Healthiest Cooking Oils for High Cholesterol

Man deciding between cooking oils in grocery store

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If searching for a cooking oil suitable for a low-cholesterol diet, don't assume that cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is your only option. While olive oil is well known for its heart-healthy benefits, there are others that are equally as good for you and maybe even more appropriate for certain foods or food preparations.

Beneficial Oils

The rule of thumb is simple: diets high in omega-3, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats can help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise your "good" HDL cholesterol. You will find these properties in avocado, canola, flaxseed, olive, peanut, sunflower, and walnut oils.

In addition to lowering LDL cholesterol, these healthy fats contain antioxidants that help to reduce inflammation and prevent the formation of arterial plaque.

It is important to note that omega-3 fats are considered an essential nutrient, meaning that you can only obtain them from the foods or supplements you consume. They are found in many types of food but most prominently in fish and seafood. Because they aren't synthesized by the body like other fats, you need to actively search them out in order to ensure you have ample quantities in your diet.

Best Oils for Different Cooking Uses

Olive oil is widely considered to be the healthiest of all oils, especially extra-virgin varieties that are not overly processed. However, despite having no cholesterol and plenty of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat help raise HDL levels, it does have its shortcomings.

Chief among them is a far lower smoking point (391 degrees F) compared to other healthy oils. This means that it will not only burn faster and leave a rancid taste but break down many of its beneficial properties.

Here is how other cooking oils compare:

  • Corn oil, which also is cholesterol-free, may seem an unlikely choice but is known to lower LDL nearly three times more than olive oil and remain stable at higher temperatures (440 degrees F). On the downside, it is associated with LDL oxidation that may increase arterial inflammation.
  • Avocado oil, another cholesterol-free option, has the highest smoking point (570 degrees F) of all of the healthy oils. While flavorful, its distinctive taste may not be suitable for every dish.
  • Canola oil, also known as rapeseed oil in Europe, is a more neutral-tasting option. Canola oil is also cholesterol-free and has a medium smoke point (400 degrees F).
  • Peanut oil is sometimes used for deep frying due to its high smoke point (450 degrees F). 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.

What this suggests is that the strategic use of oils—using some for sautéing and others for dressing salads—may help mitigate some of their less desirable properties.

Types of Oils to Avoid

Hydrogenated oils are those that are processed for the sole purpose of prolonging their shelf life. Unfortunately, the process creates harmful trans-fats, which can raise unhealthy LDL and lower healthy HDL. Vegetable shortening is one prime example.

As the name suggests, hydrogenation adds hydrogen atoms to chemical bonds that make up the structure of the oil. As the level of hydrogenation increases, so, too, does the viscosity and concentration of saturated fats. Saturated fats are those that solidify at higher temperatures and enhance the formation of fatty deposits in blood vessels.

These are the very properties that make palm and hydrogenated coconut oil inherently unhealthy. Although refined coconut oil has grown in popularity due to its neutral taste and relatively high smoke point (450 F), it is especially potent in its ability to raise LDL levels.

While palm oil may be slightly better with 50 percent saturated fat (compared to coconut oil's 87 percent), it still should be considered a no-no for those on a low-cholesterol diet. The double goes for palm kernel oil which also teeters near the 85 percent threshold.

Check the Nutrition Label

In addition to shopping for the right cooking oil, be sure to check the nutrition label of any packaged food you buy. Food manufacturers in the United States are required by law to list the amount and percentage of trans fat and saturated fat contained in their products.

Changing the Fat in Your Diet

The FDA has taken things one step further by entirely banning the use of hydrogenated oils and trans fats in restaurants. You can do the same with your own diet. While you don't want to cut out all dietary fats, you can make healthier choices in the fats you consume. Start by ensuring that the majority comes from healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fats.

To avoid unhealthy trans fats, limit your consumption of fried foods (such as French fries and fried chicken) and baked goods (such as doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and pastries).

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Article Sources

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