There are dozens of myths out there that may influence you to judge all cooking oils as harmful for your health. While it is true that all oils are fats, some fats are an essential part of your diet and some cooking oils happen to provide these critical fats. It is important to gain an understanding of the healthy oil vs. the unhealthy oil, as some of these good oils can provide remarkable health benefits.
All oils used in cooking are not equal in terms of their effect on your health. All food sources that are classified as “fats” are made up of fatty acids that have specific chemical structure. These structures determine how the fat performs when cooking or how the fat affects your health. These forms of fat are classified as saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. All fats have each of these three types within their composition, but are classified under the form that makes up their majority.
When choosing the healthiest oil to cook with, it is recommended to avoid saturated fats and aim for oils containing a majority of either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. Cooking with saturated fats, such as butter, lard, and shortening, increased the risk for heart disease and has been linked with elevated cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as canola, sunflower, olive, peanut, or walnut oil, are plant-based oils that help to improve blood cholesterol levels, thereby decreasing the risk for heart disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), extra-virgin olive oil is a popular choice for those looking to improve their heart health. It contains 78% monounsaturated fat, 8% polyunsaturated fat, and 14% saturated fat, and is therefore classified as a monounsaturated fat.
With the lowest rate of oxidation of all cooking oils, this healthy oil is the least likely to promote free radicals and damage to the cells. Extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants and contains a special body-protecting polyphenol known as hydroxytyrosol. Research has shown that this compound has one of the highest free-radical absorbing capabilities.
A study completed in 2006 at the University of Milan, Italy showed that Mediterranean diets, such as those rich in extra virgin olive oil, reduced the incidence of heart disease. Both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects were seen amongst the participants. Extra-virgin olive oil also contains vitamins A, E, D, and K, as well as beta-carotene, which are beneficial for immunity, vision, and overall health.
Olive oil has also been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. In 2000, a study was completed in Barcelona, Spain that identified olive oil’s effect against LDL oxidation. When low-density lipoproteins (LDL), known as bad cholesterol, get oxidized, they become even more dangerous to the body. Oxidation of LDL can generate inflammation in the arteries, increasing risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack, or stroke. This research demonstrated that olive oil containing phenolics, such as extra-virgin olive oil, have a stronger antioxidant effect in protecting LDL from being oxidized than refined olive oil.
Regardless of the type of oil you use, it is still classified as a fat. Therefore, you should consider how much fat you would like to incorporate into your diet and use cooking oils wisely. Instead of dipping your bread into a plate of olive oil, consider using the same size portion to sauté with vegetables for the whole family to share. Extra-virgin olive oil can be a great addition to salad dressings, vegetable dishes, poultry, and fish dishes.
Compared to other cooking oil choices, extra-virgin olive oil is the healthiest oil with the greatest potential to positively impact your health. Since it is simple to add to your daily cooking, there is no reason to not choose it as your primary cooking oil.
Healthy Cooking Oils Buyer’s Guide [Internet]. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [cited 2015 Jan 17]. Available from: http://recipes.millionhearts.hhs.gov/articles/healthy-cooking-oils-buyer%E2%80%99s-guide
Heart-Healthy Cooking: Oils 101 [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic; 2014 Oct 1 [cited 2015 Jan 17]. Available from: http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/10/heart-healthy-cooking-oils-101/
7 Things You Should Know About Cooking With Oil [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic; 2014 Jun 3 [cited 2015 Jan 17]. Available from: http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/06/7-things-you-should-know-about-cooking-with-oils/
Bogani P, Galli C, Villa M, Visioli F. Postprandial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of extra virgin olive oil. Atherosclerosis. 2007;190(1):181-186.
Fito M, Covas MI, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Vila J, Torrents J, de la Torre C, Marrugat J. Protective effect of olive oil and its phenolic compounds against low density lipoprotein oxidation. Lipids. 2000. 35(6):633-638.
Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Willett, W. (2011). Eat, drink, and be healthy: the Harvard Medical School guide to healthy eating. Simon and Schuster.
Matthäus, B. (2007). Use of palm oil for frying in comparison with other high‐stability oils. European journal of lipid science and technology, 109(4), 400-409.
Pérez‐Jiménez, F., Ruano, J., Perez‐Martinez, P., Lopez‐Segura, F., & Lopez‐Miranda, J. (2007). The influence of olive oil on human health: not a question of fat alone. Molecular nutrition & food research, 51(10), 1199-1208.
Ferro-Luzzi, A., James, W. P. T., & Kafatos, A. (2002). ORIGINAL COMMUNICATION The high-fat Greek diet: a recipe for all?. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56, 796-809.
Mukherjee, S., & Mitra, A. (2009). Health effects of palm oil. J Hum Ecol, 26(3), 197-203.