One type of cooking oil is beneficial for your heart and skin health

As you prepare to whip up your holiday meal, are you paying attention to what kind of cooking oil you're using? Not only could your choice affect you and your guests -- but it could also affect the environment.

We turned to culinary expert and educator Chef Gerard Viverito to learn more before we get going in the kitchen.

Here are three things to consider as you begin:

  • Is the oil GMO? Today, more than 90 percent of soybean, corn and canola (rapeseed) crops come from genetically modified seed. This is a significant increase from just 20 years ago.
  • Does it turn toxic when heated? You might be surprised to learn that both olive oil and coconut oil break down when exposed to high temperatures. They start to smoke and degrade into harmful chemicals, called aldehydes, which may damage essential organs, tissues and cells. Even the fumes from overheating some cooking oils may have serious health consequences.
  • Is it responsibly grown? Some oil crops may be harming Mother Earth. With our booming world's population – now nearly 7.5 billion people – we need a sustainable source of this dietary staple. Some experts point to oil-producing perennials, such as oil palms, olive trees and grape vines, to help feed the world without harming the planet.

If you still feel like you're in the dark, Viverito broke down the pros and cons for the cooking oils now commonly found on store shelves:

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Cooking Oils 101
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Cooking Oils 101

Olive Oil

ProsRich in mono-unsaturated fat, this oil is great for your heart and skin health. Use it for salad dressings and drizzling over breads. 

Cons: Not suitable for high-temperature applications because it starts to degrade before it hits 400 degrees Fahrenheit. High demand has also led to soil erosion in some areas of Europe.

Credit: Getty

Butter

ProsFlavorful and easily accessible, butter is fine to use in moderation for adding flavor to veggies or potatoes 

Cons: The nutritional value of butter varies. Grass-fed butter is higher in omega-3s and vitamins A, K, D and E. But most of the butter in stores is produced with milk from grain-fed cows.

Credit: Getty

Malaysian Palm Oil

Pros: This flavor-neutral tropical oil with a buttery texture is a popular replacement for harmful trans fat. It is non-GMO and tolerates heat extremely well. Approximately 80 percent of palm oil imported into the U.S. is from Malaysia, where it is certified sustainable, produced from high-yielding perennial crops. An acre of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than soybean plants and seven times more than canola. 

Cons: While Malaysian sustainable palm oil is an ingredient in many foods, the country of origin is not always listed on the label.

Credit: Getty

Coconut Oil

Pros: Coconut oil’s medium chain fatty acids (also found in grass-fed butter and palm oil) are easily utilized as body fuel, which may help you manage your weight. 

Cons: The yield from coconut trees declines as they age, which may lead to more deforestation. Coconut oil starts to break down at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, limiting its use.

Credit: Getty

Avocado Oil

Pros: This flavor-neutral oil is rich in nutrients and tolerates heat up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Cons: Our avocado obsession may be causing serious harm to the drinking water in Chile. The trees demand a lot of water, a resource which is in short supply in this drought-prone country. 

Credit: Getty

Macadamia Nut Oil

Pros: Although most commonly used as a beauty aid, this sweet and buttery oil is good for your health, too. It contains a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. 

Cons: Macadamia trees are susceptible to many pests and diseases. In some cases, rats consume up to fifty percent of the crop. 

Credit: Getty

Flaxseed Oil

Pros: This oil is extremely nutritious and rich in heart-healthy omega-3s. 

Cons: Many people find its flavor unappealing. Flaxseed oil also begins breaking down at just 225 degrees, so it can’t be exposed to heat. Also known as linseed oil, it’s commonly used in paints and wood finishes. 

Credit: Getty

Sunflower Oil

Pros: Sunflower oil is rich in skin, brain and heart-healthy vitamin E tocotrienols. 

Cons: It contains inflammatory compounds which may increase your risk of heart disease. Because it is a lower-yielding plant susceptible to diseases, it requires significant herbicide and insecticide use. 

Credit: Getty

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For more, watch the video above for five things you should know about buying olive oil.

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