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Your guide to healthy fats and oils

We all needs fat to survive, even though they often have a bad name. Read on for your best options

“Healthy fats are important to help you feel fuller for longer and they help aid the essential functions in your body,” says Oliver McCabe of Select Stores in Dalkey, co Dublin.

“We all need fat in our diet,” says Rob Whinnett of Blasta Wholefoods in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. “It keeps us warm, adds flavour to our food and carries essential vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Oils also contain essential fatty acids (omega-3 and -6) which cannot be produced by the body and are vital for heart health, skin and brain function.”


There are four main types of fats:

Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil.

Polyunsaturated fats: fish oil, flax oil and walnut oil.

Saturated fats: coconut oil.

All of these can help promote health and wellbeing.

Trans fats: margarine and in biscuits and chocolates; fats that have been hydrogenated (or heated) and have been linked to obesity and heart disease.

When choosing an oil or fat look for terms like’ cold-pressed’, ‘raw’ or ‘virgin’ on the labels which describe oils that have not been heavily processed and retain their natural flavour and colour.


“If you want to get the maximum health benefits from your oils, you need to know the right oil for each use,” says Rob Whinnett. Storage is important too – oils should be kept in sealed containers in a cool dark place, and some oils such as avocado, hazelnut,flax, and hemp should be kept in the fridge.

Best oils for high heat cooking – almond, avocado, ghee (clarified butter)

Best oils for moderate heat – organic grassfed butter, macadamia, refined olive oil, peanut, sesame, walnut

Best oils to eat raw – grapeseed, hemp, extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed, sunflower

“My favourite oils are organic coconut oil for high temperature cooking,” says Oliver McCabe. “Organic rapeseed oil is monounsaturated and perfect for hightemperature frying. Olive oil is also mono-unsaturated and best kept for low to medium temperature cooking, or for salad dressings. Sesame oil is a polyunsaturated light cooking oil that’s ideal for light wok frying. Sunflower oil, polyunsaturated, is very good for you in its natural state with lots of vitamin E and healthy essential fats, so makes good salad dressings. Because of their reactive nature poly-unsaturated oils go off quicker, so don’t keep them kicking around for too long.”


“Butter is a saturated fat, this is simply a measure of how reactive the fat is, and so how likely it is to change when you cook it,” says Oliver McCabe. “Butter is very stable, solid at room temperature, like coconut oil, and when you heat them they do not change or react unlike a unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats have a more open chemical structure which can change shape when heated, or when reacted with other chemicals. Eating butter uncooked should be restricted as it leads to bad cholesterol levels and inadequate cardiovascular health and circulation, especially if not exercising.”


“The problem with trans fats is that your body does not recognise them, and so can’t digest them,” says Oliver McCabe, “so they just hang around causing problems with digesting proper fats in your stomach, and then settling out on blood vessel walls, or in fatty tissue. Trans fats are what happens to an unsaturated fat when you heat it up, trans simply meaning change. So if you take a poly-unsaturated fat or mono-unsaturated fat and heat it a lot, you end up with a trans fat. If you take a saturated fat it doesn’t matter how much you heat it, you will never get a trans fat.

“Trans fats are the main type of fat contributing to heart disease and obesity,” says Oliver. “So try to limit your intake of hydrogenated and saturated fats (fried foods, takeaways, ready meals), which only increase fatigue and sluggishness.”

Whatever oils we eat or cook with, the aim is not to make any trans fats. The simple rules are:

  • very light seldom cooking with polyunsaturated oils
  • only medium fry with monounsaturated oils
  • use saturated oils for very high temperature cooking


“Omega-3 and -6 are essential because they play a fundamental physiological role and cannot be synthesised by the body,” says Oliver McCabe. “Omega-3 and -6 must be supplied by the diet. They are vital for nerves, for the health of skin and hair and to reduce inflammation and most commonly found in fish oils and in plant oils.”

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