Healthy fats: Benefits to our bodies and which to choose for cooking

The human body requires three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Each macronutrient provides energy in the form of calories and are essential for our bodies to properly function.

Today we will look at the macronutrient, fat: why we need it and which fats are healthiest for cooking and consuming. Fat has been somewhat vilified for many years, but it actually plays a huge role in our bodies. Here are some key functions of fat: 

  • Formation of cell membrane
  • Provide fuel for the heart
  • Help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins
  • Protein assimilation
  • Manage inflammation 
  • Build healthy hormones

All fats are not equal

Our bodies need healthy fats to function properly, but all fats are not created equal. There are many options available, but some are less than optimal for health. It may surprise you, but animal fats happen to be one stable source to use for cooking. They are delicious, satiating and add a certain depth to your cooking. YAY, butter!

The problem is that we have been mislead. Many of the fats and oils we are using to cook with are simply not safe when heated and some are not good to ingest at all. These oils are extremely processed, usually with harsh chemicals and heat. They are most often made from genetically modified ingredients. Examples are oils made from canola, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and corn.  Avoid these as much as possible! 

Trans Fats

Sometimes manufacturers will  hydrogenate these oils to prolong shelf life, which creates harmful trans fatty acids. Trans fats have been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and alzheimer’s. They reduce immune function, interfere with your body’s use of beneficial omega-3 fats, interfere with hormone production, and can cause major damage to your arteries.

Oils that have gone rancid are equally unhealthy as trans fats. This means they have oxidized and contain free radicals which cause inflammation in your body. Rancidity can be caused by exposure to heat and light. So this means we need to be conscious of what we use for cooking.

Healthy Fat Options for Cooking

Good options for higher heat cooking are coconut oil, palm oil, duck fat, butter or ghee. These saturated fats are more chemically stable and less prone to rancidity when heated. Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are best for drizzling over foods or low heat cooking. They are more unstable oils, which means they can become easily rancid with heat and light.

 Qualities to look for when selecting oil/fats for cooking:

  • look for the words ‘first-pressed or cold-pressed’  when choosing oils from nuts, seeds, avocados, olives
  • always choose unrefined, this means less processed
  • choose dark colored glass jars to protect from light and heat
  • choose organic, non-genetically modified whenever possible (especially animal fats since the toxins hang out in the fat)
  • fish oil, cod liver oil and flax seed oil are oils that should always be refrigerated and never heated


For a handy guide to cooking fats and oils use this 1-page PDF resource from Diane Sanfilippo of Balanced Or contact Allison Kirley at Delicious Life Wellness, a comprehensive nutrition and health coach.

By Allison Kirley

Allison Kirley is a licensed massage therapist, nutritional therapy practitioner, yoga instructor and self-taught kitchenista.  She is the founder of Delicious Life Wellness in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, offering nutrition services, bodywork and yoga classes.

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