When it comes to cooking heart-healthy meals, there is one important food group that you should take a closer look at that can make all the difference in how heart-healthy your meal is before the food even hits the frying pan: cooking oils.
While some cooking oils are better for your health than others, even the ones that are considered most healthy can create compounds that are harmful to your health when used incorrectly.
If it sounds confusing, don’t worry. We want to help demystify this topic and give you understanding and confidence when you head into your kitchen to cook up your next healthy meal.
The Top 3 healthy cooking oils and why they are healthy
The healthiest cooking oils are sesame oil, avocado oil, and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). What makes these oils healthier than many other options is based on a few factors.
One is their monounsaturated fat content, which are healthy fats that help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL).
Another factor is that they all are minimally processed which means they have retained much more nutrient content than oils that are heavily refined.
Sesame oil, used in much Asian cuisine, has a smooth, nutty flavor. It contains both omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids and is high in antioxidants.
Avocado oil comes from avocado fruits and is fairly neutral in flavor. It is especially rich in heart-healthy oleic acids which are monounsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), the most versatile of all healthy cooking oils, is extracted from olives. It contains oleic acid which raises good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol. EVOO is loaded with vitamins E and K, and provides many other health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is far better than regular olive oil because the extraction process retains all of the nutrients from the olives. EVOO is the highest quality olive oil and has the most health benefits in one oil compared to other cooking oils on the market.
The type of oil you use matters.
To get the most out of your cooking oils and reap their full health benefits, you need to understand their smoke points. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil breaks down and oxidizes into unhealthy compounds and releases free radicals, known as oleins. These compounds can contribute to cellular damage, cancer, and other disease developments.
When you see oil start to smoke in the pan, it has hit its smoke point and is no longer beneficial for you. The best thing to do is to throw out the oil and start over.
● Avocado oil has the highest smoke point of all three, at 520°F, which makes it best for high-temperature cooking like stir-frying, searing, and grilling.
● Sesame oil is slightly lower, with a smoke point of 410°F. Sesame oil works great for general cooking, sautéing, or roasting vegetables
● EVOO has the lowest smoke point, 350°F. EVOO is very versatile and is great for baking, mild sautéing, or cold sauces and dressings.
Knowing these smoke points can help you determine which cooking oil to use when preparing heart-healthy foods so you and your family can reap the most health benefits from your meals.