One of the most common questions we are asked is what kind of oil to use when cooking. And our answer is…it depends.

If you’ve been reading our blog or taken any of our programs, you know that our favorite healthy oils include olive oil and avocado oil. We also use small amounts of ghee, grass-fed butter, and coconut oil. However, one thing we haven’t discussed much is the smoke point of these and other oils.

Technically speaking, the smoke point is the temperature in which the oil will actually start to smoke. Have you ever noticed that when you leave oil in the pan to heat for too long or at too high a temp, you will actually see smoke coming off the pan?

Oil that has smoked contains fumes that are toxic to inhale, as well as free radicals that are harmful to your health. So when it comes to higher heat cooking, its more desirable to use an oil or fat that has a higher smoke point.

But here’s the catch. Oils that are more refined are the ones that tend to have a higher smoke point.

Unfortunately, these refined oils are highly processed and have been stripped of their beneficial fat properties and nutrients. They also tend to be higher in the inflammatory omega-6 type of fat. They include vegetable oils like corn, safflower, Wesson and soy. Using more pure, unrefined oils (the ones we prefer), means you have to pay closer attention to how you use them in cooking.

So how do our favorite oils stack up when it comes to smoke points? Check out the list below along with links to articles with additional information about these oils:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 350°F/165-190°C  (We have seen conflicting information regarding olive oil and it may be that due to its high antioxidant level that it is ok at higher temps. We used to limit it to use in salad dressings or added on food after cooking, however, recently we have gone back to using it for cooking)
  • Avocado Oil: 375-450°F/190-205°C (great mild tasting cooking oil; many other sources have reported it up to 520°F)
  • Ghee:  375-450°F/230°C
  • Sesame Oil:  350-410°F/175-210°C (we sometimes use small amounts in recipes for extra flavor, especially the toasted kind)
  • Coconut oil: (unrefined): 350°F/175°C
  • Canola Oil:  400°F/205°C, even with a higher smoke point, avoid this oil. Be sure to click on it to see why.

One more important point:
Knowing the smoke point is all well and good, but how do you know WHEN your pan reaches those temps? Obviously, it’s easy to tell when you are baking something in the oven. However when cooking on the stove, it is a bit more challenging.

Smartkitchen.com lists medium heat on the stove to be between 325-374°F/162-189°C. This means you can safely cook with extra virgin olive, avocado oil and ghee (and a little butter for those who tolerate dairy, which is similar to ghee’s smoke point).

You can also see why frying is so damaging to health, as such high temps are used in the process, thereby damaging the oil and turning it into an inflammatory compound. 

Finally, don’t ever cook with oils like flax or walnut oils which are HIGHLY volatile with heat. Only use these in salad dressings or mixed into dishes that have already been cooked. 

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