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  • The Handy Dandy Cooking Oil Comparison Chart

    A few weeks ago, Andrew Wilder of the Eating Rules blog asked me if I wanted to help build a cooking oil comparison chart that would help people make sense of the wide array of choices. The topic of cooking oils is one I am very passionate about, so I gladly jumped at the chance.

    The chart — a real visual treat! — can be downloaded here, but I encourage you to read this blog post first, as it explains the science behind the results (and contains some very important FYIs).

    • Partially hydrogenated oils (aka “trans fats”) are the epitome of cardiovascular horror, so their presence (i..e: in shortening) resulted in a severe penalty.
    • Oils high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids also scored very low. For more information on the problematic health aspects of oils high in omega 6, please see this post. I also highly recommend you read this post, which explains why I am concerned with omega 6 levels in oils, but not in whole foods.
    • Oils high in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are very heat-sensitive, so refined varieties are best avoided, as the processing exposes them to very high temperatures. This is why refined walnut oil scores lower than cold-pressed flax oil.
    • All saturated fats are not created equal! Unrefined coconut oil’s saturated fatty acids provide cardiovascular benefits.
    • Monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy (they increase HDL cholesterol), so their presence in an oil is a point-scorer.
    • Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat. Hence, a “high-oleic” version of an oil is significantly higher in monounsaturated fats (and thereby also lower in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids).
    • As healthful as some oils can be, it’s highly desirable to get a substantial percentage of your dietary fats from whole foods. Avocados, for example, offer much more than monounsaturated fats. They are also a wonderful source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, and fiber — all of which are absent in the extracted oil.
    • Many pesticides are fat-soluble, which means they are stored in a plant’s fatty acids. Whenever possible, purchase organic oils.
    • By the way, this chart isn’t just handy for cooking — it’s also great for label reading. Not surprisingly, the lowest-scoring oils on this chart are ubiquitous in many processed foods.
    • All oils contain a variety of fatty acids. Focus on the prominent ones.

    With that said, head on over to Eating Rules and download the handy dandy cooking oil comparison chart!

    Many thanks to Andrew for reaching out to me with the idea!

    Share

    46 Comments

    1. Trey said on February 13th, 2012

      Andy – I also posted this same comment on Eating Rules and would love to hear your response as well:

      Great chart. One question. I see that palm and palm kernel oil is at the bottom of the chart, and thus generally to be avoided. But I’ve read conflicting information in recent weeks regarding these oils. In particular, the paleo crowd (e.g., Mark Sisson, the authors of the Perfect Health Diet) assert that palm oil (and perhaps palm kernel oil) is healthy. Would love to hear your response on this. Thank you!
      ….

    2. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Hi Trey,

      The environmental concerns surrounding palm and palm kernel oil are so concerning that it resulted in that very low score. Even without the environmental concerns, information and research is scarce and conflicting, so I didn’t feel comfortable placing it any higher (especially when the benefits of olive, hemp, flax, coconut, etc oils are so well documented).

    3. Trey said on February 13th, 2012

      Andy – Thanks for the response. One follow-up question: is “palm fruit oil” the same thing as palm oil? Our family eats quite a bit of almond butter, and our favorite brand includes “palm fruit oil” as an ingredient. Curious if this is problematic. Thanks again.

    4. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Trey,

      Palm fruit oil is the same thing as palm oil. My suggestion: purchase almond butters that only have almonds on the ingredient list. Salt is fine as an additional ingredient, but no reason for other oils…

    5. Patricia said on February 13th, 2012

      Very intriguing chart…but where does non-hydrogenated margarine fit? I was disappointed to see it was not mentioned, when the rest of the chart is so detailed as to distinguish between differences such as refined vs. unrefined and grass-fed vs. grain-fed.

    6. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Patricia,

      Margarine is a combination of different plant oils, and there are way too many varieties to fit into the chart. So, take the average of the oils used. For example, for a margarine made from palm + corn + soybean oils would get a different score from one made with canola + olive + coconut oils.

      Of course, you also have to consider if the oils are hydrogenated/refined.

      Bottom line: margarine, even if not made with partially hydrogenated oils, will never get a high score. The oils towards the top are the ones worth recommending. The ones in the middle are okay to have occasionally, while the ones at the bottom are best avoided.

    7. Brandon said on February 13th, 2012

      This is actually really cool! Thanks for this!!

      Two questions:
      Why do you guys mention “better to eat raw avocado”? And by that question, I mean, why single out only avocados? You have nut oils right next to avocado oil – peanut, almond, macadamia – where I imagine the same rule applies.

      Why is lard higher than grass fed butter? I thought grass fed better also had a good amount of monounsaturated fat as well (like 40%?)? The butter also has more omega-3 right (and a better 6:3 ratio)?

