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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

What about hemp seed oil? High in poly and mono along with high levels of omega 3,6,&9

Anonymous

11/17/2012 - 4:36am

Too many unsubstantiated claims on this site by people of questionable motives.

Anonymous

11/21/2012 - 9:53am

Has anyone used the most under-rated of all oils ? Rapeseed oil ! i use extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil produced by a local farmer near where i live in the uk ( peterborough). its better then olive oil!

Anonymous

12/02/2012 - 7:18am

Somebody commented about rapeseed oil. Isn't canola a cultivar of rapeseed? Also, there is no healthy kind of saturated fat. In fact there is a dietary recommendation to reduce intake of saturated fat regardless of kind.

Anonymous

12/08/2012 - 11:57am

Oil is not a health food. Regardless of the type. It is 100% processed and 100% fat. Also 35% of its calories come from saturated fats. Just do a little research on the topic and you will see that oils are not a health food.

Anonymous

12/10/2012 - 12:44pm

Rapeseed is canola

Anonymous

12/14/2012 - 12:07am

Everybody has different bodies. Our bodies respond differently to different things. Not all bodies will get results from the same exact thing. There are no best cooking oils but there are a lot of healthy options. Personally I use soy free omega three butter (found it at publix). That's a good choice.

Anonymous

12/17/2012 - 11:08pm

Canola and rapeseed oil are one and the same....originally derived for human consumption in Manitoba, Canada. The Canadian farmers renamed it canola (stands for...Canadian oil low acid)because they thought the name rape seed would have a negative effect on consumers.

Anonymous

12/22/2012 - 12:47pm

I recently read about rice bran oil...can anyone weigh in on that?

Anonymous

02/12/2013 - 2:10pm

Hemp seed oil is really good for us but it should never be heated just like extra virgin olive oil.
Rapeseed oil & Canola oil are highly processed oils.
Best 'oils' for cooking are high quality coconut oil, palm oil, ghee & even animal fat.

Anonymous

02/12/2013 - 6:17pm

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