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Q. What is the healthiest oil to cook with?

A. Relative to other oils, canola (made from the seeds of a yellow-flowered plant) and olive oils are rich in monounsaturated fats—the kind that help reduce “unhealthy” LDL cholesterol and boost “healthy” HDL cholesterol. But new research suggests that virgin (and extra-virgin) olive oils—those produced purely by mechanically pressing the oil from olives, with no chemical processing—have an edge: antioxidants called polyphenols. Naturally found in olives (in red wine and green tea too), polyphenols mop up free radicals before they can oxidize LDL (oxidation makes LDL even more damaging to arteries).

In a three-week study of 200 men published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, those who consumed just under two tablespoons a day of high-polyphenol virgin olive oil in place of other dietary fats registered larger increases in “good” HDL cholesterol and fewer markers of oxidative stress than men who consumed the same amount of “ordinary” olive oil, which had a very low polyphenol content. Chemical refining processes remove some polyphenols from “ordinary” olive oils (often labeled as “pure” in the U.S.) and other cooking oils, says Maria-Isabel Covas, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a researcher at the Municipal Institute for Medical Research in Barcelona, Spain.

Bottom line: Virgin olive oil doesn’t just taste better than plain old “olive oil,” it’s better for you too. (Great justification for splurging on a pricier product, no?) That said, any olive or canola oil is a heart-healthy choice—assuming you use it as a substitute for (not a complement to) saturated fats in your diet. If cost is a concern, go ahead and use refined olive oil or canola in cooking and save the virgin oil for cases that call for a high-impact fruity flavor (dipping bread, dressing salads, accenting soups).
—D. Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

any oil is having both advantages and disadvantages. It is better to avoid/minimise the usage of oil

Anonymous

10/16/2009 - 7:37pm

Your body HAS to maintain a healthy ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids and getting in say olive oil will help with maintaining EFAs in the body. I wouldn't recommend avoiding or minimizing the usage of oil, it's the kind of oil you get in. Americans don't get enough Omega 3's in their diet... so getting in an oil that will help achieve the correct ratio is important.

Anonymous

11/03/2009 - 8:23pm

Although the article is correct in its support for olive oil, the healthiest non-olive culinary oil by far is macadamia nut. It is the highest in healthy monounsaturated fats (even higher than olive oil) and the lowest in unhealthy omega-6 fats (even lower than olive oil). Canola doesn't even come close. I have a very interesting chart on my website at http://www.adoctorskitchen.com/about/building-blocks that presents a comparison of many popular cooking oils. Macadamia nut has a high smoke point and is therefore excellent for stir-frying, searing, and high-temperature roasting. It is the perfect choice for cuisines inhospitable to olive oil (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malaysian, etc.). I substitute it for canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, and vegetable oils in any recipe calling for a neutral oil.

Deborah Chud, MD
Food columnist, Radius Magazine
Author, The Gourmet Prescription
Author, www.aDoctorsKitchen.com

Anonymous

11/14/2009 - 11:21am

Everything in moderation is good. Live a healthy life without stressing out too much. Educate your brain! We all die eventually of something!

Anonymous

05/27/2010 - 12:20pm

This was a very informative and helpful article. Thank you.

Anonymous

06/02/2010 - 5:36pm

Having lived in Europe for many years, Germany, Ireland I have always used olive oil to cook with, especially the extra virgin oil.... the flavour, the essence that you get once you have cooked your steak or your vegatables....

Anonymous

06/02/2010 - 6:23pm

Despite its bad rap, coconut oil is another healthy oil rich in MCFAs which are also important for good health.

— Anonymous

Anonymous

06/03/2010 - 2:53am

I agree we need to be watchful of to much of any kind of intake of oils. To much of anything can be harmful. And we are Fearfully and Wonderfully made, GOD has made our bodies to tell us when we have had enough, of many things. NOW -LISTEN ! And pay attention to your body. ! HOPE

Anonymous

06/03/2010 - 3:39am

I have been using a refined walnut oil that is high in omega 3 and combine it with extra virgin olive oil. Is the walnut oil really healthy for me? It is rarely mentioned.

Anonymous

06/03/2010 - 12:45pm

Hey now no mention of GRAPESEED OIL. My sister is a nutritionist and has said that oil is even healthier that extra virgin olive oil. I am not for sure but please comment on this.

Anonymous

07/12/2010 - 10:17pm

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