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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

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 - 11:44am

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 - 10:57am

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 - 6:18am

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

Anonymous

11/21/2012 - 8:53am

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

Anonymous

11/17/2012 - 3:36am

I prefer cottonseed oil, as it gives all foods a hint of nuttiness and doesn't go rancid for a long time.

Anonymous

10/22/2012 - 9:14pm

what about palm fruit oil? Anyone ever tried cooking with that? Lots of misconceptions about it, but it is a healthy alternative to oil olive. It has the healthy kind of saturated fats and also high amounts of vitamin A & E. Also good for high heat cooking

Anonymous

10/19/2012 - 1:38pm

I also use extra virgin olive oil in many ways and have just added extra virgin coconut oil. Both have theirs ace in the kitchen and bathroom.

Anonymous

10/18/2012 - 11:18pm

I also use extra vergin olive oil in many ways and have just added extra coconut oil. Both have theirs ace in the kitchen and bathroom.

Anonymous

10/18/2012 - 11:16pm

Studies have shown that Avocado Oil is the healthiest of all.....it can be used for both cooking and salad. It is low in Saturated fat, hogh in Monosaturated fat and has a very high smoke point. Go for Avocado Oil!

Anonymous

10/15/2012 - 7:31pm

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