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Cholesterol and Cooking: Fats and Oils

For low-cholesterol cooking, use the right fats in the right amounts.

Fats and Oils: Take the Good With the Bad

The fats used in cooking typically contain a mixture of "good" and "bad" fats.  Fats and oils are deemed beneficial or not by how much saturated and unsaturated fat they supply.  For example, olive oil is considered good, although it has some saturated fat, and butter is thought to be bad, even though it contains some unsaturated fat. 

Just because a fat or oil is better for you doesn't mean you can eat as much as you want and still lower your cholesterol, however. Overdoing it on fats and oils rich in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, contributes to your saturated fat intake, too. And, there are calories to consider.

"Oils have just as many calories as butter and stick margarine, so it is important to be mindful of how much you add in food preparation," says Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.  Unnecessary calories can make people overweight, another risk factor for heart disease.

Fats and Oils to Have on Hand

So what fats and oils should you buy for low-cholesterol cooking?

"Stock your cupboard with all-purpose oils rich in unsaturated fat that can stand high cooking temperatures, such as vegetable, safflower, and canola oils," says Jackie Newgent, RD, culinary nutritionist and the author of Big Green Cookbook.

Vegetable oils are the least expensive and the most versatile. For variety, Newgent recommends avocado, almond, and grapeseed oils.

And what about olive oil?

"You can cook with olive oil, but avoid exposing extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and nut oils, such as walnut, to high heat, because they will burn," Krieger says.  These oils are best suited to drizzling on cooked vegetables and salads."

With the exception of palm and coconut, oils are nutrition experts' preferred choice for cooking and flavoring foods. But you don't need to give up butter or margarine in the name of heart health.  Just limit their intake, and choose soft spreads more often.

Low Cholesterol: Get Cooking!

Bissex advises several approaches to low-cholesterol cooking:

  • Use less fat and oil in recipes. Reduce the amount of stick margarine called for in a quick bread recipe, for example.
  • Substitute healthier options for all the fat a recipe calls for, such as swapping canola oil for shortening.
  • Choose healthier options and use less, such as using 1/4 cup olive oil instead of 1/2 cup butter.

Newgent notes that you can also swap out some fat in favor of a fat-free alternative. For example, applesauce or fat-free sour cream can replace part of the fat called for in recipes for pancakes and muffins.

Whatever method you choose, the result is the same:  less saturated and trans fat in your foods.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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