Heart-Healthy Cooking Oils

Let's face it: We need oil—cooking oil, that is. It makes food flavorful and moist, and without it, we couldn’t sauté or fry or whip up a cake from a store-bought mix. But it’s our insatiable desire for fried foods and baked goods that has given oil a bad name, one associated with type-2 diabetes, clogged arteries, and hearts strained by love handles gone wild with excess fat. And as a consequence about two-thirds of Americans are overweight. However, we need the fat from oil to absorb the vitamins in our food; it’s also an important source of energy. So the key is moderation—no more than 30 percent of the calories you consume in a day should be derived from fat—as well as knowing which cooking oils are actually healthy for you and which ones you should steer clear of.

Good-for-you oils: Olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, sesame

Safflower, canola, sunflower, soybean and sesame oil all have high smoke points, making them a good choice for cooking techniques that require high temperatures such as frying because they won’t break down into harmful oxidation compounds. Canola oil has the least amount of saturated fat at just 7 percent and contains vitamins E and K, heart-health-boosting plant sterols, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Soybean oil is an excellent source of omega-6 fatty acids, which the American Heart Association recently deemed heart-healthy, recommending that people consume anywhere from 12 to 22 grams a day. And chock-full of monounsaturated fat, olive oil can reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad, cholesterol, as well as help women keep breast cancer at bay and preserve their bone density. Keep in mind, though, that to fully enjoy the health benefits you can’t just consume more of these cooking oils; you need to use them in place of ones that are laden with saturated fat. 

Oils to avoid: Coconut and palm

Containing 91 percent and 51 percent saturated fat respectively, coconut and palm oil are up there with oft-reviled butterfat and lard. What’s so bad about saturated fat? First off, our body produces all the saturated fats it needs, unlike unsaturated fats, which we need to get from our diet. So consuming any more than the recommended 7 percent daily allowance can result in an overload. Besides raising LDL cholesterol levels, an excess of saturated fat has been shown to harden blood vessel walls