Cooking oils are typically a staple in everyone’s pantry. From olive and canola oil to avocado and coconut oil, there are so many to choose from. But how do you know which ones to use when on a weight loss plan and which ones to avoid?
Firstly, all oils are fats and calorically dense; each tablespoon contains approximately 125 calories. Therefore, it should be used sparingly if you are watching your weight. The ‘best’ choice of cooking oil depends upon the intended use. When being used for cooking, it is not recommended for deep frying food since this adds empty calories and the intense heat tends to oxidize the oils and promotes the creation of unhealthy free radicals.
At CardioMender, MD, we are here to help you understand your options and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each.
What are the Healthiest Oils to Cook With?
At CardioMender, MD, we recommend our patients use the following oils:
- Olive Oil: a healthy liquid fat obtained from olives.
- Avocado Oil: a natural oil pressed from the pulp of avocados.
- Canola Oil: a vegetable-based oil made from crushed canola seeds.
- Coconut Oil: the fatty oil obtained from coconut flesh.
Advantages of Olive, Avocado, Canola and Coconut Oils
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet which is associated with many health benefits. Good quality ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil is rich in polyphenol antioxidants that help our bodies defend against toxic free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts of normal metabolism, stress and overheating cooking oils. Olive oil also contains two essential fatty acids which are critical to our health: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in desirable proportions.
This is important since an over abundance of omega-6s can increase inflammation whereas omega-3s decrease inflammation. Olive oil is also rich in oleic acid which is a monounsaturated omega 9 fatty acid which may help reduce inflammation. One large study of 841,000 people found that olive oil was associated with a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease as a result of these characteristics.
Another advantage of olive oil is its heat stability. Heating olive oil will not destroy the health benefits or turn this cooking oil unhealthy.
Unlike other fruits, avocado is rich in healthy fats and can be used to produce oil. One of the main benefits of avocado oil is that almost 70% of it consists of heart-healthy oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Avocado oil has several benefits, including:
- Reduces cholesterol and improves heart health by lowering low-density lipid (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol levels.
- Hydrates the skin due to the high percentage of Vitamin E and many other nutrients. The epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) easily absorbs these nutrients, helping form new, smoother skin.
- The high amount of oleic acid has been shown to lower blood pressure.
- Avocado oil also has an anti-inflammatory effect and may reduce CRP (C-reactive protein), an index of inflammation.
Canola oil is a healthy cooking oil because it is high in healthy unsaturated fats, omega-3 and monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids fatty acids, while being low in saturated fat. In addition, this oil is rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that is key for strong immunity and healthy skin and eyes, and vitamin K, an essential vitamin that helps make various proteins needed for blood clotting and the building of bones.
Coconut oil has become a very popular cooking alternative. However, the overall health benefits vs. its risks are presently inadequately defined. Therefore, we recommend it to be used sparingly. Coconut oil is extremely heat stable; therefore, it does not break down and oxidize under intense heat. It also has a tropical taste bringing a unique flavor to foods. In addition, coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which some report provide certain health benefits such as:
- Improved brain and memory function
- Boosts energy and increases endurance
- Improves weight management
- Lowers cholesterol
- Lowers blood sugar levels
Disadvantages of Canola, Olive, Avocado and Coconut Oils
While there may be amazing advantages to these cooking oils, there are also disadvantages.
Canola oil is high in Omega-6 fatty acids which are essential to good health. However, most Americans get an overabundance of Omega-6’s in their diets which causes inflammation and has been linked to heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, some recommend avoiding the consumption of canola oil, since years ago it contained high amounts of erucic acid which is toxic. However, a GMO version of the parent plant is now used for its production and is said to meet current FDA safety standards.
Olive oil is dense with calories, containing roughly 120 calories per one tablespoon. Therefore, like any oil, if you are on a weight loss plan, you should use it sparingly.
It is best to consume your avocado oil raw, in cold-pressed form. This is because when cooking over high heat, the healthy fats in the oil tend to break down with cooking. However, if you choose to use moderate to high heat, it may be best to use extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil.
According to Harvard Health, “coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter, beef fat, or even lard. Too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.” Along with olive oil, coconut oil is also relatively low in omega-6 fatty acids.
A Word About Trans Fats
Trans fats are extremely unhealthy fats frequently found in fast foods and in processed foods such as cookies, cakes and donuts. They are often introduced into foods deep fried with partially hydrogenated inexpensive oils that are unstable and promote inflammation. Their consumption increases the risk of getting heart disease, stroke and diabetes and should be avoided at all costs.
Recommendations: Choose Your Oil Wisely
When choosing a cooking oil, try to limit the total amount of oil since no matter what oil you choose it is calorically dense. That being said, some fats such as omega-3 and monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids are important components of a healthy diet. Limit oils rich in omega-6 fatty acids and highly saturated fats. Foods containing partially hydrogenated fats and trans fats should be totally excluded.