All cooking oils contain saturated fat. Some more than others. Oils that are low in saturated fat are high in unsaturated fats. If you are looking to use cooking oils that are low in saturated fats, you may want to choose safflower, canola, or olive oil. Tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil are high in saturated fat.
According to the American Heart Association, eating foods that contain saturated fat can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in your blood may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Oils Low in Saturated Fat
There are two types of unsaturated fats—polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Some studies show that these types of unsaturated fats may help to lower your bad cholesterol. Each type of fat may be beneficial in its own way.
The oil with the lowest saturated fat content is canola oil. It is made primarily of monounsaturated fat. Canola oil has 1 gram of saturated fat per serving.
Olive oil has 2 grams of saturated fat. Canola and olive oils are mostly made up of monounsaturated fat. Studies have found that monounsaturated fats may be beneficial for maintaining healthy heart rhythm and can help regulate insulin, which is particularly helpful if you have diabetes or if you want to reduce your risk of getting diabetes.
Do not be confused by the term extra light olive oil. "Extra light" does not refer to its fat or calorie content, but rather its color and amount of processing.
Another oil with one of the lowest amounts of saturated fat is safflower oil. It has 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon serving. It is mainly composed of polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats have been found to boost your HDL, or good cholesterol, level. Other very common cooking oils in the U.S. composed primarily of polyunsaturated fat are soybean, corn, and sunflower oil. They each have 1.8 grams of saturated fat.
Oils High in Saturated Fat
The tropical oils—coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils—are high in saturated fat. In general, the higher the saturated fat content, the more solid a fat is at room temperature. Palm kernel oil comes from the seeds of the oil palm tree.
Coconut oil and palm kernel oil are about 85 percent saturated fat. Palm oil is 50 percent saturated fat.
Since coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it is low in unsaturated fat. Coconut oil is just 6 percent monounsaturated fat and 2 percent polyunsaturated fat.
Is Coconut Oil Healthy to Eat?
Some research shows that coconut oil can be good for you. Eating coconut oil has been shown to boost your HDL (good) cholesterol. Most of that research has been short-term studies to examine its effect on cholesterol levels. The verdict is not out for the long-term effects on heart disease.
How Tropical Oils Are Good
The good news here is that all tropical oils are considered vegetable oils that have no cholesterol. In most cases, these oils are free of trans fats. Trans fats are considered the unhealthiest of fats. According to the American Heart Association, trans fats may raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats may increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The best choice is to stick with oils that are low in saturated fat. It cannot hurt to use coconut oil from time to time, but switching out canola or olive oil for coconut oil as your primary cooking oil might not be what your doctor would recommend.
As for cooking with solid fats, like butter or lard, butter’s saturated fat content is close to 70 percent of total fat, and lard is 43 percent. For a healthier fatty acid profile, it might be best to choose liquid oils such as canola oil and olive oil over solid fats.
American Heart Association. Saturated fat.
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Harvard Medical School. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Updated December 11, 2019.
US Department of Agriculture. Food Data Central. Updated April 1, 2019.
Khaw KT, Sharp SJ, Finikarides L, et al. Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women. BMJ Open. 2018;8(3):e020167. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020167
American Heart Association. Trans fats. Updated March 23, 2017.