7 Healthy Fats for High-Heat Cooking

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Picture of ghee - a healthy substitute for coconut oil

Over the past several years, coconut oil has won over the health crowd and become the go-to healthy cooking oil for many people.

But what alternate options are out there for high-heat cooking? Either due to an allergy or just a desire for a different flavor, some people want to find a substitute for coconut oil.

With this in mind, this article provides a list of seven healthy oils and fats suitable for high-heat cooking.

1Butter

Butter Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

As shown in the graph, butter is mainly a source of saturated fat (68%). Next, monounsaturated fat follows (28%) and then a minimal amount of polyunsaturated fat (4%).

Butter also has a relatively decent nutrient profile and provides a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin A and K2 (1).

Butter is a great substitute for coconut oil

Further Information on Butter

Butter is certainly one of the most adaptable fats; some people put it in their morning coffee, it’s used for baking, and high heat cooking is also fine.

Whenever you buy butter, be sure to check the label because you want to make sure it’s real butter. Unfortunately, many vegetable oil spreads (margarine) use the word ‘butter’ on their packaging despite containing none. This kind of act is a deceptive practice that is confusing for many people.

Providing you buy real butter, the manufacturing process is very natural. Butter is simply churned cream, with a touch of salt being a possible addition. While not as cheap as vegetable oils, butter is also relatively affordable.

If you’re wondering whether butter is bad for you; don’t worry. In fact, a significant amount of recent research shows that saturated fat is perfectly healthy. Specifically, several large-scale studies show either a neutral or positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

However, one thing to note is that butter from grass-fed cows provides a greater amount of nutrients, and a much better omega 3-6 profile (7).

Another key benefit of butter is that it tastes delicious. Personally, I think it’s a much tastier substitute for coconut oil.

Pros: Butter is a great-tasting, healthy fat that is perfect for cooking. Also, it’s widely available and reasonably priced.
Cons: Ideally choose grass-fed — butter from grain-fed cows has less nutrients and a higher quantity of omega-6.

2Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Another healthy substitute for coconut oil is extra virgin olive oil.

By the way, for all the beginners to nutrition that’s what EVOO means; extra virgin olive oil.

As can be seen in the graph, extra virgin olive oil is predominantly monounsaturated fat (75%). Next, there’s a smaller amount of saturated fat (14%) and a lower provision of polyunsaturated fat (11%) (8).

However, when it comes to olive oil the fatty acid content is far from everything. Olive oil also contains massive amounts of beneficial polyphenols (9).

In particular, these compounds show links to a reduced risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease, and other chronic diseases (10, 11, 12, 13).

Extra virgin olive oil nutrition facts

Further Information on Olive Oil

Despite extra virgin olive oil being one of the healthiest cooking oils around, it’s important to be aware of a few factors.

One of these is that not all olive oil is what it’s claimed to be. For example, several investigations have shown serious foul play, and some manufacturers diluted their extra virgin olive oils with cheaper vegetable oils (14, 15).

The key point is to make sure you buy cold-pressed olive oil; a first-press oil from the freshest olives. While most olive oil is natural with a very simple manufacture process, some forms of olive oil aren’t (16).

Similar to other vegetable oils, some olive oils undergo a high-heat chemical extraction process that uses solvents. Typically, this oil is listed as ‘pure olive oil’ or ‘light olive oil.’

In other words; if you want to buy more naturally produced olive oil, then opt for the ‘extra virgin’ label.

Something else to point out is that there’s a popular train of thought which suggests olive oil cannot be used at heat. While not as heat-stable as saturated fats, this isn’t entirely accurate. For example, several studies show that olive oil remains stable when exposed to high heat for significant amounts of time (17, 18, 19).

Pros: Olive oil has a large body of positive research behind it, it’s suitable for high-heat cooking and contains several health-protective compounds.
Cons: Deceptive practices exist in the olive oil industry; make sure that you choose a respected brand.

3Ghee

Ghee Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Not only is ghee similar in taste to butter, but it also contains the same fatty acid profile (20).

Ghee is a good substitute for butter

Further Information: Ghee vs. Butter

Assuming that you didn’t hear about ghee before, it is very close to butter in taste, appearance and texture.

Likewise, it shares a very similar production process. However, the main difference is that ghee is a clarified form of butter.

In other words; the butter is simmered until the water and milk solids (proteins and sugars) separate, and just the fat is left. Ghee, therefore, has a higher overall fat content than butter and a slightly creamier, richer flavor.

A resulting benefit of this is that ghee is more heat-stable for high-heat cooking, due to the lack of sugars and proteins that can burn.

Interestingly, a study in India found that the more ghee men ate, the less heart disease they had. This finding was one of many ‘paradoxes’ in the particular study (20).

In short, ghee is a healthy and extremely tasty substitute for coconut oil.

Pros: Butter tastes amazing, but ghee tastes even better. It’s also more suitable for high-heat cooking than butter.
Cons: Ideally choose grass-fed — butter from grain-fed cows has less nutrients and a higher quantity of omega-6.

4Avocado Oil

Avocado Oil Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Firstly, avocado oil mainly consists of monounsaturated fat (74%), followed by polyunsaturated fat (14%) and finally saturated fat (12%) (21).

Avocado oil nutrition facts

Further Information on Avocado Oil

You may have noticed the popularity explosion of avocados in recent years. In like manner, avocado oil is also growing in popularity.

One of the main advantages of avocado oil is that the taste is relatively mild; it doesn’t overpower the food. If you’ve ever used coconut oil or (especially) red palm oil, you’ll know what I mean — these oils can really impart their flavor into the food.

