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Comparing Oils' Versatility, Health Benefits

Not all fat is created equal. As research evolved, a distinction between “good” and “bad” fats emerged. We need fat in the diet for growth and development, and some fat is necessary for absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as carotenoids, and vitamins A, D, E and K. Certain oils even contain healthy compounds (omega-3s) in and of themselves. 

Replacing artery-clogging saturated fats with oils higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats can be good for your heart. But of course, all oils are calorie dense, and as such should be used sparingly in order to avoid unhealthy weight gain.

Below we provide a round up of research on oils ranging from the common canola to the engineered Enova to the more exotic sesame. In addition to saturated fat content,we also highlight smoke point — the heat threshold at which oil begins to breakdown, spoiling taste and creating free radicals that can negate health benefits.


Oils Best For:
Avocado Oil (Avocados) 12% Sat Fat Like olive oil, avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fat. Ohio State researchers used avocado oil to demonstrate improved absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids in salad. Made from the pulp of avocadoes, which in one Japanese study, were among 22 other fruits that inhibited liver damage. Avocado oil’s relatively high smoke point (520° F) makes it ideal for high-heat cooking techniques such as grilling and sautéing.
Canola Oil (Seeds from the rapeseed plant family) 7% Sat Fat Marshall University researchers recently demonstrated in animal research that switching from corn to canola oil could slow the growth of human breast cancer tumors. Canola has a high smoke point (475° F) so is good for high-heat cooking methods such as grilling and sautéing.
Enova Oil (Synthetic blend) 4% Sat Fat Lowest in saturated fat of all the oils; higher smoke point (420° F) makes it an all-purpose oil. It even passed muster on taste tests with the discerning critics at Cooks’ IllustratedChicago researchers have demonstrated in human feeding studies that this new oil is metabolized differently than conventional oils and, as a consequence, might effect greater reductions in mean body weight and fat mass when substituted as part of a reduced-calorie diet.
Almond Oil (Almonds) 8% Sat Fat Loaded with vitamin E: Just one teaspoon (4.5g) provides 12% of daily needs. Almond oil also contains phytosterols, compounds that can reduce cholesterol levels. Topical application of almond oil has been shown to reduce UV damage – but don’t use almond oil intended for topical use in cooking! Smoke point is 420° F.
Olive Oil (Olives) 14% Sat Fat Relatively low in saturated fat and highest in monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is one of the mainstays of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Extra virgin olive oil (single cold press vs. multiple) retains more flavor but also has a correspondingly lower smoke point (375° F vs. 420° F for virgin olive oil). A recent review of research indicates that olive oil may also have anticancer and antimicrobial activities.
Coconut Oil (Coconut Meat) 87% Sat Fat Not generally considered healthy due to high saturated fat content. However, some research indicates the lower chain length of the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil may not be so harmful. This oil is highly resistant to becoming rancid due to its saturated fat content. Smoke point is 350° F.
Sesame Oil (Sesame Seeds) 14% Sat Fat Similar to olive oil in ratio of mono-, poly-, and saturated fat. High in phytosterols (39 mg/tsp) which can reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Indian lab research suggests sesame oil could help lower blood pressure. Smoke point is 350° F.
Walnut Oil (Walnuts) 9% Sat Fat Contains ALA omega-3 fatty acids but due to low-smoke point (320° F) is best used in dressings. This nut oil also contains phytosterols which can reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
Flaxseed Oil (Flaxseeds) 9% Sat Fat Salad dressings only, not for cooking. Contains the highest amounts of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, but this particular type of omega-3 breaks down upon exposure to heat (smoke point is 225° F). A recent, large, NCI study concluded there was no association between dietary intake and ALA and increased risk of prostate cancer.


Published April 1, 2008



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