You’ve probably heard endless cooking segments suggest a fruity, high quality extra-virgin olive oil for dressing your salads.

But when it comes to cooking, it’s easy to get confused when faced with the endless array of oil choices at the store. That’s when you just grab a bottle of Crisco blended-something oil and shuffle hastily toward the checkout—even if you aren’t sure it’s what you want.

cooking oil

One author wants you to take back control of how you cook. That’s why, in light of last week’s big news about the FDA banning trans fats from the U.S. food supply, Knowledge Is Beautiful author David McCandless put together an exhaustive infographic showing exactly which cooking oils are good for what purposes.

McCandless presents a lot of helpful information here. Let’s break it down.

What’s Best For Frying?

cooking oil infographic 1

What’s a smoke point? Easy. It’s the temperature at which any given oil starts to break down, and you start seeing smoke. If you’ve ever had the type of cooking experience where your smoke detector is shrieking loudly, you’ve already found that point with a particular cooking fat at least once.

Oils with high smoke points are best for high-temperature cooking methods, such as deep-frying or searing. Some examples include:

  • Avocado
  • Rice bran (popular in Korean cooking)
  • Refined olive oil
  • Linoleic sunflower
  • Refined coconut
  • Peanut
  • Ghee (a type of clarified butter popular in Indian cooking)
  • Corn

What About Health?

cooking oil infographic types of fat

Since nutrition experts are still decoding how different types of fat affect us, it’s important to note that McCandless simply provides numbers here, and takes the time to explain that oils high in saturated fats may be bad for us. He doesn’t say that they are bad for us, because the field of nutrition keeps evolving as scientists learn more. Also, since new U.S. dietary guidelines have completely reversed decades of thought about the cholesterol we consume, this information is vital.

We currently know that omega 3 fatty acids are good-for-you nutrients, and we know that omega 6 fatty acids can block absorption of those omega 3s, so McCandless points out that a lower ratio of omegas 3 to 6 is better. Flaxseed oil is the clear winner here, with a ratio of 1 to 0.2.

It’s also worth noting that different fats take on different characteristics when they’re hydrogenated. McCandless specifically calls out canola oil (also called rapeseed oil in some markets), which has a rate of 27 percent trans fat when it’s hydrogenated. Yikes.

Meanwhile, refined coconut oil is 87 percent saturated fat, and 6 percent monounsaturated fat. McCandless points out that it contains medium-chain triglycerides that may make it not as harmful as other saturated fats.

The Cleveland Clinic explains:

“Some argue that coconut oil is not that harmful because the main source of saturated fat in it—lauric acid—raises both HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and maintains the right ratio of these fats. But further research is needed.”

McCandless arranged this information so you can easily see that each oil offers certain advantages and disadvantages, depending on your particular dietary concerns and intended oil purpose.

What About The Environment?

cooking oils palm oil

As far as the environment is concerned, McCandless notes that palm oil is a “very lucrative cash crop, [which] has led to deforestation & exploitation of native peoples.”

Some sustainable palm oil options are currently on the market. To learn more about the issues surrounding palm oil, check out the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Here’s the full infographic. To view an enlarged version, head over to Information Is Beautiful.

cooking oil infographic

[via Information Is Beautiful, FastCoDesign]