When cooking with fat, it is essential to only use stable fats: butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. Sesame oil and rice bran oil are okay, but are more processed. Peanut oil is fair.
If you can get real lard, or render your own, it is highly stable with a good array of saturated fats and Vitamin D. The same is true for beef tallow, if you like its brawny flavor. The grocery store brand shortening in cans has undergone excessive processing and should be avoided. By the way, lard that has been prepared properly should be refrigerated.
The smoke point of a fat is the temperature at which it breaks down. It is highly undesirable to heat any fat to that point because of off-taste, nutritional deterioration, and the production of serious toxins. The higher the smoke point of a fat, the more stable it is when heated.
Many nutritionists make too much of smoke point as if it were the main factor determining what fats you should cook with. Smoke point is an indicator of the stability of the fat when heated, but the structure of the fat is far more important. Smoke point was overemphasized when the food industry peddled their vegetable oils as being healthy cooking oils.
The only fats you should cook with are saturated (butter, coconut oil) or monounsaturated fats (olive oil), and not polyunsaturated ones (vegetable or seed oils). The polyunsaturated fats produce too many damaging molecules when heated even well below their smoke point.
The final consideration for selecting which fats to cook with is the degree of processing they undergo before they reach the grocery store. How they get fat out of a plant or seed matters. If they need to subject it to high heat, high pressures, and use solvents to extract the fat, it is a bad fat.
Best cooking fats:
- Clarified butter (also called ghee) is made when milk solids are removed from butter. There is no more stable fat when heated.
- Organic butter
- Coconut oil that has not been refined, bleached, or deodorized
- Lard, duck fat, goose fat, beef tallow that has not been hydrogenated
- Olive oil (virgin has a higher smoke point than extra virgin)
- Sesame oil
- Rice bran oil
- Peanut oil
(Palm oil has the potential to be on this list, but it is difficult to find a product that has not been excessively processed. Also, rainforests in Southeast Asia are cut down to create palm plantations.)
Toxins accumulate in fat, especially in animals that are higher up the food chain. Butter from conventionally raised cows has a particularly high toxic load. Some plants that are processed for their oils like peanuts are particularly heavily sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals. Do everything you can to obtain fats from organically raised animals and plants grown without pesticides. Avoid bad fats as if your health depended on it, because it does.
- Margarine and any imitation butter product
- Canola oil
- Soy oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Corn oil
- Any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil (read the labels)
It is a good idea to never have a prepared salad dressing unless you are able to read the label.