Know Your Healthiest Holiday Cooking Fats and Oils

Health Professional

The holidays are the most fattening time of year for most Americans. We stock our kitchens with butter and oils, to prepare giant family feasts and holiday treats. We now know that it’s okay — even advised — to embrace a certain amount of fat in our diets. But the information on what constitutes “good” fat and “bad” fat is rapidly changing.

Jonny Bowden, P.h.D., C.N.S., a.k.a., "The Nutrition Myth Buster," offered to help us understand which fats we should be eating. Dr. Bowden is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition, and health. He’s a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the best-selling author of 15 books on health, healing, food, and longevity, including his latest (co-written with Steven Masley, M.D., L.L.C.), Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get Healthy Now__

Lisa Nelson, RD: Butter or margarine? Which is the best choice?** Dr. Bowden:** Without question, butter. Margarine is one of the dumbest nutritional experiments in history; it was based on the now-obsolete fear of healthy, saturated fats. Butter from grass-fed cows is a perfectly healthy fat; it also contains cancer-fighting fats such as CLA.

Lisa Nelson: Olive oil is good for everything, right?** Dr. Bowden:** Absolutely not. There are different grades, from plain old “olive oil” to “extra virgin olive oil." They varyenormously in their ability to stand up to heat. The very expensive extra virgin olive oil, which contains the most polyphenols, should never be used at high heat.

With olive oil, as you move up the scale in quality — olive oil, virgin olive oil, extra virgin olive oil — you move DOWN the scale in its ability to stand up to heat. So, plain old olive oil is fine for higher heat application, virgin for medium heat and extra virgin ideally shouldn't be heated.

At the very most you could drizzle it [virgin, extra virgin olive oil] on what you're cooking at the last minute but ideally, it's for drizzling and salads. You pay a lot extra for the careful low-heat processing to preserve the delicate health-giving olive polyphenols, so it makes no sense to heat the oil and destroy them.

Lisa Nelson: Should we be using the cheap vegetable oil we all have in our pantries?** Dr. Bowden:** No. It’s highly pro-inflammatory and processed within an inch of its life, so that it basically contains nothing of any value. Some vegetable and seed oils — especially the cold pressed organic kinds such as cold-pressed sesame oil — are fine once in a while. But the exclusive reliance on cheap processed oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, or safflower oil contributes mightily to inflammation, which is a promoter of every single degenerative disease.

Lisa Nelson: What about more exotic oils like coconut, palm, and macadamia?** Dr. Bowden:** I love every one of these. Macadamia nut oil is similar to olive oil in that it’s high in monounsaturated fat, but has a higher smoke point. Ditto with avocado oil. Coconut oil has many anti-microbial fats and is great for energy. And Malaysian palm oil is one of my favorite oils of all: it’s sustainable, non-GMO (unlike soy and corn oils), has no trans-fats, is high in carotenoids and tocotrienols, and stands up to moderate heat.”

Lisa Nelson: Is Crisco ok?** Dr. Bowden:** About as OK as a diet of corn dogs and Pepsi. It’s the worst stuff imaginable. It’s much better to use healthy saturated fats: real, organic lard, Malaysian palm oil, coconut oil. They don’t form any really negative compounds that are bad for our bodies.

Lisa Nelson: Is it worth spending extra money on expensive oils?** Dr. Bowden:** They’re worth it! The better oils are less processed, made with less heat and chemicals, and much more likely to retain whatever health compounds were in them in the first place.

Lisa Nelson: If someone were to keep one or two oils stocked in their pantry all times, which two would you recommend and what would each be best used for?** Dr. Bowden**: I would use avocado oil for high heat, Malaysian palm oil for medium heat, and extra virgin olive oil for dressings and drizzling.

Dr. Bowden adds that nutrients found in Malaysian palm oil are well researched for their benefits on brain and liver health. Those studies can be found at

Selecting heart-healthy fats is just one step you can take to promote healthy cholesterol levels. Access additional steps via the free e-course, How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps.

Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at