Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101

Keep this primer as a ready reference

Confused about which oils are heart-healthy and which aren’t? We asked for advice from executive wellness chef James D. Perko, CEC, AAC, and preventive cardiology dietitians Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, and Julia Zumpano, RD.

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There are 7 important points you should know about cooking oils.

Remember that oil is a fat, and fat calories are still fat calories, no matter which type of oil you use. So, you should use the least amount of fat possible to prepare your foods while still getting the greatest amount of taste and health benefits.

Use this guide to oils as you fix your favorite recipes. You might find it helpful to hang it inside a cupboard door as a quick and easy reference.

Variety might not be best

Although having lots of different oils in the kitchen might seem like a good idea, James Perko says that idea can backfire. Over time, heat and light can impact oils’ taste and quality. It’s best to use one or two types of oil Store them in a cool, dark place and replace any that any smell bitter or “off.” (Store grapeseed and walnut oils in the refrigerator; they quickly become rancid. The cloudiness in refrigerated oils will clear once they return to room temperature.)

Know the smoke point

The smoke point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals (the stuff we’re trying to avoid). Because of their chemical makeup, different oils have different smoke points. So some oils are better suited for cooking at higher temperatures than others. A good rule of thumb is that the more refined the oil, the higher the smoke point. Vegetable, peanut and sesame oils have the highest smoke points. Note: Smoke point relates only to fresh oil; oil that is used for cooking and then strained and re-used loses its integrity.

Oils with a high smoke point

These oils are best for searing and browning. Note: They can also be used for deep frying, but deep frying is unhealthy and we do not recommend it.

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Oil % Mono % Poly % Sat Nutrition Notes
Almond 65 28 7 Distinctive nutty flavor.
Avocado 65 18 17 Sweet aroma.
Hazelnut 82 11 7 Bold, strong flavor.
Palm 38 10 52 High in saturated fat. Not recommended.
Sunflower 79 7 14 Seek out high-oleic versions, which are higher in monounsaturated fat.
“Light” olive/refined olive 78 8 14 The more refined the olive oil, the better its all-purpose cooking use. “Light” refers to color.

Medium-high smoke point

Best suited for baking, oven cooking or stir frying.

Oil % Mono % Poly % Sat Nutrition Notes
Canola 62 31 7 Contains low levels of omega-3.
Grapeseed 17 73 10 High in omega-6.
Macadamia nut 84 3 13 Bold flavor.
Light virgin olive 78 8 14 Best-pick oil.
Peanut 48 34 18 Great for stir frying.

Medium smoke point

These oils are best for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking.

Oil % Mono % Poly % Sat Nutrition Notes
Corn 25 62 13 High in omega-6. High-oleic (monounsaturated fat) versions coming soon.
Hemp 15 75 10 Good source of omega-3. Keep refrigerated.
Pumpkin seed 32 53 15 Contains omega-3.
Sesame 41 44 15 Rich, nutty flavor. Keep refrigerated.
Soybean 25 60 15 High in omega-6.
Virgin coconut* 6 2 92 High in saturated fat. Use in moderation.

*Virgin coconut oil contains lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride that raises good as well as bad cholesterol levels.

No-heat oils*

These oils are best for making dressings, dips or marinades.

Oil % Mono % Poly % Sat Nutrition Notes
Flaxseed 65 28 7 Excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid,
a form of omega-3.
Wheat Germ 65 18 17 Rich in omega-6. Keep refrigerated.
Walnut 24 67 9 Good source of omega-3.

*Toasted sesame and extra virgin olive oils also work well.

Use oils wisely

It is important to choose the right oil for the job. It is also important to use the right amount of oil. Cooking is one of those things that people learn from their parents and grandparents. And while Grandma’s recipe may call for throwing the battered fish into a pot of oil, you will actually get a healthier, more flavorful meal by using less oil and pan-searing.

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Unsaturated fats are best. They help round out a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Limit animal fats/saturated fats and completely avoid trans-fats whenever possible.

Perko says the final message is, “Love the foods that love you back!”

Fats at a glance

“Bad” fats

Saturated fats – Bottom line is, the fewer the better. Less than 7 percent of your daily fat calories should come from saturated fats. Cut back on saturated fats by avoiding dairy items (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc) that are labeled “whole” and “2 percent.” Limit the amounts of red meat and other animal proteins you eat. You can do this by cutting back how often you eat them, how much of them you eat at a meal, or both.

Trans fats –  Eliminate all trans fats from your diet by staying away from foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. (Read the ingredient list!) Shortening and stick margarine contain trans fat.

“Good” fats

Monounsaturated fats –Eat plenty of olives, avocados and nuts. Use olive oil for cooking and canola oil for baking.

Polyunsaturated fats – You probably get enough omega-6 in your diet, so focus on having more foods packed with omega-3 (salmon, walnuts, etc).

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