    8. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Brandon,

      We also mention it for walnuts. We wanted to include a few mentions of “choose the whole food option” in the chart, in case some people do not read this post.

      Lard is a little higher because its monounsaturated fat content is slightly higher. They are both in the same vicinity, though — practically equals. The general idea of this chart is to get a “big picture” look.

    9. Patricia said on February 13th, 2012

      Thanks for the explanation… that totally makes sense. I guess I would have liked to see the word hydrogenated attached to the margarine at the bottom, so that the whole category of ‘margarine’ isn’t painted with the same brush.

    10. Arthur said on February 13th, 2012

      How about rice bran oil?

    11. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Super high in omega 6. Definitely towards the bottom of this chart.

    12. Heidi said on February 13th, 2012

      Most of the oils under “stir-fry” are hard to find. I’ve always thought of coconut oil as being good for stir-fry, since its saturated fat keeps it stable at high temperatures. And I thought that olive oil was not so good since it’s more prone to oxidation at high temps. But on the chart, they are right next to each other under “baking”. From the chart, it looks like it would be better to use peanut oil for stir-fry, but there are no comments by that one.

      Thanks!

    13. admin said on February 13th, 2012

      Heidi,

      Coconut oil is good for higher temperatures, too… it is in between baking and stir-frying. Keep in mind that because of positioning in the chart, we had to have some leeway and flexibility (this is all based on smoke points).

      As far as olive oil and cooking is concerned, please read this post: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/the-ultimate-olive-oil-guide/

      Also because of spacing issues, we could not write comments for every single oil. That is where the border colors, background colors, and this post come in (for extra information). Besides, some oils don’t warrant additional commentary apart from what their composition is.

    14. Ivy said on February 14th, 2012

      Under refined safflower oil, the chart reads that it is “refined, deodorized and bleached.” There may be an obvious answer to this but I’m wondering what are the health issues directly related to these processes?

    15. Andy Bellatti said on February 14th, 2012

      Ivy,

      Refining, deodorizing, and bleaching are all chemical processes which affect the fragility of fatty acids. Fatty acids are best consumed in an unrefined state, as this safeguards their healthful properties. The link I provided in the post explains this, too.

    16. Dave Sill said on February 14th, 2012

      What about lard and tallow? I think beef tallow has a better o6/o3 ratio.

    17. Andy Bellatti said on February 14th, 2012

      Dave,

      Lard is on the chart.

    18. Dave Sill said on February 14th, 2012

      D’oh! Don’t know how I missed it. Thanks, nice chart!

    19. Myron Machula said on February 14th, 2012

      Hey, where does pure pecan oil land on the chart? I looked for it and was sad to not see it included . . .

    20. ariel said on February 14th, 2012

      This is great!

      Quick question:

      I was wondering what you think is the best oil to use when deep frying. I was always under the impression that Peanut Oil was bad and cottonseed/canola blend is better. Based on the Chart, I might have to look for some Tea Seed oil the next time I make fried oysters.

    21. Andy Bellatti said on February 14th, 2012

      Myron,

      We went with the most common oils (in terms of availability as well as commonality of use in home cooking and restaurants). Pecan oil is high in monounsaturated fats, so it would be in the higher range. Of course, as with avocado and other nuts — the actual pecan offers much more in terms of nutrition. Olive oil and coconut oil are different, in that the main draw of the whole food versions is pretty much their heart-healthy fats. Pecans, meanwhile, are also great sources of vitamins and minerals.

    22. Andy Bellatti said on February 14th, 2012

      Ariel,

      Virgin coconut oil is my pick.

    23. Dairugger XV said on February 14th, 2012

      Health wise, there doesn’t seem to be strong data suggesting the GMO is unhealthy. Their is plenty of speculation, but not much by the way of hard evidence with humans. Further, there isn’t any strong reason to suspect that GMO is inherently unhealthy. I understand that this is a contentious topic, but that’s why it’s important to be cautious in statements. Even if there were some sort of specific concern with some protein gene or whatever is supposed to be problematic in GMO, it would very likely be processed out if we are talking about oils.

      Regarding pesticide. Organic does use pesticides. The pesticides are sourced from naturally occurring sources. But natural doesn’t mean wholesome, they are still pest deterrents after all, chemicals meant to be noxious to insects. Conventional pesticides are synthetic, but not everything human-made equates to being poisonous to humans. There’s also the argument that the dose is important concerning the poison, and a little effective synthetic pesticide may be better than ample use of a less effective natural pesticide. It just seems like we need to be more specific with what pesticide is used on what crop and what are the know risks before generally stating that organic is healthier concerning pesticide use. How is anyone so sure? Maybe there’s a good unbiased study out there.

