Cooking Oils – Plant-based Oils

In our previous post, we looked at all cooking oils. In this post, we will explore plant-based cooking oils.

What are cooking oils?

Cooking oils are lipids (fats) made from plants, animals, or synthetic compounds used when frying, baking, and preparing foods for consumption. 
We find three lipids in cooking oils, triacylglycerols (also known as triglycerides), phospholipids, and sterols. Triacylglycerols are the most common lipid found in our foods. 
There are many oils. This blog post will focus on the most common cooking oils derived from plants and animals.

What are common plant-based cooking oils made from? 

Plant-based oils are often sourced from

  • Avocados
  • Canola seeds
  • Coconuts
  • Corn kernels 
  • Olives
  • Palm tree kernels
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Sunflower seeds 

Are plant-based cooking oils better for me than animal-based cooking oils?

Not necessarily. It depends significantly on the ingredient and if the oil is unsaturated or saturated fat. 
Plant-based cooking oils that remain liquid at room temperatures, like olive oil or avocado oil, are unsaturated. These cooking oils are better for our bodies than plant-based ones that are solid at room temperature, like coconut oil or palm oil. Oils that are solid when at room temperature contain saturated fats, which can adversely impact our health if consumed at too high a frequency. 

Why are unsaturated fats better than saturated fats?

We all have cholesterol in our bodies. Essentially, cholesterol is a lipid (fats) our bodies use to help aid in many biological functions. We have high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is considered “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is regarded as “bad” cholesterol (1).
Saturated fats are known to increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in our bodies, while unsaturated fats are known to lower the “bad” LDL in our bodies (1,2). 

Is there more than one kind of unsaturated fat?

There are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Both fats can benefit our health when replacing saturated fats. 
All unsaturated fats contain a double bond in their chemical structure. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond. Polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds. 

Let’s look at monounsaturated fats. 

We find monounsaturated fats in oils like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and more. They can help aid in cell development and maintenance.
Additionally, if we replace saturated fats in our diets with monounsaturated fats, we can decrease our “bad” LDL cholesterol and help improve and maintain our heart health. 

Let’s look at polyunsaturated fats. 

While some cooking oils contain polyunsaturated fats like flax, soybean, and safflower oils, we often find these fats in foods like nuts and fish. 
Polyunsaturated fats include essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6, needed to maintain our brain function and cell health. 
Like monounsaturated fats, when replacing saturated fats in our diets, polyunsaturated fats can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and help improve and maintain our health. 

Is all saturated fat, even from plant-based oils, bad for my health? 

Like all things in life, moderation is key. We can still enjoy foods that contain saturated fats, but it’s best to have them in moderation. And, when it makes sense, swap out saturated fats with unsaturated fats. 
Additionally, it’s important to note that studies found swapping out saturated fat for carbohydrates (e.g., sugar) did not yield cardiovascular health benefits. Cardiovascular benefits were primarily seen when swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats. 

The good news.

We know that primarily using unsaturated, plant-based oils can help us boost our overall health and well-being. That said, moderation is vital, and we can still enjoy products with saturated fats without adversely impacting our health. 

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