The Complete Guide to Healthy Vegan Fats and Oils
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It can be challenging to figure out which vegan fats and oils to use in your cooking, especially with such a variety available on the market. This simple guide can help to de-mystify that process, so you can choose the best vegan fats and oils to use for any dish!
How to Buy Oils
First and foremost, look for oils that are stored in opaque or dark glass containers – this shields the oil from light, which can oxidize the oil. Coconut oil is an exception here, as it’s super stable. Next, look for oils that are unrefined and cold pressed. This basically means that less heat and processing is involved, helping to retain the nutrients within the oil and protecting against oxidation/rancidity.
Once you’ve found an oil that meets the requirements, be sure to look for an expiration date!
How to Store Oils
Proper storage of oils is important to reducing the chance of oxidation. Keep your bottles of oil in a cool dark place with consistent temperatures. Avoid storing oils in direct sunlight, next to a stove, or in a place where the temperature will swing often.
Cooking With Oils
Certain oils are better for certain cooking applications. Generally, coconut oil is considered the best for higher heat applications, while avocado and olive oil are great for low-medium heats. Sesame oil works for cooking at lower temperatures as well. Be sure to heat oils gently, and never let the oil smoke. Once you’ve hit this smoke point, the oil has definitely oxidized!
What’s not to love about this stuff? It’s shelf-stable (being comprised of almost entirely saturated fatty acids), works fabulously in baked goods, and is the go-to oil for higher heat cooking. Coconut oil also has those coveted medium-chain fatty acids, which digest quickly for immediate energy and are fantastic for those on a ketogenic diet. In addition to antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antiaging properties, coconut oil is also amazing for your skin when applied topically, and can even be used as a sunscreen.
This has no bearing on your health or nutrition, but my cat really likes eating coconut oil. He goes crazy for dried coconut as well, and tries to eat it whenever I’m snacking on some.
This is one of those cases where conventional wisdom gets it right – olive oil is actually healthy. You can use olive oil for sauteeing, but avoid using it for frying or other high heat applications. A good olive oil will have a rich color, and strong flavor, and is tasty all on its own.
My cat also likes drinking olive oil.
Sesame Seed Oil
For certain flavor proiles, there’s nothing else that works like sesame oil. Sesame oil is a bit more delicate than olive oil, so be sure to use it only at lower heats. For higher heat applications, it’s worth adding to food once it has been removed from the heat. Sesame oil is important in ayurveda, and contains a lot of antioxidants. The fatty acid profile isn’t the best, though, so regular use isn’t wholly recommended.
This oil has a similar nutritional profile to olive oil, and can withstand some light heat cooking for sure.
Walnut Oil, Almond Oil, Pupkin Seed Oil
These oils are generally pretty healthy and delicious, but should be used sparingly for salad dressings and drizzling on food after cooking. Their higher price tags are pretty prohibitive, but they’re definitely great for a treat every once in a while. Because they’re so flavorful, a little bit of oil goes a long way in a dressing, or drizzled on top of food right before eating.
Oils to Avoid:
Flax Seed Oil
While on the surface, flax seed oil has a great nutritional profile (so many omega-3s!) and a lot of health benefits, but this oil is notoriously prone to oxidation and is also pretty expensive. Instead of using flax oil, opt for flaxseeds (freshly ground) instead. It’s also worth looking at the research on flax if you have any concerns about the phyto-estrogens present in this seed.
Most palm oil is harvested in a completely unsustainable way that irrevocably damages the land and threatens the existence of an endangered Indonesian orangutang. While there are sustainable versions available, the movement needs more momentum to really take hold and end these damaging practices. If a favorite brand of yours uses palm oil that isn’t certified, contact them and push for sustainable sourcing!
Grapeseed Oil & Peanut Oil
These oils have decent nutrient profiles and are really tasty, but they’re both quite prone to oxidation. Grapeseed oil is really pricey, and peanut oil is often diluted with canola or or another vegetable oil to make it cheaper. Best to stick to tried and true options.
I’ll be blunt – canola oil is gross. It’s super heavily processed and pretty much already rancid by the time it hits store shelves, due to the high heat required for its production. While canola oil is often considered heart healthy for its omega-3 content, the 500 degree processing temperatures oxidize these fatty acids and actually end up making canola oil pro-inflammatory.
Corn Oil, Soybean Oil and Other Vegetable Oils
So much processing and gross chemicals and solvents go into making these oils. It’s wholly unappetizing and unhealthy. Like canola oil, vegetable oils are almost definitely already rancid by the time they get to the grocery store.
Safflower Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil and Other Industrial Seed Oils
These oils are crazy processed and prone to rancidity, which leads to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Definitely skip over these in favor of any of the options up top.
Vegan Margarines and Buttery Spreads
It’s a bummer, but these fats are no good. They’re almost always full of hyper-processed vegetable oils that hit store shelves pre-oxidized and heavily processed. Additionally, many spreads contain hydrogenated oils, which have been directly linked to heart disease and buildup of the arteries, time and time again.