Dear Dr. Wendy,
I am very confused about what kind of oils I should be using. I have been reading that coconut oil should not be used because it is a saturated fat and could cause heart problems. My doctor recommends canola oil, but I have heard that it isn’t great for you. What kind of fats and oils should I be using?
— Betty G., 62
There is so much conflicting information out there, that I am not surprised by your confusion. We have been told that saturated fat is the “bad fat” that causes high cholesterol and heart disease. We are also told that vegetable oils are the “healthy fats” which prevent disease. Neither of these statements is completely true.
There are actually three families of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Trans fats are chemically created fats like margarine and “buttery” spreads and should never be consumed. Monounsaturated fats are those predominant in olive oil, nuts, nut oils (macadamia) and avocado. The health benefits of these have been well documented, and it is the primary fat consumed in the Mediterranean diet. These oils are best used cold or heated at very low temperatures.
Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are primarily found in animal foods like meat, cheese, butter and eggs. Palm oil and coconut oil are also saturated fats. Organic, virgin forms are best for coconut, and pasture-raised is the best form of animal fat. Saturated fats are very stable and able to be heated to high temperatures.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) can be separated into omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in walnuts, flaxseed, fish and grass-fed meats. The best forms of these fats are organic, extra virgin and cold pressed. Healthy forms of omega-6 fatty acid are walnuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and sesame seeds. Unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. They are found in vegetable oils (canola, corn, soy, safflower, etc.). These oils are usually very inexpensive but highly processed and easily oxidized by heat, light and air. Oxidation promotes free radicals — chemicals that are highly reactive and have the potential to damage cells.
Dietary fat is essential for health and wellbeing. The key is to consume healthy fats and avoid toxic fats. Healthy fats include coconut oil and animal fats from grass-fed and organic sources. Other healthy fats are in avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, and nuts and seeds and their butter.
Toxic fats are margarine, shortening and other man-made oils. Other toxic fats include canola, corn, vegetable, soybean, cottonseed, safflower and other oils that are highly processed and oxidize easily.
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**This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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Dr. Wendy Cunningham is a doctor of chiropractic, certified acupuncturist, and has her master’s degree in nutrition.