Heart Healthy Oils

Healthy cooking can sometimes be confusing, especially with the wide variety of oils available in the grocery aisle. Fat is important because it helps our bodies absorb nutrients, protects our organs, supports cell growth and keeps us warm. However, it’s essential to understand the difference between good, healthy fats versus bad, heart clogging fats. In the kitchen, it is important to use oils with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (“good” fat) as opposed to oils containing saturated or trans fats (“bad” fat).

Many unhealthy, bad fats come from animals. These fats are solid, such as butter, shortening, lard and stick margarine. Tropical oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil, are high in saturated fat as well. Try to limit these fats as much as possible from your diet. Additionally, stay away from hydrogenated fats including partially hydrogenated oil, which occurs through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. Foods containing these fats include baked goods, fried foods and refrigerated dough.

Instead, seek good, healthy fats when cooking, namely vegetable fats. Olive oil and canola oil are the most popular and considered the best for sautéing and baking, respectively. Other oils great for healthy cooking include grapeseed, safflower, soybean, avocado, sesame, flaxseed, walnut and sunflower oils. Keep in mind to heat oil slowly, at medium heat. If oil is heated too high and begins “smoking,” many healthful benefits are lost. Using oil at room temperature in salad dressings or bread dips is a great way to consume healthy fats.

Oil has a limited shelf life, especially when kept near heat. The best way to store oil is in a cool, dark place. The only exception is grapeseed oil, which fares better in the refrigerator. Be sure to throw oil away if you notice a bitter smell.

Preparing meals with heart health in mind is an important step toward maintaining a strong, healthy body. Thankfully there are many great tasting, vegetable-based oils to choose from to uphold our daily dose of healthy fat.