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Understanding cooking fats and oils

  • 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 the most healthy for you when used in moderation?

    • Choose liquid oils that are high in monounsaturated fat. Choose canola, olive and peanut oil.
    • Choose soft (tub) or liquid margarines (such as Benecol®, Smart Balance® or Take Control®). Look for margarines that contain no trans fats.

    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 (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and 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 per day. Include fats used in cooking, baking, salads, and spreads on bread.

    Comparing cooking fats and oils

    The chart below 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 healthier the fat or oil will be.

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

    Note: Numbers were rounded.