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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It is very confusing to know what oil to “cook” with. Some health-food experts say do not cook with olive oil because it has a low smoke point and will convert to a trans-fat oil when heated beyond it smoke point; that good olive oil is a healthy oil, but only to use on foods after they have been cooked; as to drizzle over greens, fish, salads, etc. when serving.


10/18/2010 - 8:47am

Yes, extra virgin olive oil is the 'best' oil to use with food, but the article never addresses the actual 'cooking' with it - heating it!

A completely different dynamic!


09/24/2010 - 9:33am

It's easy to say "avoid/minimise" the usage of oil...
But how do you cook without oil???


07/13/2010 - 9:57am

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.


07/12/2010 - 10:17pm

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.


06/03/2010 - 12:45pm

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


06/03/2010 - 3:39am

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

— Anonymous


06/03/2010 - 2:53am

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....


06/02/2010 - 6:23pm

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


06/02/2010 - 5:36pm

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


05/27/2010 - 12:20pm

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