Solid fats and oils: What’s the difference?

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog comparing the cost and nutrition of different vegetable oils. That blog was recently shared by a national outlet and it received a lot of attention. As a result, we got a lot of questions related to what type of fat or oil is best to use so we thought it was time to write another blog on that topic.

When talking about fats and oils, it helps to define each term. Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature like butter or lard. Solid fats mainly come from animal foods. Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like canola or olive oil. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. However, coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils (tropical oils) are solid at room temperature because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids. Therefore, they are classified as a solid fat rather than as an oil.

All fats and oils are a mixture of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Solid fats contain more saturated fats and/or trans fats than oils. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. Here is a chart that shows the different amounts of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in different types of solid fats and oils.

*Information from the USDA National Nutrient Database

There has been some research lately that has led some people to believe that saturated fats aren’t as harmful as once thought. Along with that, coconut oil is widely promoted as having many health benefits. However, in July 2017 the American Heart Association issued an advisory recommending against using coconut oil. Analysis of more than 100 published research studies reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol. In addition, seven controlled trials showed that coconut oil raised LDL levels.

To learn how much oil is recommended for you, visit Currently, most Americans eat more solid fat than recommended while consuming fewer oils than recommended. Therefore, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend shifting from solid fats to oils. This includes using oils (except tropical oils like coconut oil) in place of solid fats when cooking. And to increase the intake of foods that naturally contain oils, such as seafood and nuts, in place of some meat and poultry. This week for an evening meal you might consider making the Broiled Salmon Justine shared at the beginning of the month!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Vegetable Oils – Comparison, Cost, and Nutrition

As I was reaching for the canola oil in my cupboard last week while doing some baking, I got to looking at the different oils I have on hand. The canola oil and olive oil are at the front of the cupboard because those are the ones I use most often but I also have peanut oil and sesame oil. Some may wonder, like my husband, why I have four different kinds of oil. The kind of oil I use depends on what kind of food I’m preparing. For baking, I like to use canola oil but for roasting or sautéing vegetables, I use olive oil.

When deciding what kind of oil you are going to buy, consider three things 1) what it will be used for, 2) how much it costs, and 3) nutrition. Below is a comparison of commonly used oils. You’ll notice olive oil is more expensive than canola or vegetable oil, but keep in mind that typically recipes call for small amounts of olive oil so a bottle lasts a long time.

Type of Oil Uses Cost*** Unit price
(per fl oz)
(48 fluid oz)
Sautéing, baking, frying, marinating 3.59-4.59 .07-.09
(17 fl oz)
Grilling, sautéing, roasting, spreads for breads 7.69-7.99 .45-.47
(48 fl oz)
Sautéing, baking, frying, marinating 3.18-4.39 .06-.09
(24 fl oz)
Stir-frying, roasting, deep frying, baking 3.58-4.98 .15-.21
(8.45 fl oz)
(12.7 fl oz)
Stir-frying (light), dressings/sauces (dark) 5.89-7.89 .70-.62

*usually made from a combination of corn, soybeans, and/or sunflower seeds

**there are light and dark versions of sesame oil

***Costs were found at grocery stores in Central Iowa

Below is a chart that compares the nutritional value of different fats and oils. Saturated and trans fats raise cholesterol levels and are not heart-healthy. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are considered the ‘good’ fats. Oils high in monounsaturated fats are particularly heart healthy because they lower LDL levels, the ‘bad’ kind of cholesterol. Replacing the fats and oils that are higher in saturated and trans fats with those higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is good for your health.

oil comparison chart

I also noticed while in the grocery store a couple of new oil blends. There is a Natural Blend oil that is a combination of canola, sunflower, and soybean oil. It was $3.59 for a 48 fluid ounce bottle. The other new one I noticed was called Omega and was a combination of canola and extra virgin olive oil. It was $3.99 for a 48 fluid ounce bottle.

For best quality store your oil in a cool, dark place and replace it if it smells “bitter” or “off.”

Watch our recent ‘How To’ video and learn how to make your own salad dressing using the oils in your cupboard.

Jodi Signature

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Choosing Fats for Holiday Baking

Do you ever have trouble figuring out which fat to use for your holiday baking?  I know I do.  I want to find the right balance between a great tasting baked good and making a healthy choice for myself and my family.

When I walk through the cooler section in the grocery store, I notice many different fats at a variety of prices.  Butter is more expensive than stick margarine, and the tubs of margarine vary in price from less expensive than butter to more expensive than butter.  Then, when I head down the baking aisle, I see oils that vary from vegetable and canola oil that are less expensive to olive oils that are more expensive.  I also find vegetable shortening and lard in the baking aisle.

Here are some simple guidelines for picking fats that I use at holiday time and throughout the year:

  1. Vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola are made from healthy fats so they are great to use in salad dressing, sautéing and roasting vegetables, marinades, etc.  They also have a low cost per serving.
  2. Butter and stick margarines are best for baking cookies and cakes because they hold air in a product when you cream them, make products more tender, and give pie crusts that beautiful golden brown color.  Butter works well when making candy.
  3. Small amounts of spreads, butter or stick margarine can be used as toppings for rolls, toast, or bagels.  Personally, I like butter the best, but, since it is more expensive and high in calories, I use it in moderation.

How do you deal with holiday baking?

Justine Hoover, MS, RD, LD

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