Healthiest Cooking Oils to Lower Cholesterol

Man deciding between cooking oils in grocery store

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If you're following a low-cholesterol diet, it doesn't mean you need to forgo cooking with oil. The key is to choose the right one for your recipe—one that's both heart-healthy and can take the heat.

Heart-healthy oils like canola, corn, olive, peanut, and sunflower oils contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that help to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol. Each has its own unique flavor and properties that are better suited to different types of cooking and individual recipes.

An oil's smoke point (also called flashpoint) is important too. This is the temperature at which it begins to produce smoke, a sign the oil is breaking down and may release free radicals and chemicals that can harm the body and give food a burnt or bitter flavor.

Extra virgin olive oil, for example, has a relatively low smoke point and is great on salads or for light sautéing but becomes rancid when used for deep frying. Safflower oil, on the other hand, has a high smoke point and is a good choice for frying.

Incorporating a variety of different oils in your diet also can help to provide an array of different micronutrients. Some are high in omega-3 fatty acids—healthy fats that help to reduce inflammation and prevent the formation of arterial plaque. Avocado, canola, flaxseed, olive, peanut, sunflower, and walnut oils are all good sources of omega-3.

Healthiest Oils

Most oils are a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Choosing ones that are low in saturated fatty acids (SFA) and high in unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol levels. Fortunately, there are plenty of heart-healthy options to choose from:

  • Avocado
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Grapeseed
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive
  • Peanut
  • Rice bran
  • Safflower
  • Sesame
  • Soybean
  • Sunflower

Our list of heart-healthy oils includes nontropical vegetable oils that contain less than 25% saturated fat and a mixture of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These oils are liquid at room temperature, but typically thicken and become cloudy when refrigerated.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) contain a single unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. A good source of vitamin E, monounsaturated fats are found only in plants. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends MUFAs make up 15% to 20% of total daily calories.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) have more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule and are found in plants and fish such as salmon. PUFAs also contain vitamin E and high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids—nutrients essential for brain function and cell growth.

Low-Cholesterol Cooking Oils
Type MUFA PUFA SFA Smoke Point Uses
Avocado Oil 71% 13% 16% 520°F

Can withstand high-heat for searing, browning, and frying. Also good at lower temperatures.

Canola Oil 60% 31% 10% 225°F–450°F

Expeller-pressed can withstand high heat for frying, while refined oil is good for medium heat such as baking, oven cooking, or stir frying. Unrefined canola oil should only be used in low or no-heat recipes. 

Corn Oil 27% 48% 25% 350°F–460°F

Unrefined corn oil can withstand low to medium heat for light sautéing, sauces, and baking, while refined corn oil can be used at higher temperatures, like stir-fries.

Grapeseed Oil 15% 75% 10% 421°F

Good for medium-high heat such as baking, roasting vegetables, and stir-frying, and can also be used in low- or no-heat recipes.

Flaxseed Oil 20% 70% 10% 225°F

Do not heat this oil. It is great for no-heat cooking including salad dressings, dips, marinades, and smoothies

Olive Oil 68% 19% 19% 320°F–400°F Refined olive oil can withstand medium-high heat such as roasting vegetables. However, extra virgin olive oil should only be used at medium-low heat or cooler. Ideal for light sautéing, sauces, and salad dressing.
Peanut Oil 71% 18% 11% 320°F–450°F

Refined peanut oil can be used over high heat such as stir-fries, but unrefined peanut oil can only withstand a medium-high heat for sautéing. It can also be used in dressings and dips.

Rice Bran Oil 44% 34% 23% 450°F Refined rice bran oil can withstand the high heat of frying and can also be used at lower temperature or in no-heat recipes.
Safflower Oil 12% 79% 9% 225°F–510°F Refined safflower oil can withstand high heat of frying, but unrefined oil should only be used in no-heat recipes like dressings and dips.
Sesame Oil 42% 41% 17% 350°F–450°F

Refined sesame oil can handle high heat dishes, like stir-frying and deep frying, but unrefined sesame oil can only handle medium heat such as light sautéing and sauces.

Soybean Oil 29% 58% 14% 450°F

Can withstand high high for deep frying, but is also acceptable for any temperature cooking including salad dressing. 

Sunflower Oil 28% 62% 9% 225°F–
411°F

Unrefined sunflower oil should only be used in no-heat recipes, such as dressings a dips. Refined sunflower oil can handle higher heats for searing, browning, and frying.

Avocado Oil

A mostly monounsaturated fat, avocado oil has many uses. Its high smoke point (over 500 degrees F) makes it a good choice for high-heat cooking and frying, while it's neutral buttery and nutty flavor can also be enjoyed in salad dressings, marinades, and dips. Avocado oil is cholesterol-free.

Canola Oil

A good source of both MUFA (and some PUFA), canola oil's medium-high smoke point makes it a good option for baking, cooking in the oven, and stir-frying. High in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), canola has a mild, neutral taste and can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and dips. Canola oil is also cholesterol-free.

