Oil is a versatile culinary ingredient commonly used in baking, frying, and sautéing. Oils can also be used for salads and dips when infused with different aromatics such as herbs and garlic. Oils are considered to be fats and are an essential part of a healthy diet. Since it is at the tip of the food pyramid, care should be taken to limit the amount of fats consumed daily.
Oil is used in cooking and people consume additional amounts of fat from cooking oil aside from fats naturally found in food. Fat in the diet is essential but consuming high amounts can actually lead to heart problems. There are different types of fat in cooking oils depending on the source and it is important not only to use the best cooking oil but also to consume the right amounts in order to prevent harmful effects on the health.
Despite the well-known fact that saturated fats can lead to cholesterol buildup in the blood, this type of fat is actually essential for the body in small amounts. Saturated fats come mainly from animal fats and remain solid when kept at room temperature. Cooking oils that are high in saturated fat include coconut oil, palm kernel, and palm oil.
There are studies that suggest that adequate intake of saturated fats from palm oil can help raise HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol in the body, reducing the risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fat also supports healthier bones by supporting calcium absorption. This type of fat also protects different organs in the body including the liver, heart, and lungs and promotes a healthier immune system. According to the American Heart Association, daily intake of saturated fat should not exceed 7% of one’s total calories for the day. Although cooking oils like palm oil, coconut oil, and other tropical oils are considered vegetable oils, these still contain high amounts of saturated fats which can still be bad for the health.
Unsaturated fats can be polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. These two types of unsaturated fats remain liquid at room temperature and are usually found in fish, seeds, nuts, and plant oils. Cooking oils that contain unsaturated fats include olive oil, corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, gingelly oil (commonly known as sesame oil), and safflower oil.
The use of unsaturated fats can be of benefit for those who are at risk of developing heart disease. Unsaturated fats help lower cholesterol levels in the blood, specifically the LDL or bad cholesterol. LDL cholesterol does not only increase one’s chances of developing heart disease but can also lead to stroke and heart attack. Intake of unsaturated fats should be about 25-35% of daily total calories. Oils with unsaturated fats make the best cooking oil.
Trans fat are different from saturated and unsaturated fats because these are not essential to the diet. Trans fats can actually have a negative impact on the health and can lead to coronary artery disease. Trans fats are naturally found in small amounts in beef, pork, milk and butter. It is also present in hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Hydrogenated fats or trans fat can cause an increase in one’s total blood cholesterol. It can also raise the LDL or bad cholesterol while decreasing the HDL or good cholesterol, factors that predispose an individual to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that intake of trans fat should not exceed 1% of total calories for the day.
Making Choices for a Healthier Heart
There is no doubt that what you eat affects your health. Oils are needed by the body to function well but it is equally important to keep to the recommended amount. Cooking oils with unsaturated fats are best to use while those with saturated fats like palm oil may also be beneficial. Trans fats should be avoided as much as possible to prevent cholesterol from building up in the blood which can lead to heart complications later on. Fatty foods should be limited in general as these do not only cause unhealthy weight gain but can also affect vital organs in the body such as the heart and liver. What you eat can affect your cholesterol levels but don’t forget that exercise can help a lot especially when increasing HDL in the blood.