      Also, there’s mention of pesticides for plant sources, but what about persistent organic pollutants (POPs) bioaccumulated in animal fats? Even naturally fed livestock don’t escape this since pollution is everywhere, it rises in the atmosphere and rains down everywhere. Also, there should be mention of hormones, antibiotics and other factors when considering animal sources of fats if there is going to be a distinction between organic and conventional plant oils on the chart.

      I mention the above because people tend to be scared away from fruit and vegetable consumption because of pesticides and don’t give a second thought to animal products where the issue is compounded.

      Is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio science panning out? I know it has gained popularity, but not all the research is all the supportive of the ratio concept put into nutritional practice. It may be more important to just focus on higher omega-3 values, rather than ratio.

      On the chart there’s a wide dichotomy between grass-fed butter and grain-fed butter. The differences of essential fatty acids aren’t that big and CLA isn’t conclusively beneficial. It may even be confer negative impacts on lipid profiles. The differences between grass-fed and grain-fed meat aren’t as stark as is often stated. Yes, grass-fed meat is higher in omega-3 than grain fed, but comparative to omega-3 rich sources of food, it’s not worth mentioning. I tried to find clear comparative data between the two butters, but I couldn’t find much that was as clear as I would have liked. Here’s some data for everything else that seems to offer the best apples to apples comparison.

      Butter, without salt (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 51.4 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 21.0 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 3.0 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 315 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 2728 mg

      Lard (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 39.2 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 45.1 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 11.2 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 1000 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 10199 mg

      Oil, olive, salad or cooking (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 13.8 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 73.0 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 10.5 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 761 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 9763 mg

      Oil, vegetable, corn, industrial and retail, all purpose salad or cooking (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 12.9 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 27.6 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 54.7 g
      Total trans fatty acids 0.3 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 1161 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 53510 mg

      Oil, soybean, salad or cooking (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 15.6 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 22.8 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 57.7 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 6789 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 50422 mg

      Oil, vegetable, canola [low erucic acid rapeseed oil] (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 7.4 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 63.3 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 28.1 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 9138 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 18645 mg

      If ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 don’t matter that much, and total amount of omega-3 is more important, then corn oil is higher in omega-3 than lard and soybean oil is higher still, and canola is highest (from NutritionData.com, 100 gram serving).

      Lard is touted for it’s high level of mono-saturated fat on the chart, but canola oil is higher per cup and it’s at the bottom.

      Also, sources like Harvard School of Medicine (and others) advise that high polyunsaturated fat of any kind is the better choice over high saturated fat.

      Finally, I would like to be the advocate for mustard oil to show up in your graph for better or for worse. It’s not used much in the United States, but it’s used in India.

      Vegetable oil, mustard (100 g)
      Saturated Fat 11.6 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 59.2 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 21.2 g
      Total Omega-3 fatty acids 5900 mg
      Total Omega-6 fatty acids 15332 mg

    24. Dairugger XV said on February 15th, 2012

      I had a couple more thoughts over the night.

      Palm takes an environmental hit on the chart. Okay, that’s fair to mention. There can be better-sourced palm oil, but your chart disclaimer was enough to make the point.

      But livestock is known to be a massive environmental issue, credibly cited as the largest contributor to climate change. Even small farm livestock don’t escape the basic inefficiencies; in some cases, it can be less inefficient — requiring more land, water, and feed per animals — than factory farming. I know it sounds counterintuitive to many people, but there are a few reasonable studies out there to support this.

      I can appreciate the idea that pigs are being slaughtered anyway, so may as well use their lard, but that’s probably not the reality of supply and demand unless we go into specifics. For butter, that argument doesn’t work at all, the more butter people demand, the more dairy cows will be put into service.

      Back to omega fatty acids. If it’s the ratio that’s important, canola has a 2:1 ratio which is supposed to be what we’re aiming for, 1:1, being ideal. Lard has a poor ratio of 10:1, butter around 8:1 (I’m using rough estimates). Olive oil, and perhaps NutrtionData just profiled a poor quality olive oil, has a 12:1 ratio with slightly lower quantities of both acids compared to lard. What’s preferable? To have the better ratio, but be high in both essential fatty acids, or to have a poor disproportionate ratio but have lower quantities?

    25. Kim said on February 15th, 2012

      Wow…not sure if poisons, pesticides and GMO is unhealthly? Wow…

    26. Amanda said on February 15th, 2012

      Hi,

      I am writing on behalf of the MDPA Conference on Communicating Childhood Obesity Prevention and Policy. The conference is to take place March 20-21 in Silver Spring, MD. I came across your blog while doing research for our bi-weekly newsletter on childhood obesity called MDPA Minute. I think our conference something your audience would be interested in. Would you be interested in receiving some press passes for this event in exchange for helping to promote it to your readers and blogging about it?

      Thanks!

      amanda@mdpaconference.com

    27. The Healthy Librarian said on February 16th, 2012

      Excellent post, but I want to point out that monounsaturated fats (like olive oil & the high oleic oils) may not be as healthy as we think. The same for nuts loaded with monounsaturated fats.

