Healthy Cooking Begins with Appropriate High Heat Oils and Fats

Dr. Abby Campbell

What are High Heat Oils?

High heat oils have high smoke points which are healthier for cooking. An oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which the oil will break down and start smoking. When it reaches this level, the oil not only smokes up your kitchen with a smelly odor. It also loses some of its nutritional value and gives the food cooked in that oil an unpleasant or awful taste.

There are many high heat cooking oils on the market, but healthy cooking begins with appropriate fats. A healthy cooking fat includes its nutritional profile, smoke point, and fat composition. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include most vegetable cooking oils.

What Should I Look for in a Healthy Cooking Oil?

Cooking oils are pure dietary fat and can make foods taste delicious. However, not all fats are appropriate for use when it comes to high heat cooking. As mentioned earlier, some of the nutrients are lost when the oil begins to smoke. Therefore, they are better used with cooking at lower temperatures or even adding them to foods after cooking. You may also want to top salads with them. These include flax seed and extra virgin olive oils.

Further, many cooking oils are just not healthy overall. Though they are called vegetable oils, you may be surprised to know that several do not contain even a smidgen of vegetables and are very unnaturally processed. This includes oils like canola, corn, cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, and a few others. Even worse, vegetable oils are high in Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and low in Omega-3 PUFAs. This creates an imbalance in the body which then creates havoc on health. Therefore, it’s important to know what to look for when selecting a quality high heat fat. Following are a few things you may want to look for.

Nutritional Profile

In selecting a high heat oil to cook with, you are essentially selecting a dietary fat. Therefore, you want to be sure it’s full of good nutrients. However, the health benefits of that fat is dependent on its source and how it’s manufactured. Unfortunately, most vegetable oils are highly processed and can wreak havoc on your health. To learn more about the downfall of vegetable oils, you may want to read Eat Fat to Lose Fat Fast.

Smoke Point

When oil is heated past its smoke point, it will begin to break down like rancid oil does and release toxins into your food. Once eaten, these toxins cause bodily inflammation and disease.

Fat Composition

The composition of dietary fat determines the way it will behave under high heat, and its stability is very important for health when cooking your foods with it.

What are the Best High Heat Fats to Cook With?

Though it may be questionable to call butter, ghee, and tallow an oil, it does get placed in the same category for high heat fats for cooking. These are the only fats I recommend for this type of cooking because they are nutrient-dense and very stable under high heat. They also make foods taste good.

Many health advocates and nutritionists tout that coconut and avocado oils are healthy and appropriate for high heat cooking, I disagree. Please see my article Eat Fat to Lose Fat regarding my thoughts and the research on coconut oil. Though avocado oil has a high smoke point of 520° Fahrenheit (F), it still has an imbalanced ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3. This unhealthy ratio (13:1) causes a high inflammatory response within the body which contributes to disease. Perhaps a little is okay for one meal if the rest of your meals contain more beneficial fat ratios. However, most people tend to overconsume when you give them the thumb’s up of a particular food. Therefore, I don’t recommend it.

Grass-Fed Butter

With far more nutrients than your average grain-fed butter, grass-fed butter is made from milk fat and packed with nutrients and beneficial for health. Making it the most complex of all natural fats, grass-fed butter contains about 400 different fatty acids. These fatty acids are derived almost equally from the feed and microbial activity in the rumen (digestive system) of the cow.

While 70 percent of the fat is saturated, 11 percent of that is comprised of short-chain fatty acids called butyric acid.To learn about the health benefits of butyric acid, see my article, Butyric Acid Foods for Gut Microbiota Health,for further information. The remaining 30 percent of fatty acids are comprised of mostly monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats with a healthy Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 2:3, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). It is also a high source of Vitamin A. These powerful nutrients improve the immune system, fight cancer, build bone, strengthen the heart, reduce allergies, help with weight loss, and so much more.

  • Smoke Point: 350° F
  • Brand Recommendation: Kerrygold

Grass-Fed Ghee

The term ghee comes from the Asian Indians which means clarified butter. Ghee is what you get when you melt butter, remove its solids, and evaporate the water from it. However, don’t be mistaken by the term clarified butter when you see it at your supermarket without the ghee name. While all ghee is clarified butter, not all clarified butter is ghee. Like grass-fed butter, ghee also has a high concentration of similar nutrients.

Because milk protein smokes at a lower temperature than fat, ghee can withstand a higher smoke point than butter since the milk proteins have been removed. Ghee’s high saturated fatty acids also make it a great choice for searing meats at high temperatures as well as sautéing. Also, ghee works well in baked loaf or casserole entrees since it contains less water than butter.

Grass-Fed Beef Tallow

High in saturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats makes grass-fed beef tallow a very stable fat for high heat cooking. Tallow is similar to butter but made from animal fat instead of milk fat. Though it is very low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, it is high in beneficial cholesterol and Vitamin E.

Grass-fed beef tallow has a high smoke point, making it a great option for stir-frying meats and vegetables. If you don’t like the rich taste of butter or ghee, then tallow is an option for you as it has a very mild flavor.

  • Smoke Point: 420° F


When it comes to cooking with high heat, you must also take into consideration the dangers of heterocyclic amine formation (HCA) when cooking meats. HCAs are a group of chemical compounds formed during high heat cooking and have been shown to cause cancer. However, studies have shown that HCAs are reduced when meats are marinated. Therefore, marinate your meats when cooking with high heat. Plus, they’ll taste better. Mixed with the right high heat fat, you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious meal and reap the health benefits from them. Grass-fed butter, ghee, and tallow are your best options.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

I switched to avocado oil after hearing grapeseed oil was unhealthy. I've never tried ghee. I guess it's time.


@[Jhimli M] Some of the prime reasons for preferring ghee as a healthy cooking oil are: Ghee offers good fats and that helps in maintaining good heart health. Ghee is a natural lubricator and laxative, and these properties are not available in any cooking oil. Grass fed ghee due to its MCTs and CLA is helpful for weight loss when coupled with exercise, good diet, and healthy lifestyle.

Ann Phillips CCN
Ann Phillips CCN