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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

Coconut oil! please people, use coconut oil!

Anonymous

01/07/2012 - 9:43am

Would like to see some research on the healthiest oil to bake with. That is, the most neutral taste wise. Sure, if you're baking nut bread a nut oil would be fine, but what about another recipe where the nuttiness is not desired? I've been having pretty good results with virgin coconut oil. One recipe that calls for 1 1/2 cups of butter, I knocked off the half cup and substitute 1/4 cup of coconut oil in it's place. Excellent!

Anonymous

01/05/2012 - 12:03am

I am now 55 years old and was using coconut oil through life, in all types of food. It has a great taste and as the old people say "It is good for heart, hair, lungs and skin". The only health problem that I experience is backache.

Anonymous

01/02/2012 - 12:26pm

Tommorow extra virgin olive oil will be bad for you. Then they'll say something different in 1 year new studies say its good for you again. On and on new studies being done all the time on different oils, foods etc.. No matter what you eat meaning trying to eat the healthest foods oil etc. Its boils down to eating in moderation.

Anonymous

12/26/2011 - 4:14pm

HOW DO YOU DETERMINE IF THE EVO OR CANOLA IS MECHANICALLY PROCESSED AND NOT CHEMICALLY PROCESSED? CHECKED MY BOTTLE AND FOUND NO REFERENCE TO EITHER. THANK YOU

Anonymous

11/20/2011 - 12:22pm

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.

Anonymous

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!

Anonymous

09/24/2010 - 9:33am

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

Anonymous

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.

Anonymous

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.

Anonymous

06/03/2010 - 12:45pm

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