil at almost all grocery stores including Costco, Amazon, and Walmart.

Palm Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Of all commonly available plant oils, palm oil is second only to coconut oil in its stability when exposed to heat. If you did not use palm oil when you were growing up, you might find its taste and odor to be objectionable.

Olive Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Its high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids makes olive oil relatively stable when exposed to heat. For cooking, it is the next best choice after coconut and palm oil.

Avocado Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Like olive oil, it has a high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids, which makes avocado oil relatively stable when exposed to heat. Avocado oil is best used for skin moisturizing purposes. Coconut oil is also an excellent skin moisturizer, and is less expensive per ounce than avocado oil.

Peanut Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Because it has slightly more monounsaturated fatty acids than polyunsaturated fatty acids, peanut oil is relatively stable when exposed to heat. If you use peanut oil, I recommend that you limit use to just a few times per month.

Sesame Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Sesame oil has almost equal percentages of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. It shouldn't be used for cooking on a regular basis; it is best used raw.

Canola Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Although it contains a high percentage of relatively stable monounsaturated fatty acids, canola oil goes rancid quite easily, and relative to olive oil, forms high concentrations of trans fatty acids. Canola oil consumption has also been linked to vitamin E deficiency and heart disease, especially when a person is not getting enough saturated fatty acids in his or her diet. I recommend staying away from canola oil whenever possible.

Corn, Sunflower, Safflower, and Cottonseed Oils:


% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated

















I recommend staying away from these oils completely. All of them contain large percentages of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They also have high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause a variety of health problems as described in my look at healthy vs. unhealthy fats and oils.

Hemp and Flaxseed Oil:


% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated









I don't recommend cooking with these oils because of their high concentrations of unstable polyunsaturated fatty acids. If their manufacturers have minimized exposure to heat and light with their processing and bottling techniques, a small amount of these oils in their raw forms can be a part of a healthy diet. But it's healthier to eat their seeds freshly ground.

Grape seed Oil:

% Saturated

% Monounsaturated

% Polyunsaturated




Grape seed oil should also be avoided when cooking. As with most other vegetable oils, it contains a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids which produce significant amounts of free radicals when exposed to heat.

Please Note: I calculated all of the fatty acid percentages listed above using the nutrient profiles for each oil as listed under the USDA nutrient database.

Based on the information above, I generally recommend using mainly coconut oil and/or olive oil for cooking. For those who do well with animal foods, grass-fed butter and beef tallow are also good choices for cooking.


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I always thought that we should try to avoid fats that are high in saturated fats and go for those that are high in mono and/or poly unsaturated fats. "Oils that have a high percentage of saturated fatty acids are your best choice for cooking." From this comment in your article can we assume that oil derived from animal fats like lard which are high in saturated fats are good for cooking; i.e from a health point of view. This runs contrary to the commonly held view that we should try to avoid saturated fats.
By the way, I've been reading your articles for the past few months and have always enjoyed them.

Thank you.

I have to say I used to have this belief that Saturated Fats were unhealthy. BUt there are tons and tons of information out there by doctors, nutritionists, etc that say Saturated Fats are essential for health. It is untrue that saturated fats contribute to heart disease. I know its hard to say but after reading and listening to the science of it all, SCIENCE is the key work, its just a big ol myth. Remember back in the 50s or so they made up a whole myth that Fat in general was bad and everyone started eating margarine and hydrogenated oils which actually caused heart disease. Crazy right? Don't believe everything you hear or read. But there is definitely enough information out there that you will make a sound decision.

Polyunsaturated and mono saturated fats should be consumed because they come from plants rather than animals. Your best oils out there are olive oil, sesame, safflower, sunflower, almond to cook with. Your best ones to consume with no need of heat exposure is flax seed oils as it absorbs quickly in your body and does amazing things to your body, skin, and digestive system. I am a very healthy because of how I eat and what I consume. Thanks

Your assumption references no evidence and ignores the fact that cooking with polyunsaturated oil produces more disease causing free radicals (unstable molecules) that saturated fats.

I don't know where you get this information from. Grapeseed oil shoudl never be used for cooking??? It has a very high boiling point and is high in anti-oxidants. Do mean not to bring it above its smoke point(421°F)?

I can't tell you how much I appreciate this newsletter. Your information is so helpful and beneficial for those who want to make lifestyle changes.

HI! In addition to this extremely useful page, I found another one too! I was trying to find the difference in fat percentages between palm kernel/palm/<strong>palm OLEIN</strong> (which is by far the most common - used in alot of prepackaged foods) just to make sure that I can consume products using palm olein (basically RBD palm oil) safely. Guess what? It seems pretty good! Palm kernel is awesome (coconut oil is a rarity) while palm olein is okay, like olive oil. HOwever, palm kernel oil is hardly found anywhere too. More like palm olein and, to a small extent, palm oil. I guess palm olein is used because it is odourless and tasteless.

I feel like even pork lard is a wonderful alternative D: Although I hate the taste. Lol. In Asian countries, it is still used sometimes. I wonder what is Illipe? It seems pretty good too! Thanks Dr. Kim, for this wonderful information! For all of you out there who are curious about other oils, go to the page I reccommended(:

To health and beyond!

While I appreciate that the use of extracted oils should be kept to a minimum, especially if heated, I would also appreciate, for very occasional use, to know what the latest verdict is, on the best oil which can stand some heat. Olive oil may be the outstanding choice, although some people think it does not heat very well, maybe because they heat it too much. Is there any alternative choice? Dr. Ben Kim, in this article dated 2008, mentions coconut oil as one of the best choices, and discounts the use of sunflower oil, but Dr. Joel Fuhrman, thinks the reverse, (on both counts), as per his book "Eat to Live", 2011 ed.

Due to my trying to lower my Cholesterol, in particular LDL, I have done many readings and cross over readings about fats, even to the description of long chain, medium chain and short chain molecules.
Apparently, Coconut oil is special...medium chain molecules putting it in the middle of bad and good (long being good). What makes coconut oil the best for cooking is that it is safe for cooking and storing to the very last drop. Be sure to buy cold pressed, unrefined, virgin organic. Pricey yes, but I never take a chance on trans fats and poor processing. I buy Nutiva for taste and smell. With olive oil, the temperature must be low, otherwise the oil is of no advantage at all. In other words, it is a balance of temperature and lipid type (chain molecules)percentages. Avoid saturated fats from meat source excepting fish, especially pink to red fish colour fish that have omega 3's.
Overall, I use 2 main oils: coconut and olive. It makes life simple. Overall, I use small amounts of fat since I love raw nuts and avocados.

Coconut oil really does handle heat well.. buy virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined organic...costs more but it is good to the last drop and if you get a decent brand, the coconut taste and smell is subtle and very nice. You might have to get it from health food stores. Cheap products, especially if refined could contain trans fats.
Olive oil is best used in cold food preparation and must be stored away from sunlight... so not good to the last drop. Again by cold-pressed virgin. Look for a bottle that is dark (for storage). I read it should have more a green than yellow colour).
Using both is a decent balance of adding fats to foods. It makes life simple.

Indonesia and Malaysia are destroying rainforest habitat at an alarming rate for Palm Oil plantations. The Orangutans are being starved out of existence. Please consider this when buying Palm Oil (Holsum) or palm oil containing products.

Thanks for the tip on darker bottles. We find because of our pantry of which the doors are always closed, that we can be safe purchasing even those bottles in lighter colored bottles, as they are always in a dark storage condition, then we fill an olive pouring bottle, which is darker glass for our kitchen counter use.

Is avocado oil just as beneficial to our health as virgin olive oil?