Understanding cooking fats and oils

Sources of cooking fats and oils

Knowing the source of cooking fats and oils is as important as knowing how they are made.

Saturated fats are mostly found in animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, lard and fatty meats. They are also found in some vegetable products, such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oil.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They can raise your cholesterol.

Unsaturated fats come from both animal and plant products. There are two types:

  • Monounsaturated fats come from seeds or nuts such as avocado, olive, peanut and canola oils.

    Monounsaturated fat, in the right amounts, may reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). They are liquid at room temperature.
  • Polyunsaturated fats come from vegetables, seeds or nuts such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed and sesame seed oils.

    Polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol, if you use them in place of saturated fats. They are liquid at room temperature.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. They include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybean, soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout). They help to lower triglycerides.

Trans fats are made when vegetable oils are processed (or hydrogenated) into shortening and stick margarine. Sources of trans fats include snack foods, baked goods and fried foods made with "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "vegetable shortening."

Try to limit foods made with these ingredients. Trans fats can raise your cholesterol.

While some fats are healthier than others, limit added fats and oils to three to six teaspoons each day. Include fats used in cooking, baking, salads, and spreads on bread.

How to choose cooking fats and oils

There are so many cooking fats and oils on the market—choosing which one to use can be difficult! Which ones are most healthful for you when used in moderation?

  • Choose liquid oils that are high in monounsaturated fat. Choose canola, olive and peanut oils.
  • Choose soft (tub) or liquid margarines such as Benecol®, Smart Balance® or Take Control®. Look for margarines that contain no trans fats and do not list "hydrogenated oils" or "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredient list.

The following chart lists the amount of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in one tablespoon of various fats and oils. In general, the lower the saturated fat and the higher the monounsaturated fat content, the more healthful the fat or oil will be.

Fat or oil Fat grams Monounsaturated fat grams Saturated fat grams Polyunsaturated fat grams
Almond oil 14 grams 10 grams 1 grams 3 grams
Olive oil 14 grams 10 grams 2 grams 2 grams
Avocado oil 14 grams 10 grams 2 grams 2 grams
Canola oil 14 grams 8 grams 1 grams 4 grams
Peanut oil 14 grams 7 grams 2 grams 5 grams
Lard (pork fat) 13 grams 6 grams 5 grams 2 grams
Chicken fat 13 grams 6 grams 4 grams 3 grams
Sesame oil 14 grams 6 grams 2 grams 6 grams
Beef tallow 13 grams 5 grams 7 grams 1 grams
Palm oil 14 grams 5 grams 7 grams 2 grams
Cocoa butter 14 grams 5 grams 8 grams 1 grams
Corn oil 14 grams 4 grams 2 grams 8 grams
Butter 13 grams 4 grams 8 grams 1 grams
Soybean oil 14 grams 4 grams 2 grams 8 grams
Sunflower oil 14 grams 3 grams 2 grams 9 grams
Flaxseed oil 14 grams 3 grams 1 grams 10 grams
Cottonseed oil 14 grams 3 grams 4 grams 7 grams
Walnut oil 14 grams 3 grams 2 grams 9 grams
Grapeseed oil 14 grams 2 grams 2 grams 10 grams
Safflower oil 14 grams 2 grams 1 grams 11 grams
Palm kernel oil 14 grams 2 grams 12 grams 0 grams
Coconut oil 14 grams 1 grams 12 grams 1 grams

Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 14), the National Sunflower Association and theFlax Council of Canada. Note: Numbers were rounded.

Choosing margarine

 

The more liquid the margarine is, the less hydrogenated it is with less trans fatty acids.

Margarine is a better choice than butter.

Soft margarines are better than hard ones. Buy trans fat-free margarines if possible.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Understanding Cooking Fats and Oils, nutr-ah-12725 (9/17); USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 14); National Sunflower Association; Flax Council of Canada
First Published: 06/30/2003
Last Reviewed: 01/15/2018