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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Are The Best Cooking Fats?

choosing a cooking oil
Photo: Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision

I’m asked this question a lot. People are confused when faced with the prospect of choosing a cooking oil. They want to know which fats are the most healthful to use in cooking. The short answer: canola oil and extra virgin olive oil.

Canola Oil
Many experts suggest switching to canola oil for cooking and baking because it has a neutral taste and can be heated to high temperatures. It is lowest in saturated fat, rich in the more heart friendly monounsaturated fats, and contains more plant omega-3s than any other vegetable oil. Omega-3s from fish are highly protective against heart disease, abnormal blood pressure and stroke, but plant omega-3s seem to lower heart disease risk in their own right. Your body can actually convert a small amount of the plant omega-3s into the fish omega-3s (a big plus for people who don’t care for fish).

Olive Oil
Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fat. Although it isn’t a good source of plant omega-3s like canola oil, it’s not terribly high in omega-6 fatty acids either. It also contributes helpful phytochemicals found in olives, many of which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action in the body.

Here are the numbers on these two preferable cooking fats compared to the cheaper, more widely used soybean and corn oils:

Saturated Fat (g) Monounsaturated Fat (g) Omega-3 Fat (g) Omega-6 Fat (g)
Canola oil 1 8.3 1.3 2.8
Olive oil 2 10.8 0.1 1.1
Soybean oil 2.4 5.5 0.2 2.8
Corn oil 1.8 3.8 0.16 7.3

The two practical cooking oils with the best nutritional profile are canola oil and olive oil!

Why is Omega-6 in the table above?
Although omega-6s are polyunsaturated like the omega-3s, in excessive amounts they seem to spur the production of hormone-like substances that can lead to inflammation and damaged blood vessels. Excessive amounts may also interfere with the body’s conversion of plant omega-3s to the more potent fish omegas.

Which fats do you use when cooking?

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 8:55 am

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