Heart disease, stroke and other forms of cardiovascular disease are the leading causes of death in America. They affect nearly 83 million Americans and cost the nation more than any other disease, according to the American Heart Association.
With so many people dealing with heart-related diseases, lowering cholesterol levels is a must.
Some have done this by using healthier methods to cook food—like using cooking oils, instead of butter and lard. But not every cooking oil is healthy for you.
“The healthy oils—olive, canola and peanut—are monounsaturated fats,” said Scott & White clinical dietician Peggy Pletcher. “Monounsaturated fats are good for cholesterol because they lower the bad cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol, without lowering the good.”
Polyunsaturated fats—like soybean, safflower and corn—lower both the good and the bad.
All oils are either poly or monounsaturated, unlike cooking solids like butter, which contains saturated or trans fats which increase bad cholesterol.
Ms. Pletcher suggests that when shopping for cooking oils, try choosing olive oils for salad dressings and canola oil for cooking. Canola oil has a higher “smoking point,” which means it can be heated hotter without breaking down and becoming unsafe to cook with.
“[Marketers] of grape seed oil have done a really good job of saying that it’s a better oil than olive oil because it has a higher smoking point,” she said. “Not only is it expensive, but grape seed oil is a polyunsaturated fat. So, olive oil is still the better choice.”
The clinical dietician also warns not to be fooled by deceptive labels.
“People often think that light olive oil means less calories. But it only refers to flavor,” Ms. Pletcher said. “It has nothing to do with calories. Light, virgin, dark olive oils—they all have the same fat and calories. There’s no difference.”
In fact, healthy oils, although they are a good type of fat, still contain a high number of calories.
“A teaspoon of oil has 45 calories, compared to a piece of fruit that has 60 calories and a cup of vegetables that has 25 calories,” she said. “You can eat two cups of vegetables for one teaspoon of oil.”
Everyone needs a certain amount of fat to supply essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins, Ms. Pletcher said. Oils containing Omega-3 fatty acids can even help decrease health problems.
“Omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fats, help decrease inflammation in the body and can decrease the risk of blood clots,” she said. “Flax seed oils, flax seeds, salmon and fatty fishes like trout are all good sources of Omega-3.”
But even though all of these oils can be healthful, there can be too much of a good thing.
“It all depends on how many calories you’re trying to stick to within a day,” Ms. Pletcher said. “The higher your calorie intake, the higher your weight.”
For more information, visit the American Heart Association or the American Dietetic Association’s sites.
Do you have any healthful recipes that use monounsaturated oils like olive or canola oil? Share your recipes and advice to those looking to improve good cholesterol levels.