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Keep your salad oils out of the saucepan!


Not long ago we were encouraged to buy olive oil for its health-giving properties. But many of us were using it all wrong – we were cooking with it! Here’s why we need to be careful which oils and fats we use for which purpose, and why our salad oils should never go in the saucepan.

Fat types

Fats come either as solids – usually animal products like butter or lard – or as liquids, like most vegetable oils. Depending on their molecular structure, fats are called saturated, mono-unsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats have had a bad press for a long time, but are now having something of a comeback, and thought to be much less harmful – even vital – to health. This is just as well, because it’s now thought that they are the best for cooking with. Saturated fats such as butter, ghee, coconut oil and animal fats (such as organic beef dripping) are the most stable at cooking temperatures. This means they are unlikely to change molecular composition during heating.

Oils are delicate!

What happens to the other kinds of fat? Here’s the rub.  Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, but heating transforms their molecular structure into ‘trans-fats’, so that when eaten they:

a) can cause free radical damage to cells and

b) can prevent the body absorbing the healthy non-heated forms of these fats.

Hydrogenation is another way that oils can be altered into trans-fats. This process is what turns oils into solids – eg into margarine – and the results are known to be implicated in pain-causing inflammation, low immunity, and even heart disease and cancer.

Essential fats

The reason for these dramatic effects is that trans-fats block absorption of the healthy forms of polyunsaturated fats, the ones known as ‘essential fatty acids’. And these are involved in controlling the body’s inflammation, blood pressure and immunity.

In addition, the nervous system depends upon fatty acids to work efficiently. In fact, fatty acids are specifically known to affect memory, mood, decision-making and motor function.

So essential fatty acids are vital for everyone to eat. They are found in coldwater fish and pumpkin seeds (Omega 3s) and in nuts and sunflower seeds (Omega 6s). It’s important to consume them in balance, so that the Omega 3s are equal to or greater than the Omega 6s.

Fats: good for you, if you use them right

Four easy ways to steer clear of ‘bad fats’, and maximise absorption of the good ones, are:

  1. Avoid processed foods like pastries, biscuits, or crisps
  2. Avoid anything fried at a high temperature in oil, like chips or crisps
  3. For cooking, use solid, unprocessed fats – like butter, animal fat and coconut oil
  4. For salads, use cold-pressed, extra virgin vegetable/seed oils, kept in dark bottles.

So now we’ve covered why it’s worth not using salad oils in the saucepan.

**STOP PRESS!** We have recently discovered some alternative views on the possibility of heating olive oil, based mainly on the protective action of its phenolic compounds. This remains controversial, but you can read more here.  As far as we know, all other salad oils are considered best unheated. Now you know!

Next blog, we’ll have some recipes for delicious summer salads, to put those healthy oils on!

With best wishes for the warmer days ahead,


Emma Maitland-Carew, Nutritional Therapist in Oxford and Bloxham, Oxfordshire


Cordain, L. et al. (2005) ‘Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(2), pp. 341–354.

Lord, R. S. and Bralley, J. A. (eds) (2008) Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. 2 edition. Duluth, Ga.: Metametrix Institute.

Ravnskov, U. et al. (2014) ‘The Questionable Benefits of Exchanging Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat’, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 89(4), pp. 451–453. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.11.006.

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