Choosing Oils For Cooking: A Host Of Heart-Healthy Choices
𝙊𝙡𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙤𝙞𝙡 𝙞𝙨 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙮 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙩-𝙗𝙖𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙤𝙞𝙡𝙨 𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙞𝙣 𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙖𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙛𝙖𝙩𝙨, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙡𝙩𝙝𝙛𝙪𝙡 𝙩𝙮𝙥𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙛𝙖𝙩.
When you’re cooking or baking, choose a fat that’s liquid instead of solid at room temperature. That advice, from the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is based on a large body of evidence showing that replacing solid fat (mainly saturated fat) with liquid fat (mostly unsaturated fat) is linked to a lower risk of heart attack and death from heart disease.
To be clear, all fat — whether it comes from seeds, nuts, meat, milk, olives, or avocados — contains a mixture of different fatty acids, the basic building blocks of fats. However, butter, lard, coconut oil, and palm oil contain mostly saturated fatty acids. Most plant-based oils, on the other hand, consist predominantly of unsaturated fatty acids, which include both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
If you’re wondering whether any of those liquid, plant-derived oils is superior to the others, the answer is no. Many experts recommend olive oil, which is a key component of the heart-friendly Mediterranean eating pattern. But there are many healthy oil options, says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Like all fats, plant-based oils contain a mixture of three main types of fatty acids: unsaturated (which includes polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids) and saturated. All the oils shown in this graph are considered healthy choices for drizzling, dipping, and food preparation.
𝗢𝗟𝗜𝗩𝗘 & 𝗢𝗧𝗛𝗘𝗥 𝗛𝗜𝗚𝗛-𝗢𝗟𝗘𝗜𝗖 𝗢𝗜𝗟𝗦
“You might want to use extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings and for dipping bread,” he says. Olive oil is also fine for cooking, but if you’re looking for a more neutral flavor, canola oil is a good choice, he adds. Both of these oils have relatively high amounts of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Last year, the FDA approved a new qualified health claim for oils containing at least 70% oleic acid. Manufacturers of these oils can use product labels stating that “supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1½ tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” They’re also required to clarify that to achieve this benefit, these oils “should replace fats and oils higher in saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
In addition to olive and canola, other oils eligible to make this claim include high-oleic versions of safflower, soybean, sunflower, and algal oil. In recent years, scientists have bred plants that produce higher amounts of oleic acid in response to food company demands. Food processors needed a healthier alternative to hydrogenated oils (which contain harmful, now-banned trans fats) or palm and palm kernel oil (which is mainly saturated). Oils that contain more monounsaturated oleic acids won’t break down as quickly when heated to high temperatures; they also have a longer shelf life than oils with more polyunsaturated fatty acids.
You’re most likely to find high-oleic oils in salad dressings as well as processed and deep-fried foods such as chips and other snack foods, and in cookies, cakes, and muffins. The high-oleic versions are somewhat better for you than those made with palm or palm kernel oil. But it’s best to limit these foods in your diet, since they also tend to contain other unhealthy ingredients, such as refined carbohydrates, sugar, and salt, says Dr. Hu.
In 2017, regular soybean oil (the most widely used oil in the United States) also received an FDA qualified health claim that’s nearly identical to the more recent claim granted for high-oleic oils. Soybean oil, along with canola, walnut, and flaxseed oil, contains alpha linolenic acid—the main vegetarian source of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
When shopping for oils, feel free to choose any liquid oil based on your taste preferences, says Dr. Hu, whose family’s kitchen cupboard has both canola and olive oils. Corn oil has a mild flavor and tends to be less expensive than other oils. Most “vegetable” oils contain soybean oil, although in this context the term vegetable generally refers to any plant-based source. Peanut oil can lend a unique flavor to a stir-fry, while you might enjoy walnut, hazelnut, or pistachio oil drizzled on a salad. It’s best to store nut and seed oils in the refrigerator to preserve their flavor and freshness.
Source: Harvard Health Publishing. March, 2019.
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