Cooking Oils – What’s Healthy What’s Not?

Cooking Oils – What’s Healthy What’s Not?

Thursday, 21 March 2013 20:01

On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 12:34 PM, Steve F wrote:

Hi Mark,

As per your request for interesting topics in your recent newsletter, I have attached a couple of links to articles about the use of fats and oils for cooking. I have been interested in this for a while and had been following what the guideline that says the higher the smoking point of fats and oils, the better the oil was for cooking ie making it more stable and therefore healthier.

I was very surprised to find these couple of articles and others I have not listed that are from scientists and nutritionists. It would seem from these people that the more saturated the fat the more stable it is at temperature. The TV Chefs are under the mistaken believe that if fat doesn’t burn then it is healthy. However, I think that perhaps they are more concerned about the taste and texture than health issues.


I also found an article referring with a discussion by an Ayurvedic Master (if that’s the correct term?) who discussed the use and benefits of Ghee and Coconut oil for cooking, but I could not put my hands on it quickly.

The first link is where I started out from. There are a couple of links provided in the article and I have provided one of them below as this person is supposed to be an acknowledged authority on the science of fats in the diet.



I’m not sure if you have discussed this in detail before, but I for one would like to hear what the traditional wisdom would have to say on this topic.



Hi Steve

Great to hear from you again. Thanks for the information. As it is definitely a very topical issue, if you don’t mind, I will answer it as a blog post (with an edited down version of your information and question).

Happy to just use the initial of your surname if you don’t want your full name.

In terms of my answer it would be as follows;

The issue of cooking oils is a very topical one at present. As usual, many modern-day nutritionists and supposedly health-conscious chefs recommend certain oils because they are low in saturated fats and are therefore deemed ‘healthier’ (though of course, like everything in conventional wisdom, the reasons are based on isolated aspects that lead to the recommendations ‘changing’ every year or two when someone else decides to look at some other variable).

What is important to appreciate, as has been gaining much more attention over the last few years, is that it is not just what an oil does in the body at room temperature, but what happens to that oil or fat when it’s heated (as it obviously is when used in cooking). This is where the whole consideration of low or high smoking temperatures of oils comes into play.

Polyunsaturated vegetable oils, unlike fats and oils high in saturated fats, are ‘less stable’ and are more easily damaged when heated (the exact temperature for this depends on the individual oil, whether it has been refined or not etc). Olive oil for example, which is an extremely healthy oil when used raw on salads and in dressings etc, has a low-medium smoking point. While there are many oils with far lower smoking points that don’t get as much negative press as olive does on this issue, if olive oil is used in high heat cooking (as many people do, including nutritionists and chefs) its basic structure and baseline properties will tend to change, and the health giving properties it’s renowned for will likely be compromised.

(Some would say there would be adverse consequences, i.e. it becomes harmful to the body).

As I’m no expert on smoking points and molecular damage of different oils when heated,

whenever I’m in doubt I turn to the time-tested natural sciences such as Ayurveda.

In Ayurveda, olive oil is rarely (if ever) recommended as a ‘cooking’ oil. The oil most commonly recommended and promoted when cooking is ghee. The second most common is sesame oil.

Ghee, or clarified butter, is extremely stable, and is not damaged in any way when used in high-heat cooking.

Not only does it not get damaged, but it has many unique properties that allow it to deliver an almost perfect composition of fats as the body needs them, nourishing the body on its deepest level, including many of its most vital organs.

Additionally, ghee helps to bring out and enhance the flavours of whatever foods and spices are being used in the cooking.

Although many ‘health experts’ deride ghee and other ‘saturated fat’ options, this is based on an incorrect assumption that such fats are actually unhealthy. When they in their natural state, taken in appropriate quantities, and one has the digestive health to properly digest them, this is not the case). (More on ghee and how to make it can be found here).

