What are the best cooking oils to reduce cholesterol?

Eat fat, lose weight, drop cholesterol! Seems nuts, right?

Fat comes in different types – you’ve likely heard of saturated, monounsaturdated, and polyunsaturated fats. All of these have different functions.  Fats help cell membranes work and they are not the enemy, or something to be avoided as we have been doing since the 70’s when the low-fat craze swept people into a fat-avoidance frenzy. Detailed research—much of it done at Harvard—shows that the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t really linked with weight or disease. What really matters is the type of fat and the total calories in the diet. We need saturated fat to give structure and stiffness to our cell membranes. We need unsaturated fats to give our cells their fluidity. Most people are not ingesting the right kind, and proper proportions, of fat for heart health.

I’ve gathered together a list below of fats to eat for heart health, and fats to avoid. I bet you these two lists will come as a surprise to you, because things have really changed over the years. Previously all saturated fat was “bad” and the less saturated fats were better for you. The reality is more nuanced.

Andrew Stoll, of Harvard university, suggests that more than 70,000 lives could be saved each year, in America alone, if people were consuming fish oil on a regular basis.

Fats to eat daily that support heart health and help reduce cholesterol:

In general for all of the oils below, you want to find the least heat processed oils you can. Look for “cold pressed” and extra virgin or organic oils whenever possible. Heat ruins the health benefits of oils. The less processed the better.

  1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids. A critical fat we most definitely need is a type of unsaturated fat called Omega 3s that comes primarily from fish. Andrew Stoll, of Harvard university, suggests that more than 70,000 lives could be saved each year, in America alone, if people were consuming fish oil on a regular basis. Personally I take 4000 mg of Omega 3’s a day. There is plenty of good coverage online about the multiple benefits of this fatty acid as well as great books written on this subject. I suggest that before you even read to the end of this blog, you stop what you are doing, and order some Omega 3’s right now – they are that beneficial for everyone. Jonny Bowden’s book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, suggests that the Ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3’s in our bodies should be somewhere between 1:1 and 1:4. The average person consuming a Western Diet get’s 25:1 of Omega 6:Omega 3’s in their diet. Yikes! We are way off balance. That’s far too much Omega 6, and we need to both lower our Omega 6’s, but more importantly, raise our Omega 3 intake. You can do this with a fish oil supplement as well as regular ingestion of fish at least 2x / week (salmon, mackerel, trout, etc.) alongside leafy greens, flax seeds or flax seed oils. When we don’t get enough Omega 3’s (that’s most people!) we raise the level of inflammation in our bodies, which is a huge danger that I speak more about below.
  2. Olive Oil: One of the few foods on the FDA’s “health claims” list. The monounsaturated olive oil has long been known to be a healthy part of the meditarranean diet which improves cholesterol levels and heart health. It’s on the Mayo Clinic’s list of the top 5 foods to reduce your cholesterol numbers. I put the recommended 2 Tbsp /day of Extra Virgin oil, on my daily salad or veg, and feel like I am doing my bit to lower my cholesterol naturally. Olive oil is not your best choice of oils to cook with – as it tends to degrade with heat.
  3. Macadamia Nut and Almond Oils: Both macadamia and almond oils have similar benefits to olive oil, in that they are healthy monounsaturated fats. I use both Macadamia nut oil and almond oil in salad dressings and for cooking, as they both have a high smoke point (the temperature at which an oil breaks down), so you can use both for frying. Macadamia nut oil contains the higher level of monounsaturated oil, which is the most heart-healthy oil available. Both are  rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6, which help regulate your cholesterol by lowering LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol.
  4. Avocado Fat/oil: I include avocados here, and I think this fat requires much more ingestion by people with high cholesterol!  I recently attended a patient evening for people who like me, are suffering from familiar hypercholesterolaemia, and I met several people actively avoiding the avocado. This is a shame as it is excellent for bad LDL reduction, and it also increases good HDL. I include 1/2 avocado in my morning green smoothie every day. The oil additionally has a high smoke point, which makes it fine to cook with.
  5. Coconut Butter / Oil: Coconut oil got a bad rap previously, however it has been largely misunderstood, and since the early 2000’s, it has increasingly been studied and recommended as part of a heart healthy diet. Dr. Joseph Mercola reports in this article from last year, that multiple studies on Pacific Island populations who get 30-60 percent of their total caloric intake from fully saturated coconut oil have all shown nearly non-existent rates of cardiovascular disease.  Coconut oil helps you increase your metabolism, lose weight, and improve your heart health. This is a great all rounder oil you can use for high heat cooking, or also for replacing butter on toast. I love the flavor of it, and it’s really one of the few oils that do not degrade with the high heat of cooking. Save the olive oil for your salad dressings.
  6. Grassfed Butter: While I don’t eat a lot of butter, small amounts of butter (grass-fed butter only please), is fine. It’s when we feed animals grains (cows, even farmed fish), that they become unhealthy for us. The old fashioned grass fed animal products, including butter, are relatively healthy. The Weston A. Price foundation says:

“Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose precipitously to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from eighteen pounds per person per year to four. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in statistics to conclude that butter is not a cause. Actually butter contains many nutrients that protect us from heart disease.”

Fats to avoid like the plague

  • Avoid trans fats. These are metabolic poison. They should be not be eaten in any quantities.  These are the fats added to most products that sit in the supermarket shelf, so they can have a longer shelf life. This means crackers, cookies, cakes, chips, fried foods, margarines, etc.  Trans fat raises your bad LDL and lowers your good HDL levels. Anything that says “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil on a label is to be avoided. In general, most packaged supermarket foods are to be avoided.
  • Avoid polyunsaturated fats including Safflower, Sunflower, Soybean, and Corn oils. These oils are highly refined and processed and have far too high a level of Omega 6’s in them . We have been fooled by marketing into believing that they are good for us (because they are “polyunsaturated” and not “that bad saturated fat”. Turns out we do need some Omega 6’s to function properly, as they do lower LDL cholesterol, however it’s the balance of Omega 3’s to Omega 6’s that is critical and we get far too many Omega 6’s in our diet. So do yourself a favor and avoid ingesting the polyunsaturated fats above. Not only do you ingest too many Omega 6’s, but they are terrible quality Omega 6’s due to the refining, processing, and bleaching of the oils. These raise inflammation levels in our bodies. Inflammation has recently been found to be “The Silent Killer” and strongly linked to heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
  • Avoid Canola oil. I know what you’re thinking. But, that’s a healthy oil! I thought so too, until my cholesterol diagnosis last year. Then the research began, and I realized that Canola oil is a rancid, foul oil after it’s processing, that then needs to be deodorized before selling it – yuck!!!  You can read more about it here, in this article called The Great Con-ola, if you’d like to know more. Just stop eating it, and switch to a healthier option above.

So, there you go. Get rid of your margarines and trans-fat spreads. Say goodbye to the corn oils, safflower oils, sunflower oils, polyunsaturated oils in general, and get back to natural, unprocessed fats. Buy some coconut oil, get some good quality extra virgin olive oil, some avocados and a bottle of macadamia nut oil, and simply avoid the cookie and biscuit aisle of the supermarket. Your cholesterol levels will drop for the better.