      Dr. Lawrence Rudel of Wake Forest University thought they were great for the heart & arteries when he devised his 5 year Green Monkey study–feeding 1/2 the monkeys saturated fat, and 1/2 the monkey monounsaturated fats. The monkeys fed the monos had great lipid numbers–high HDL’s, lower LDLs than the sat fat monkeys. But, when autopsied, the mono-fed monkeys had just as much atherosclerosis as the ones fed sat fat. Rudel was very surprised.

      In Rudel’s more recent research he has come to believe the oleic fats promote atherogenesis.

      Sure whole foods are better than the oils–but when choosing nuts, maybe it’s wiser to look to walnuts instead of say, cashews.

      Why am I picking on cashews? They’re loaded with calories–some saturated fat & lots of monunsaturated fat (MUFA)–and according to Dr. Lawrence Rudel of Wake Forest University–their high monounsaturated fat “appears not to provide cardioprotection” and may be atherogenic. Rudel is an olive-oil & monounsaturated fat myth-buster. The conventional wisdom is that monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy. Not according to Dr. Rudel! Read more about him here: http://www.happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2008/07/im-going-to-miss-my-olive-oil—who-knew-it-wasnt-so-healthy-after-all-drs-esselstyn-ornish-vogel-rudel-did.html

      1 ounce (a handful) of raw cashews has 6.7 grams of monounsaturated fat
      1 ounce (a handful) of raw almonds has 9.4 grams of monounsaturated fat
      1 TBS of olive oil has 9.8 grams of monounsaturated fat
      1 ounce (a handful) of raw English walnuts has 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fat

      Source:

      Degirolamo, C. & Rudel, L.L. “Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Appear Not to Provide Cardioprotection” 2010. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 12:391-396.

      Degirolamo, C. & Rudel, L.L. “LDL Cholesteryl Oleate as a Predictor for Atherosclerosis: evidence from Human and Animal Studies on Dietary Fat” Journal of Lipid Research. 2009 Apr;50 Suppl:S434-9. Epub 2008 Nov 22. “…dietary monounsatured fatty acids (found in olive oil & some nuts) appear to alter hepatic lipoprotein metabolism, promote cholesteryl oleate accumulation, and confer atherogenic properties to lipoproteins…” Not good news.

    28. Pat said on February 17th, 2012

      All oil is the epitome of junk food, pure calories with zero nutrients. Oil is the same to fat as sugar is to carbohydrates. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfBKauKVi4M

    29. Brandon said on February 17th, 2012

      Dairugger XV,

      Omega 6 Fats and Omega 3 Fats use the same enzymes to get turned into prostaglandins (inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds). Therefore, there is competition between the two fatty acids – the more omega-6 you eat, the less enzyme there is available for omega-3 to interact with. So yes, simply put, the omega-6/omega-3 ratio does matter.

    30. Kate said on February 18th, 2012

      Hey there, interesting chart. What does the grey border color stand for?
      Also, I don’t think most olive oils in Europe have their acidity listed on the packaging, what else should I look for to say if it is real?

    31. Andy Bellatti said on February 18th, 2012

      Kate,

      The gray color simply means none of the other borders apply.

      This post talks about spotting real olive oil: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/the-ultimate-olive-oil-guide/ (Read the part about the Protected Designation of Origin logo).

    32. Jay Sprat said on February 25th, 2012

      when you say there are environmental concerns, what specifically are the concerns?

    33. Andy Bellatti said on February 25th, 2012

      Jay,

      The PDF has a link that takes you to an article about environmental issues surrounding palm oils.

    34. Kate Shaw said on March 19th, 2012

      I found Dairugger XV’s comments really interesting as I share some of those same thoughts. Just wondering if you had any responses to his/her comments Andy (e.g. that GMO is not inherently unhealthy, or the use of pesticides with organic foods)?

    35. tracey said on June 8th, 2012

      Thank you for this chart! I’m so glad I found it. I have been agonizing lately over what oils to use. There are so many articles that contradict each other,one will say how great grapeseed is, another says it’s bad, avoid canola, no it’s okay! This chart makes sense out of it all.
      Have you thought about doing one for sugars?

    36. Nick Outlaw said on June 26th, 2012

      There is so much confusion about what and which oils are healthy for you and why. The chart helps to simplify and clear up some of the confusion. Thank you for the clarity!

    37. Krista said on July 12th, 2012

      For all you asking about palm fruit oil, here is a website that is pretty helpful: http://www.palmoilhealth.org/

    38. Choudhury said on October 9th, 2012

      In developing countries you do not get many choices when you buy oil — can you suggest the best ones — 2 / 3 , what should be the choice.
      I presumeSoyabeen oil is the most preferred choice in a situation of limited choice.

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