Corn Oil

Another cholesterol-free option, corn oil is a good choice for light sautéing, sauces, and baking. It has a light taste and is less expensive than other oils. In addition, research shows corn oil can help to lower LDL nearly three times more than olive oil.

Grapeseed Oil

This polyunsaturated oil has a mild taste and medium-high smoke point, which makes it a good option for baked or oven-cooked dishes and stir-fries. It's also high in vitamin E and has documented health benefits and cardioprotective properties. 

Flaxseed Oil

Packed with omega-3s, flaxseed oil is a nutritional powerhouse whose many documented health benefits include better heart health. Due to its low smoke point, flaxseed oil is only appropriate for no-heat cooking. It's light nutty, earthy flavor can be an acquired taste but it's delicious drizzled over vegetables in place of butter, mixed into salad dressings or dipped, or added to smoothies. For best quality, opt for refrigerated cold-pressed flaxseed oil in an opaque bottle.

Olive Oil

A good source of vitamin E and antioxidants called polyphenols, olive oil is widely used in Mediterranean cooking due to its rich flavor, versatility, and heart-healthy benefits. Research shows eating 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) of olive oil each day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Olive oil has a medium smoke point and can be used for sautéing, frying over medium-high heat, and in salad dressings. Opt for extra-virgin olive oil varieties that are not overly processed.

Peanut Oil

A good source of monounsaturated fat, peanut oil sometimes is used for deep frying due to its high smoke point. A primarily monounsaturated fat, it also has no cholesterol. Though many people have serious allergic reactions to peanuts, highly refined peanut oil is not considered an allergen and is used in commercial preparation.

Rice Bran Oil

Rich in vitamins E and K and beneficial phytosterols, rice brain oil is one of the healthiest oils around. A meta-analysis of 11 studies found rice bran oil lowers LDL cholesterol by about 7 mg/dl while also increasing HDL cholesterol levels by 7 mg/dl. Rice bran's nutty flavor and high smoke point making it a good option for stir-fries or deep-fried dishes, as well as low-heat preparation.

Safflower Oil

A popular heart-healthy oil with a delicate flavor, safflower oil comes in a few different forms. High-linoleic safflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fats and has a low smoke point, so it should be used in unheated dishes, such as dressings and dips. High-oleic safflower oil is high in monounsaturated fats and has a high smoke point that makes it suitable for frying. Research shows safflower oil can improve cholesterol levels, reduce blood sugar, and even promote weight loss.

Sesame Oil

Commonly used in Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, sesame oil has been shown to be more beneficial than olive oil for cholesterol levels. Sesame oil comes in different variations. Light sesame oil, made from raw sesame seeds, has a mild flavor, can be used interchangeably with canola or vegetable oil, and can withstand the high heat of frying. Toasted sesame oil, extracted from toasted seeds, has a nuttier flavor but a lower smoke point. The darker the oil, the more flavorful it is.

Soybean Oil

A versatile oil with a high smoke point, soybean oil has a neutral taste and can be used for everything from salad dressings to deep frying. Soybean oil, a polyunsaturated fat, is rich in vitamins E and phytosterols. People allergic to soy should be careful with cold-pressed varieties of soybean oil. In highly refined soybean oil, however, the protein allergens have been removed and research suggests it does not prompt an allergic response.

Sunflower Oil

A mild oil with little taste, refined sunflower oil can be used for high-heat cooking, but unrefined oil should only be used in no-heat recipes. Look for high-oleic sunflower oil, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. If you are following a low-cholesterol diet, you'll want to avoid high stearic/high oleic varieties of sunflower oil such as the brand Nutrisun. This blend contains stearic acid, which is saturated fat.

Vegetable Oil Blends

Oils labeled simply as vegetable oil are different types of oils blended to improve the properties of the individual oils, raise the smoke point, and increase shelf-stability. Highly processed, the health benefits of vegetable oil blends depending on the type of oils used. Check the ingredients list to confirm only healthy oils are in the blend.

Oils to Avoid

Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature, which means they can enhance the formation of fatty deposits in blood vessels. Butter, shortening, lard, hard-stick margarine all have high levels of saturated fat and should be avoided or used sparingly in a low-cholesterol diet.

Hydrogenated oils are processed for the sole purpose of prolonging shelf life. Hydrogenation involves adding hydrogen atoms to chemical bonds that make up the structure of the oil. As the level of hydrogenation increases, so do the viscosity and concentration of saturated fats. Hydrogenation also creates harmful trans-fats, which can raise unhealthy LDL and lower healthy HDL. Vegetable shortening is a prime example.

Tropical oils. Although refined coconut oil has grown in popularity due to its neutral taste and relatively high smoke point (450 degrees F), it is 87% saturated fat and especially potent in its ability to raise LDL levels.

Palm oil may be slightly better with 50% saturated fat but should be considered a no-no for those on a low-cholesterol diet. That goes double for palm kernel oil which teeters near the 85% saturated fat threshold.

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