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UK dietitian offers insight into healthy-fat discussion

Olive oil is poured over vegetables.

/ by Siddhi Shroff, a registered dietitian at the UK Markey Cancer Center

Although eating too much fat can lead to weight gain and health issues, a moderate amount of fat is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Adding a little fat to your food — through ingredients like cooking oil — can help fill you up, become the body’s source of energy once carbohydrates are used up and help with absorption of several fat-soluble vitamins.

Recently, one of the most popular sources of added fat — coconut oil — has come under fire. Coconut oil was marketed as healthy despite evidence to the contrary, but recent high-profile recommendations from the American Heart Association have advised limiting its use.

Are you confused about which oils might benefit you most in the kitchen? Here’s a quick rundown of which types of cooking oils you should avoid, and which ones you should definitely try.

Target oils low in saturated fats

Limit your use of saturated or “solid fats” – oils that are solid at room temperature. They include coconut oil, butter, palm oil, beef tallow, lard and more. Because saturated fat contributes to increased levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, the AHA recommends that saturated fat should make up less than 10 percent of total caloric intake for healthy Americans, and no more than 6 percent for those who need to lower cholesterol levels.

Luckily, there are a variety of common cooking oils that are low in saturated fat and offer other health benefits:

  • Canola oil: It’s the lowest in saturated fat (7 percent). It also contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, which lower LDL, and in recent years has been studied in relation to helping control blood glucose. This oil is great for stir-frying, grilling and replacing many solid fats in recipes.
  • Olive oil: A mainstay of the popular Mediterranean diet, it’s associated with many health benefits, including lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and a reduction of inflammation in the body. Extra-virgin and virgin olive oils are better for uncooked dishes, like salads, while refined olive oils will stand up better to higher-heat uses.
  • Peanut oil: It’s high in monounsaturated (good) fat and contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps maintain a strong immune system and healthy skin and eyes. With its high smoke point, this oil is ideal for frying, roasting and grilling.
  • Avocado oil: This oil is also high in monounsaturated fats, can be good for cholesterol levels and contains vitamin E, which also helps with the formation of red blood cells. It has a mild flavor, which makes it great for salad dressing and garnishes, and it also has a high smoke point, which means it’s useful for high-heat cooking as well. Canola oil is more budget-friendly if avocado oil is too expensive or difficult to find.

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