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Daily Nutrition & Health

Best Oils to Have in Your Kitchen: Understanding Heart-Healthy Fats

Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training January 23, 2024

If you’re watching your cholesterol or blood pressure or working toward a weight-loss goal, you don’t have to banish all fat from the kitchen. We need some dietary fat to keep our energy levels up to absorb certain vitamins and for soft skin and hair. Just make sure it’s the right kind.

Sorting Out the Fats

Saturated fats tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, fatty meat, full-fat dairy products and foods cooked in lard, shortening and tropical oils. Grandma’s fried chicken may have to go.

Trans fat, although banned for use in foods by the FDA in 2020, can still be found in small amounts in some packaged foods like baked goods, pastries and fried foods. Trans fats tend to raise LDL cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol and increase your stroke and heart disease risk – another reason to stay away from packaged cakes, cookies and doughnuts.

According to current guidelines, keep saturated fat at seven percent or less of your daily calorie intake. If you’re watching your blood pressure or cholesterol, drop that number to five or six percent.

The American Heart Association recommends that total fat stay in the range of 25 to 35 percent of total calories for all adults. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that equates to 55 to 77 grams of total fat, with no more than 11 to 15 grams of saturated fat.

To get an adequate amount of heart-healthy “good” fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat), eat a moderate amount of nuts and seeds and use one or more of the following oils.

5 Heart-Healthy Oils to Add to Your Diet

Olive Oil

In addition to mostly good fats, olive oil contains small amounts of vitamins A, E, D and K. It’s anti-inflammatory and a Mediterranean diet staple. Because it’s heat-stable and has a relatively high smoke point, olive oil works well for cooking. Use it to sauté vegetables or mix with balsamic vinegar for a classic salad dressing.

One tablespoon equals 119 calories and 13.1 grams of fat (9.8 mono, 1.4 poly, 1.9 saturated).

Flaxseed Oil

Whether used whole, ground or in an oil, flaxseeds are a very good omega-3 source and an inflammation fighter. It goes rancid when exposed to light, heat and air, so keep flaxseed oil refrigerated and avoid heating it, because it has a very low smoke point. Its nutty flavor is great in salad dressings, dips or marinades, or it can be added to a protein shake or smoothie. Talk to your doctor before using flaxseed oil as it may interact with blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering statins and other medications.

One tablespoon equals 119 calories and 12.9 grams of fat (2.7 mono, 8.9 poly, 1.3 saturated).

Peanut Oil

Peanut oil has a flavorful aroma that makes it popular for cooking. It contains vitamin E and phytosterols, which benefit heart health. Pure peanut oil has a long shelf life and one of the highest smoke points, which makes it a stir-fry favorite. Toss a variety of chopped vegetables, garlic, low-sodium soy sauce and some lean meat or tofu into a wok, and voila! An easy, healthy dinner.

One tablespoon equals 119 calories and 12.6 grams of fat (6 mono, 4.3 poly, 2.3 saturated).

Avocado Oil

Avocados make great guacamole and are also a source of healthy cooking oil. Avocado oil has a high smoke point, which means you can use it for browning and sautéing as well as for salad oil. Avocado oil contains mostly oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. It’s also anti-inflammatory and high in lutein, an antioxidant that’s good for the eyes.

One tablespoon equals 124 calories and 14 grams of fat (10 mono, 2 poly, 2 saturated).

Walnut Oil

Walnut oil has a rich, nutty taste fit for salad dressings, dips and marinades. It’s a rich source of ellagic acid – an antioxidant that has antiviral and antibacterial properties – and it contains manganese, copper and melatonin – a hormone that regulates your internal body clock. It’s also high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid with cardioprotective benefits. Because of its low smoke point, walnut oil isn’t good for cooking.

One tablespoon equals 130 calories and 14 grams of fat (3 mono, 10 poly, 1 saturated).