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4 Healthy Fats for High Heat Cooking

Fats can be full of essential vitamins and antioxidants, but the source of the fat and how it's manufactured make a huge difference in the benefits of the end product. Fats that are overly processed or from shady sources can do far more harm than good.
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If you want to make a meal more satisfying, a surefire way is to add fat. If you choose the right ones, fats are nutrient-dense, great for you, and, perhaps most importantly, tasty.

That said, not all fats are suitable for all types of cooking. For example, olive oil is great for salad dressings, but it doesn't tolerate high heat. What if you want to sear some salmon or sauté some veggies? Ideally you'll use a tasty, nutrient-rich fat with a higher smoke point.

The Bulletproof Diet recommends cooking all your food below 320° F to avoid carcinogen formation. If you do cook at a higher heat, though, it pays off to choose an oil that won't burn or oxidize on you. This article outlines some of the best fats for higher-heat cooking based on four criteria: vitamin content, smoke point, fatty acid composition, and...well...deliciousness.

Deliciousness is pretty self-explanatory, but let's take a closer look at those first three criteria:
Nutritional profile:

Fats can be full of essential vitamins and antioxidants, but the source of the fat and how it's manufactured make a huge difference in the benefits of the end product. Fats that are overly processed or from shady sources can do far more harm than good.

Smoke point:
When a fat or oil is heated past its smoke point, it will start to break down and release free radicals into your food. Once eaten, these free radicals can wreak havoc on your body and cause all kinds of inflammation. The fatty acid composition and stability of the fat can affect the smoke point of your oil, causing it to break down at higher or lower temperatures when exposed to heat, air, and light.

Nearly all edible fats are triglycerides, meaning they contain three fatty acids bound to a glycerol molecule. Those fatty acids determine how the triglyceride behaves, including its stability when exposed to the elements. Fatty acids can be destroyed by light, heat, and oxygen, and for that reason, when it comes to cooking with heat, saturated fats are the way to go. Saturated fats are super stable because their tails don't have an opening where a free radical can grab an electron and oxidize the fat - the tails are already filled up ("saturated"). That's not to say that monounsaturated (MUFA; one opening) and polyunsaturated (PUFA;many openings) fats are bad for you. These fats can be a great addition to your cooking arsenal too. Just be gentler with them so you don't oxidize the more fragile MUFAs and PUFAs.

The fats below are some of the most nutrient-dense, heat-friendly options available.

1) Grass fed Butter or Ghee

Who isn't sold on grass-fed butter these days? With far more nutrients than grain-fed butter, grass-fed is the clear winner. It's packed with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and vitamins K, D, and A, just to name a few. Grass-fed animal products have
than grain-fed animal products do. We need omega 6 fatty acids, but in
than the typical Western diet serves up. Creamy, smooth, and rich, grass-fed butter adds layers of flavor to any meal.

Grass-fed ghee is butter with all traces of dairy proteins and sugars cooked out. Ghee has all the same nutrients that butter does, and is just as tasty. At high heat, ghee is more stable than butter because it doesn't have any proteins or sugars that will burn.

Smoke point:
350° F for butter, 485° F for ghee

SFA: 51% MUFA: 21% PUFA: 3%
The majority of ghee's fatty acids are saturated, making it a great choice for sautéing and searing at higher heat. If you have to cook hotter than 350° F, grass-fed ghee is the gold standard.

Some things to know:
  • If you live in North America, Kerrygold is an easy grass-fed butter to find. It's cultured, meaning it has higher levels of butyrate and CLA.
  • Ghee works better in baked loaf recipes than butter does because ghee contains less water. Butter has a higher water content so doesn't hold burgers, meatballs, and loafs together as well.

2) Coconut oil

Like butter, coconut oil once had a bad reputation due to it's extraordinarily high concentration of saturated fat. Fortunately, we now know that there's
. Claims stating coconut oil isn't good for you couldn't be further from the
. And thank goodness for that! Coconut oil is loaded with lauric acid and MCTs, including some of the prized ones found in Brain Octane oil.

Smoke point:
350° F

SFA: 86% MUFA: 6% PUFA: 2%
Coconut oil is great for cooking because it's uncommonly high in saturated fat. Not only that, but 60% of it is composed of the 4 lengths of medium chain triglycerides. However, only 15% of coconut oil contains the most precious 8- and 10- length medium chains (you can get that in a more concentrated form from Bulletproof Upgraded XCT oil).

Some things to know:
  • It's important that you're very selective when choosing a coconut oil. Some brands (even high-end ones) use a process of fermentation that takes place without high levels of quality control, making it easy and common for mycotoxins and biogenic amines to sneak their way into the oils. Even some high-end brands are made with the process of fermentation that happens in areas without great quality control.
  • Your best bet is mechanically-separated organic coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil has a more coconut taste, so if that's what you like, go for it. If you want a lighter taste, expeller pressed is the way to go.
  • For a more complex taste and a spectacular nutrient profile, cook a dish with both coconut oil and ghee. There's a reason the combination is so popular in Indian cuisine. The two fats compliment each other well, both in nutrition and flavor.
  • You can also do a cool trick with white rice to keep white rice from turning into glucose too quickly once you eat it and even decrease the calories of the rice!

3) Grass-fed beef tallow

Tallow is sort of like butter made of animal fat instead of milk fat. It's solid at room temperature and densely nutritious. Surprise: grass-fed beef tallow beats out grain-fed beef tallow when it comes to nutrient profile. Grass-fed tallow also has a better omega 6:omega 3 ratio, although it's very low in PUFAs so it isn't a
. It's also high in beneficial cholesterol.

Smoke point:
420 °F

SFA: 50.4% MUFA: 46.3% PUFA: 1.9%
Tallow is high in saturated fat and very low in PUFAs, making it particularly heat-stable. Its high smoke point makes it a great option for pan frying meat or veggies, especially if you don't want the heavy taste of ghee or coconut oil in the dish. Tallow has a very mild flavor and it carries spices well. Give it a try if you haven't; it's a great cooking fat.

4) (Non-extra-virgin) olive oil

Olive oil is also high in Vitamins E and K and it brings serious benefits through oleocanthal and oleuropein,
. Studies show that
. In addition, the most prominent fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid, which can reduce inflammation and may also have an
. Olive oil's complex, peppery flavor adds depth to meat or seafood.

Smoke point:

SFA: 14% MUFA: 73% PUFA: 11%
Olive oil is mostly MUFAs, so it's important to treat it with care. Extra virgin olive oil should stay unheated, but normal olive oil that isn't extra virgin is a good cooking oil as long as you aren't cooking at high heat. Extra virgin olive oil is still great for you; just add it after you plate your food.

Some things to know:
  • Look for olive oil bottled in dark glass. Clear glass lets light in and the light causes oxidation.
  • A recent investigation revealed that a lot of companies were illegally diluting their olive oil with other, cheaper oils, so go for a brand you trust. California olive oils are a good choice because they're usually from smaller companies and are often fresher than European options are. Olive oil's weight makes it expensive to ship by air, so most European companies send it to the U.S. by boat. By the time you take the olive oil off the shelf it's often several months old, and some of the beneficial compounds in it have degraded.

What are your favorite high-heat cooking fats?

Photo by: Larry Jacobson