Few topics create more confusion—and quite frankly controversy—than cooking oils. One myth that’s often mentioned is that eating oil harms the endothelium, which is the lining of your arteries. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
Eating oil doesn’t damage your arteries. The real danger is sugar, not fat. That’s because sugar spikes your insulin and high insulin can lead to inflammation of your arterial walls.
The right cooking oils, on the other hand, are important for heart health and are a key component of my Pan-Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) dietary recommendations. In fact, you want 30-35% of your diet to include heart-healthy fats.
So, what are the best cooking oils for your heart? Here’s my guide to which cooking oils to eat and which to avoid.
Is Olive Oil Good for You?
Not only is olive oil good for you, but it tops my list of heart-healthy foods. I call olive oil the “secret sauce” of the Mediterranean diet, contributing to the fact that people in the Mediterranean region have far fewer incidences of cardiovascular disease than those in other cultures.
Olive oil contains monosaturated fats and antioxidant polyphenols that help to protect against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, keeping it from hardening your arteries. Plus, it helps to support healthy blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In the landmark PrediMed trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that those eating olive oil had a 28-30% reduction in cardiovascular events compared to those eating a low-fat diet.
What is the Best Olive Oil for Your Heart?
I recommend eating extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) since it’s higher in antioxidant polyphenols than other oils. Light olive oils are also good to use in cooking, including sautéing, since you can heat it to 130o F. Cooking at higher temperatures can cause the olive oil to become more saturated.
Darker olive oils also support heart health but shouldn’t be heated. I recommend eating darker olive oils at room temperature, such as drizzled on a salad or vegetables.
With any olive oil you eat, make sure you’re selecting pure olive oil and not one that’s mixed with other oils. It’s also important to store olive oil in a dark glass container, away from light and heat, to keep it from oxidizing.
Avocado Oil vs. Olive Oil: Which One is Healthier?
When I mention olive oil, many people ask me about avocado oil. I’ve long recommended eating avocadoes for heart health and avocado oil, which comes from the fruit of the avocado tree, is a heart-healthy fat.
What are avocado oil’s health benefits? Avocadoes contain oleic acid, which is a monosaturated fat. It’s the same fatty acid found in olives and olive oil. So, avocado oil gives you many of the same benefits as olive oil. Eating avocado oil helps to raise your levels of large, “fluffy” LDL cholesterol. Plus, it helps to boost HDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
How Do You Cook with Avocado Oil?
Avocado oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so you can use it in medium-to-high temperature cooking, up to 449o F. Once opened, avocado oil will stay good for six months. Be sure to store it in a cool, dry place just as you would olive oil.
Is Coconut Oil Heart-Healthy?
People often assume coconut oil is not heart-healthy because it contains saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol. This is true! But it’s only a fraction of the real story.
Coconut oil raises HDL cholesterol, which is the “good” cholesterol that helps to clear oxidized LDL cholesterol from your arteries. Keeping your arteries clear is important for healthy blood flow.
Plus, coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol, which is often called the “bad” cholesterol. Yet, what it raises are the large “fluffy” LDL cholesterol particles that your body needs for a healthy immune system, brain function, and more. In fact, not having enough of this type of LDL cholesterol is harmful to your health.
Finally, coconut oil helps to reduce inflammation. This is important since inflammation, not cholesterol, is the real cause of heart disease.
What Is the Best Way to Cook with Coconut Oil?
You can use coconut in any recipe that calls for oil, as well as any baking recipe that calls for butter. Just be careful to not heat coconut oil to the point that it smokes, since it can produce toxic byproducts if it’s overheated.
What Are the Worst Oils to Eat?
Partially hydrogenated oils—including sunflower, peanut, corn, and canola oils—oxidize rapidly when they’re heated. So, they have a pro-inflammatory effect on the body, which means they can contribute to inflammation and heart disease.
You also want to avoid foods with trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. These are typically found in foods like margarine, packaged baked goods, commercial salad dressings, fried foods, and more. The problem is that they can raise your levels of small inflammatory LDL particles that can put you at risk of heart disease.
One More Oil Your Heart Needs
In addition to eating heart-healthy oils, you also want to make sure you’re getting omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) in your diet. These fats are called “essential” since your body can’t produce them, so it’s vital to get them in foods and supplements.
Omega-3s help to promote a normal inflammatory response in your body, which is important for heart health. Plus, these important fats help your blood to clot as it should be supporting the healthy functioning of your platelets. Omega-3s also help to enhance your body’s production of nitric oxide, which is the chemical that allows your blood vessels to relax as they should, supporting healthy blood pressure.
There are two types of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While your body needs both, it especially needs DHA for heart and circulatory support, as well as healthy blood pressure. Plus, DHA is vital for a healthy brain and vision.
Good sources of omega-3s include DHA-fortified eggs, sardines, and wild-caught salmon. I also recommend taking a good omega-3 supplement. I recommend looking for one that’s rich in DHA omega-3s.