Health Library

Categories > Heart Health > Cholesterol

Time for an oil change?

Time was, shoppers barely slowed down when picking up a bottle of cooking oil at the grocery store—not a lot of comparison-shopping involved there. But browse through the oil section of your supermarket these days and you may be amazed by the number and variety of oils—from the familiar standbys, olive and canola, to the more exotic macadamia nut, sesame, walnut and even truffle oils. But which oils should wind up in your kitchen cabinet—and in your food? To assess the health benefits of your oil, look at what’s in them.

Name that fat

All oils contain a mix of fats. Even olive oil, a top source of monounsaturated fat, has 13 percent saturated fat and 8 percent polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Saturated fats raise both forms of cholesterol, which may contribute to cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats may also be associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Consider these common oils and how you use them:

  • monounsaturated: olive, canola, peanut, avocado, some nut oils and flavored olive oils (infused with ingredients such as truffles, pepper and lemon)
  • polyunsaturated: corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, sesame, some nut and seed oils
  • saturated: coconut and palm oil

What else is in your oil?

The sources from which oils are made—for example, nuts and seeds—may contain compounds that also boost your health. Sesame oil, which contains the compound sesamin along with vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, may reduce blood pressure and prevent cholesterol from being absorbed. Walnut oil and flaxseed oil (the latter found in health-food stores and natural grocery stores) contain alpha-linolenic acid, a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. And since extra virgin olive oil is less processed than other grades of olive oil, it boasts more disease-fighting antioxidants and polyphenols.

The bottom line

  • Reach for monounsaturated oils first. They’re the healthiest oils for your body, says the American Diabetes Association, with polyunsaturated oils being the next healthiest form of fat.
  • Use oils sensibly. Oils contain about 120 calories per tablespoon. While some oils offer health benefits, most health agencies advise eating a calorie-wise, low-fat diet with no more than 30 percent of daily calories from fat.
  • Choose oils appropriate for your use. Cook with oils that can take heat like olive and canola oils. Some oils smoke when heated, so add them to foods after cooking.