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Focus on Health

June 2019

Oils and Spreads: How to Make Heart-Healthy Choices

It is not just how much fat you eat that’s important, but also which kind. While you shouldn’t eat any fat in abundance, some are more nutritious than others.

Small bottles of oil lying on a table

Think of it as a name game. Oils, spreads, and other foods high in saturated fats, including cheese and butter, increase the levels of “bad” cholesterol in your blood, which can lead to heart disease. So can trans fatty acids, or trans fats. The FDA has banned these fats from being added to processed foods, such as margarine and commercially prepared baked goods. But food manufacturers still have some time before they must comply with this ruling. And keep in mind, these fats still occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.

In contrast, fats that have the word unsaturated in their name can help lower cholesterol when used in place of saturated and trans fats. These include spreads and oils such as olive oil that contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

For adults, fats should provide between 20% and 35% of total daily calories. Of this, saturated fats should provide less than 10% of daily calories—that’s about 20 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet.

Choosing cooking oils

Nontropical vegetable oils are the best to use when cooking and preparing food. You have a lot to choose from. Healthy oils include:

  • Canola

  • Olive

  • Corn

  • Sunflower

  • Safflower

  • Soybean

  • Peanut

  • Blends of these oils, often sold as “vegetable oil”

When shopping for oil, check the Nutrition Facts label: Choose those with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Make sure they’re free of trans fats and contain no partially hydrogenated oils.

Some specialty oils such as sesame, avocado, and grapeseed are also healthy choices but may be difficult to find and often cost more.

Don’t use tropical oils, including coconut oil. They are high in saturated fat. 

Butter vs. margarine

If you’re choosing between butter and margarine, soft margarine is the better option. Products vary, so check the Nutrition Facts label. Choose brands with fewer calories, less saturated fat, and no trans fat.

But the best choice is still nontropical vegetable oils. They’re healthier than solid fats and can usually be used just like them.

More fat tips

Here are some heart-healthy tips when using oils and spreads:

  • Use oils to grill, sauté, and roast foods.

  • Grease pans and baking dishes with oils and sprays made from oils.

  • Make salad dressings and sauces with your favorite unsaturated oils.

  • Use oils to replace butter, margarine, and other solid fats in recipes.  

  • Try different types of healthy oils. You may like some more than others. And because some oils are better suited for certain types of cooking, it’s a good idea to have more than one kind in your kitchen.

 

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Gonnella, Joseph, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/18/2018
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