In addition to ghee and sesame oil, another oil commonly used in Ayurveda and other traditional cultures is coconut oil. Coconut oil is considered an extremely healthy and nourishing oil, though it’s smoking temperature is far lower than ghee.

Practical suggestions

1. When considering what oil(s) to use when cooking, if you are sufficiently motivated to make your own home-made ghee, do so, and use that (or avocado oil) for any high heat cooking.

* Please don’t be brainwashed by dieticians and nutritionists who ‘poo-poo’ ghee because it is supposedly high in saturated fats and bad for cholesterol. You should certainly be careful of how much ghee you consume per day, particularly if you have a weak or sluggish digestion or already elevated cholesterol. However, as mentioned, ghee is considered in Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems as a medicine ‘par-excellence’. Even still, 3 to 4 teaspoons a day should suffice for most people.

2. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own ghee, and you can’t find a supplier of properly made organic ghee (it is definitely best to avoid most commonly made, commercial ghee), use various alternatives to suit your tastes, based on the smoking temperatures different oils. (see table below).

E.g. avocado oil for high heat cooking, olive, coconut or sesame oil for mid-low heat cooking.

Smoking Points of Cooking Fats & Oils

Fat/Oil Smoke Point °F Smoke Point °C
Flax seed Oil 225°F 107°C
Sunflower Oil – Unrefined 225°F 107°C
Butter 250-200°F 120-150°C
Coconut Oil (extra virgin) 350°F 177°C
Sesame Oil (unrefined) 350°F 177°C
Sesame Oil (unrefined) 350°F 177°C
Olive Oil (extra virgin) 375°F 191°C
Olive Oil (virgin) 391°F 199°C
Almond Oil 430°F 221°C
Coconut Oil (refined) 450°F 232°C
Sunflower Oil – Refined 450°F 232°C
Soybean Oil (refined) 460°F 238°C
Ghee (clarified Butter) 485°F 252°C
Avocado Oil 570°F 271°C

3. Rather than just considering things like smoking points however, utilise the higher wisdom of enlightened Eastern masters who also understood that it is an oils overall ‘qualities’ that should also be considered when determining its use.

For example, in Ayurveda, different oils are recommended depending on

i) the season – more ghee & coconut oil in hotter months, as these are by nature cooling. More sesame oil in winter as it is by nature heating. Almond oil for example is more neutral.

ii) the type of food – Again, ghee or coconut oil, which are ‘cooling’ by nature, will generally be more balancing with ‘hotter’ or spicier dishes.

iii) the individual – if someone is already overheating, they would obviously be better to have cooling foods/oils. If someone is sensitive to cold things, vice versa. This is a simple wisdom in sciences such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. In Ayurveda, it’s based on the understanding of body-types. If you are familiar with these, examples of good oils for different constitutions or states of imbalance are;

Vata – ghee or sesame (though most oils except coconut are okay – vata loves oil!)

Pitta – ghee or coconut (olive, almond and most others except peanut or sesame oil)

Kapha – sunflower oil (low heat cooking) Kaphas should generally minimise fats/oil though not completely avoid


1. It’s always best to go for unrefined oils, even though their refined cousins are more stable.

2. Regarding olive oil; please don’t get the impression that I’m saying olive oil is not good to use. Olive oil is a fantastic oil and can be used liberally in most people’s diet (I pour it on my salads andoften other foods once they are cooked). However, it can be a good idea to try avoiding it where you are cooking at very high temperatures. If you are cooking at mid-low temperatures, for example baking something in an oven on a low heat, or on a stove-top at moderate heat, then olive oil should be fine. And obviously use it to dress salads and moisten other foods where you like. Just look to include an alternative oil or substance such as ghee, for high heat cooking.

Hope that helps & happy cooking.

Mark Bunn

Mark Bunn – is a leading natural health researcher specialising in Ayurvedic medicine, author of the three-time best-selling ‘Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health‘ and one of Australasia's most popular health and performance speakers.  Mark is also CEO of David Lynch Foundation Australia.