Nutrition: About Fats and Oils
Feeling breathless? Fatigue all the time? Challenged with hypertension, diabetes or high cholestrol? Obese? Are you a high risk profile for stroke and heart attack?
Time to take care of your heart health by
- Encouraging healthy fats in the diet. How? By replacing animal fats with vegetable fats
- Decrease levels of saturated fats (fats that come from meats, poultry, cheese, dairy products and tropical oils - e.g. coconut and palm oils) to reduce their risk of heart disease.
- Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, which include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. This decreases the levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol as well as fats in the blood called triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Studies have shown that if people replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats, they reduce their risk of heart disease somewhat more than if they replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats. Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat resulted in close to 30 percent drop in the risk of heart disease - the reduction of which is comparable to that seen when people take statin drugs.
Good heart health favors polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, as well as sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn oils — rather than monounsaturated fats (found in other types of nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive, canola and peanut oils).
Selecting cooking oils
Important - Use cooking oils in moderation.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans include a small amount of oils in their diets every day to supply essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid) because the body can't make these acids and thus must get them from food.
All cooking oils are composed of three different types of fatty acids: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats.
Each oil is categorized based on which type of fatty acid is the most prominent in it - olive and canola oils are considered mostly monounsaturated fat, while corn and soybean oils contain mainly polyunsaturated fat. Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat.
Avocado oil - monounsaturated fat (70 percent of the fats in the oil are monounsaturated), and it has one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fat among cooking oils, second only to olive oil. Like olive oil, avocado oil is also low in polyunsaturated fats (10 percent of the fats in the oil are polyunsaturated).
Compared with other vegetable oils, avocado oil has a higher saturated fat content (20 percent), but this percentage is much smaller than the percentage of saturated fat in butter, lard or tropical oils, such as coconut or palm oils.
Disadvantage: more expensive, harder to find
Advantage: mild flavor similar to avocado, and the oil can withstand high cooking temperatures, making it suitable for sautéing, grilling, roasting or using in salad dressings.
Canola oil also has relatively high monounsaturated fat content (62 percent of the fats in this oil are monounsaturated).
Canola oil is also a good source of polyunsaturated fat (32 percent).
It has the lowest level of saturated fat among cooking oils (7 percent). It is also one of the few oils that contain a good plant-based source of omega-3 fats, a beneficial type of polyunsaturated fat.
A 2013 review in the journal Nutrition Reviews found that when people use canola oil to replace saturated fat in their diets, it can help to reduce their total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol levels, which can reduce people's risk of heart disease.
Canola oil is a versatile and practical cooking oil that's not very expensive and can be used in a variety of ways, from baking and grilling to stir-frying and making salad dressings.
Made from the fruit of the coconut palm tree, coconut oil has been promoted as a better alternative to butter. It is a white solid at room temperature with a consistency resembling that of butter or shortening rather than a liquid oil.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat (92 percent), and use it only sparingly. In fact, coconut oil has more saturated fat than the same amount of butter or lard.
The 2017 advisory report from the American Heart Association did not recommend the use of coconut oil.
There is not any reason to use coconut oil rather than unsaturated oils, and there are potentially disadvantages from its high content of saturated fat. Coconut oil does not have any unique heart-health benefits, and its "halo effect" — meaning its perception by the public as a healthful food — is probably not justified from a scientific perspective.
Extra-virgin olive oil and pure olive oil
Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives resulting in an oil that has more flavor and a fruity aroma, and is less processed, i.e. "unrefined."
Contains the most antioxidants but it also typically more expensive than other types of olive oil. Refined versions of olive oil, called "pure," are lighter in color and milder in flavor than extra-virgin oils.
Olive oils contains the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats among cooking oils (although some high-oleic versions of other oils may have artificially boosted levels of monounsaturated fats).
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, that may improve heart health.
What is best? A Mediterranean-diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts had a lower rate of heart attack, stroke and death from heart-related causes, as published in 2013's The New England Journal of Medicine.
From a heart-health standpoint, extra-virgin olive oil or olive oil are both beneficial.
Disadvantage: extra-virgin olive oil is not suitable for cooking at high temperatures, such as when frying, because the oil cannot withstand very high heat before it starts to burn and smoke. Refined and pure, olive oil may be more suited for high-temperature cooking.
Advantage: Because extra-virgin olive oil offers more flavor than other types of olive oil, this is a good option for sautéing vegetables, dipping bread or preparing salad dressings and marinades.
Peanut oil has the highest monounsaturated content — 49 percent. Peanut oil has a similar percentage of polyunsaturated fat (33 percent) to canola oil.
Its percentage of saturated fat (18 percent) is higher than that of other vegetable oils, but not to the point that it's a concern for heart health, and it still has less saturated fat than coconut or palm oils.
Advantage: flavorful oil with a pale color and nutty aroma, peanut oil can withstand high heat and is a good choice for cooking Asian-inspired meals and stir-fries dishes.
Often used in Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, sesame oil is a good mix of polyunsaturated fat (46 percent) and monounsaturated fat (40 percent). The remaining 14 percent is saturated fat. Not usually used in cooking but is used more for its intense flavoring.
Sesame oil has a nutty flavor to any dish, especially toasted sesame oil, which has a darker color and bolder flavor. Refrigerate sesame oil after opening it.
Light in color - neutral in flavor, sunflower oil has one of the highest concentrations of polyunsaturated fat (69 percent) among cooking oils. It supplies monounsaturated fat (20 percent) and is low in saturated fat (11 percent), making it an overall heart-healthy option.
Advantage: Sunflower oil is a good all-purpose oil as it can withstand high cooking temperatures.
Some labels with "high-oleic" versions of sunflower or canola oils on supermarket shelves or high-oleic oils listed on the ingredient lists of processed foods. These oils have been modified to be richer in oleic acid, which boosts their levels of monounsaturated fat.
Food manufacturers are turning to high-oleic oils as replacement for trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils that can extend processed foods' shelf life. As manufacturers eliminate their use of unhealthy trans fats, high-oleic oils have taken their place because these mostly monounsaturated fats are more shelf-stable than polyunsaturated fats.
Vegetable oil has typically been soybean oil.
Soybean oil is primarily a polyunsaturated oil (61 percent polyunsaturated fat, 24 monounsaturated fat and 15 percent saturated fat). Soybean oil contains some omega-3 fats, which are heart-healthy fats often found in salmon and sardines.
Vegetable oil made from soybeans is a neutral-tasting oil that does not have much flavor. Nevertheless, it's a versatile, all-purpose cooking oil for sautéing and frying, or making salad dressings.
Ultimately, choosing a healthier oil will mean long terms savings in terms of health.
Yours in health, wellness and beauty always,
Dee Dee Mahmood, multi award winning Celebrity Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist, is the Academic Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University Australia. Her PhD research on obesity was chosen for its impact on obesity in Asia and was accepted and presented at the President's Cup Award, American College of Sports Medicine Northwest Annual Meeting in Tacoma, Washington. Ambassadors to brands like Reebok, Norwegian Seafood Council, this TEDX Speaker has several signature community programs to her name, Fat2Fit Asia and Walking Football for Health Asia. She conducts synergy on community and corporate health and research collaborations internationally.