Best Cooking Oils for Your Heart

Baffled by row after row of cooking oils in the store? Our label guide will help you choose the most flavorful, healthful oils.

By Marsha McCulloch, M.S., R.D.


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Heart-Smart Oils
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Heart-Smart Oils

    Although many cookbook recipes simply call for "vegetable oil," there are important differences among oils, both in flavor and in health benefits. Calorie comparisons won't really help, as all cooking oils provide about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.

    Instead, check out our top heart-smart oil picks. We favored oils that:

    --are highest in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat
    --maximize flavor, quality, and nutrition
    --are priced reasonably
    --are readily available

    Read on for our top four picks and other oil tips.

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Top Cooking Oil Pick: Colavita

    Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil features a full-bodied and bold flavor. Extra virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of the best olives shortly after harvest. Cold-pressed means no heat or chemicals were used to extract the oil, which helps retain flavor and nutrients.

    Best uses: dipping, salad dressings, and lower-heat cooking

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Top Cooking Oil Pick: Loriva

    Loriva Safflower Oil has a mild, slightly nutty flavor. To help retain nutrients and flavor, Loriva oils are expeller pressed -- a mechanical process for extracting oil and an alternative to common chemical extraction. This "high-oleic" safflower oil is higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat than regular safflower oil, which has more polyunsaturated fat.

    Best uses: salad dressing, sauteing

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Top Cooking Oil Pick: Spectrum

    Spectrum Organic Canola Oil has a neutral flavor. The company uses gentle refining methods to get its "refined" label (refined oil can be heated to a higher temperature without smoking). Canola oil is high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an essential omega-3 fat.

    Best uses: salad dressing, sauteing

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Top Cooking Oil Pick: Napa Valley Naturals

    Napa Valley Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil features a medium-bodied flavor. Organic oils can help limit your exposure to pesticides, many of which are fat-soluble. Vitamin E is generally higher in unrefined oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, although it's not always listed on nutrition labels.

    Best uses: dipping, salad dressings, and lower-heat cooking

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Sorting Out Fats

    Cooking oils are a mixture of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Trans fats are created when oils are partially solidified (hydrogenated), such as in margarine or shortening. Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower total blood cholesterol when used in place of saturated fats or trans fats. Consider below how each type of fat generally affects cholesterol levels in the blood.

    Key: LDL = "bad" cholesterol; HDL = "good" cholesterol

    Monounsaturated Fat: Lowers total cholesterol, lowers LDL cholesterol, raises or maintains HDL cholesterol

    Polyunsaturated Fat: Lowers total cholesterol, lowers LDL cholesterol, may lower HDL cholesterol

    Saturated Fat: Raises total cholesterol, raises LDL cholesterol, may raise HDL cholesterol

    Trans Fat: Raises total cholesterol, raises LDL cholesterol, may lower HDL cholesterol

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10 Saturated Fat Swaps

    Instead of butter or margarine, use olive oil -- just remember it's still important to limit the amount. Here are 10 simple ways to get started:

    1. Lightly brush olive oil onto bread to make your favorite grilled sandwich.
    2. Stir olive oil and roasted garlic into mashed potatoes.
    3. Lightly toss steamed vegetables with olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper.
    4. Drizzle olive oil over broiled fish.
    5. Dip bread into a small dish of olive oil seasoned with pepper and oregano.
    6. Sprinkle olive oil over air-popped popcorn.
    7. Lightly brush olive oil over corn on the cob.
    8. Use olive oil in place of salty meats in a bean soup.
    9. Bake winter squash with olive oil, parsley, and garlic.
    10. Sprinkle olive oil over a baked potato and hold the sour cream.

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