Fat in food got a bad rap for decades, seen only as a source of calories. But research shows that the right fats are important for health.
Healthy fats come primarily from plants and a few types of fish. These more healthful fats are poly- and monounsaturated fats, which improve cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats containing omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart and are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish a week.
Limit your intake of saturated fats, found in most meats, butter and some plants products, such as coconut and palm oil. Foods containing saturated fats raise unhealthy LDL cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Best Oils for Your Heart
Heart-healthy oils made from plants are among the foods you may want to increase in your diet. Some are best for cooking and others for adding to salads or dips.
Oils high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help lower your risk of heart disease. Oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids may be even better. This heart-healthy nutrient contributes to brain function.
However, some oils should be avoided. Use oils high in saturated fat sparingly; this type increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Here’s an overview of the health benefits and best culinary uses for a variety of oils:
1. Canola Oil
This oil is made from a seed in the same plant family as cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Look for neutral-flavor canola oils that are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Use canola oil, a versatile option, for baking, marinades, salad dressings and sautéing over medium-high heat.
2. Coconut Oil
Unrefined coconut oil contributes a mild, coconut flavor that works well in curries and baked goods. Refined coconut oil offers a neutral flavor as well as a high smoke point, making it a good choice for sautéing and other high-temperature cooking. Though high in saturated fat, coconut oil has shown it may help fight diabetes and fungal infections.
3. Flax Seed oil
This oil is rich in a specific omega-3 fat that benefits your heart, hair, skin and nails. Mildly nutty in flavor, it has a low smoke point, making it best for use in uncooked preparations, such as salad dressings and dips. It is also good drizzled over many just-cooked foods.
4. Grapeseed Oil
Extracted from grape seeds, this oil ranges in flavor from neutral to mildly grapey, making it a good choice in salads, dips and dressings. It may help lower blood pressure levels and is high in polyunsaturated fat—one of the good fats.
5. Olive Oil
A terrific multipurpose ingredient that’s high in monounsaturated fats, olive oil contains antioxidants and polyphenols that are good for heart-health. Use olive oil in salad dressings and marinades, or for sautéing foods over medium to medium-high heat. Most grades of olive oil have delicate flavor. Choose extra-virgin oil when you want the flavor of the oil to be more pronounced.
6. Safflower Oil
Made from a flower, this oil is high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect cells. Neutral in taste, it is used in mayonnaise, margarine and salad dressings. It’s also good for high-heat cooking.
7. Walnut Oil
A good source of omega-3 fatty acids, this choice adds a rich, nutty flavor to your dishes. Use for cooking over low to medium heat and when you want a touch of walnut flavor in your baked goods.
How to Store Oils
After they’re opened, many oils last up to a year in a cool, dark place. flax seed, grapeseed and walnut oils degrade quickly and should be refrigerated; they'll last about six months.
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