Therefore, avocado oil makes a great substitute for coconut oil to make dips and healthy homemade mayonnaise.

As a fruit that is teeming with fat, cold pressed avocado oil is also very simple to produce.

First, ripe avocados are pushed through a press to make a pulp. After this, the pulp spins at high speed in a centrifuge to separate the oil. And that’s it — simple.

Avocado Oil vs. Olive Oil

As you may have noted from the fatty acid composition, avocado oil and olive oil share a similar profile. Regarding health benefits, olive oil has a much larger weight of evidence behind it simply due to its longstanding popularity.

However, avocado oil is becoming more prevalent, and further positive studies are appearing to support it. Studies show that avocado oil has many of the same benefits attributed to olive oil, including heat stability when exposed to high temperatures (22).

All in all, these two oils are similar in everything but price and availability. Unfortunately, avocado oil is still difficult to source and comes at a premium price.

Pros: Avocado is a very naturally-produced cold-pressed oil that has a decent nutritional profile. In addition, initial studies show that it has several beneficial effects on health.
Cons: Unfortunately, avocado oil is very expensive and doesn’t represent good value for money. For those that can afford it, it’s great – but most people are probably better sticking to olive oil. Overall, it’s a healthy but very expensive substitute for coconut oil.

5Tallow

Tallow Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Otherwise known as beef dripping, tallow is high in saturated fat (68%), has a decent amount of monounsaturated fat (28%), and it is low in polyunsaturated fat (4%) (23).

Tallow is also an important source of conjugated linoleic acid (24).

Tallow is a great high heat cooking substitute for coconut oil

Further Information on Tallow

In the first place, tallow is rendered beef fat.

Tallow is also a traditional fat which has a long history but suffered a decline over the past few decades. This fall in popularity is largely a result of the persecution of saturated fat and the misplaced belief that it is unhealthy.

It’s a shame but owing to the rise of industrial vegetable oils, this heat-stable and natural fat was lost as a long-standing home staple.

Thankfully, as a result of evidence unveiling they’re not so bad, natural fats such as tallow are starting to enjoy a renaissance as of late.

You can buy tallow from most large supermarkets, and it’s also available online. It’s also very easy to make your own homemade tallow.

Should you wish to try making your own tallow, here’s a great walkthrough on how to do it by the paleo mom.

Pros: Tallow is a great high-heat cooking substitute for coconut oil; it’s highly saturated, pretty cheap and it tastes great.
Cons: Similar to the negative of butter, if you opt for tallow from grain-fed cows then the omega 3 to 6 ratio won’t be as good. Choose tallow from grass-fed cows if possible.

6Red Palm Oil

Red Palm Oil Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Unlike its refined palm oil cousins, red palm oil is a natural cold-pressed source of fat from palm fruit. The fat contains mainly saturated fat, and it also has a fair amount of monounsaturated fat (25).

Red palm oil also exerts antioxidant activity. Also, it contains a source of vitamins A, E and K, as well as CoQ10, all contributing to health improvements (26, 27, 28, 29, 30).

Picture of red palm oil, a suitable oil for high heat cooking

Further Information on Red Palm Oil

Quite uniquely for a fat, red palm oil contains a range of fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. To be honest, I bought red palm oil after hearing a lot about the health benefits and seeing user reviews online.

However, I can’t say I’ll be buying it again. The reason why is that cooking with red palm oil seems to make everything else taste like red palm oil too. And the taste is so overpowering.

Fried eggs? All I could taste was red palm oil. It also gives all your food a strange hint of orange color. And it stains too!

Despite my personal feelings, everyone is different, and some people completely love the stuff.

Also, health benefits and taste are not the same topic, and when it comes to health red palm oil has an excellent nutrient profile.

Given it’s also a tropical oil high in saturated fat, it’s a good substitute for coconut oil if you like the taste. If you do, then you’ll probably love it.

Sustainable Palm Oil

Something worth remembering though is that many red palm oils are not sustainable and their production damages the environment and animal habitats. For this reason, you should ideally opt for a certified sustainable red palm oil.

Pros: Red palm oil has a great nutrient profile and also contains a wealth of antioxidants.
Cons: The color and the taste. For me, it just doesn’t taste good. And eating eggs when the yolks aren’t the only orange part.

7Lard

Lard Nutrition Facts (per 100g)

Looking at the graph below may be a surprise for some. While many people think of lard as a saturated fat, it’s predominantly a monounsaturated fat. Second is saturated fat, followed by a small amount of polyunsaturated fat (31).

Lard nutrition facts - a great substitute for coconut oil

Further Information on Lard

Lard is a deliciously tasty source of fat, and it also makes almost everything taste better.

It’s also very high in oleic acid — the most prominent fatty acid (32).

Notably, this is the same fatty acid that makes up the majority of olive oil. In other words; the type of fat that the media often call “heart healthy.”

However one of the major differences it has with olive oil is the price; it’s much cheaper.

Although you won’t hear it much in the mainstream nutrition circles, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with lard. As with many other traditional foods, it’s good for you.

As a combination of saturated and monounsaturated fats, it’s also very heat stable. For this reason, it’s a suitable substitute for coconut oil when cooking at high heat.

Pros: Healthy, cheap and super tasty; lard is a great cooking fat.
Cons: Emphasize lard from pastured pigs raised naturally. Lard from factory farming operations will have a worse nutritional profile, higher omega-6 and a higher possibility of contaminants.

Best High Heat Substitute For Coconut Oil

As you can see, there’s a world of choice when it comes to cooking oils and fats. But if I had to choose one cooking fat, I’d probably choose ghee.

How about you?

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