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Rating the Cooking Fats

Choose the healthiest (and tastiest) oils, spreads, and shortenings
(continued)

Types of Fatty Acids continued...

Monounsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature. Many experts urge us to make oils high in monounsaturated fat our first choice for cooking.

  • What they do in your body: Especially if they replace saturated or trans fats in the diet, monounsaturated fats reduce "bad" cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. They may also increase "good" cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity (when you also eat fewer carbohydrates).
  • Bottom line: They are the smart fats! Choose cooking and table fats that contain more of these fatty acids and fewer saturated and trans fats. Aim to get 10% to 20% of your total calories from these fats. (With a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, 15% of calories computes to 33 grams of monounsaturated fat per day.)
  • Where to get them: They're found in olive oil (78% monounsaturated fat and 14% saturated fat), canola oil (62% monounsaturated fat and 6% saturated fat), peanut oil (48% monounsaturated fat), hazelnut oil (82% monounsaturated fat), almond oil (73% monounsaturated fat), avocados, and some nuts, such as almonds.

Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two main families: omega-3s and omega-6s. Each of these includes a fatty acid essential to health.

1. Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid, found in plants, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), found in fish.

  • What they do in your body: Omega-3s, especially those found in fish, may help decrease blood clotting, decrease abnormal heart rhythms, reduce triglycerides (a type of fat molecule in the blood), and promote normal blood pressure. Your body can convert a small amount of the plant omega-3s you eat into the type of omega-3s found in fish. There's also evidence that plant omega-3s lower the risk of heart disease in their own right. To reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, some researchers suggest getting more omega-3 fats and fewer omega-6s. Scientists are studying whether omega 3 fatty acids may help lower cancer risk.
  • Bottom line: These are the good guys, folks! Choose cooking and table fats that will increase your intake of omega-3s.

2. Omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid, the major omega-6 found in food.

  • What they do in your body: Studies show that omega-6s can reduce both total cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol when they replace saturated fat in the diet. But too much may cause health problems. Omega-6s may slightly decrease "good" cholesterol levels, compared with monounsaturated fats. And they can spur the production of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that can lead to inflammation and damaged blood vessels. Further, excessive omega-6s can interfere with your body's conversion of plant omega-3s to the more powerful type of omega-3s usually found in fish.
  • Bottom line: These are better fats than the saturated or trans fats, and some are essential to the body. They can also lower heart disease risk when they replace saturated or trans fats in your diet. But eating excessive amounts is not a good idea.
Next Article:

Cholesterol Glossary

  • Dietary fiber - The parts of plants that your body can't digest. If eaten regularly, fiber such as oats, pectin, and psyllium reduces serum and LDL cholesterol.
  • HDL Cholesterol - The "good" cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol helps your body remove "bad" cholesterol from your arteries.
  • LDL Cholesterol - The "bad" cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol tends to be deposited in artery walls.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - A good-for-you polyunsaturated fat found in some fish and vegetables (salmon, flax seed, soybean, English walnuts, and canola oil).
  • Plant sterols - Found in plant foods, isolated from soybean and tall pine tree oils, they lower LDL "bad" cholesterol levels.

Which foods do you favor?