Unsaturated Fats:
The Benefits of Healthy Cooking Oils

healthy saturated fat

Unsaturated fats are known for their heart-healthy benefits and are becoming ever more popular with those looking to improve their health. Unsaturated fats come in two forms: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Both of these fats are very heart-healthy if used correctly, especially the polyunsaturated fats with their omega 3 fatty acids. Healthy cooking oils can quickly become unhealthy if used improperly, however, so read on to be sure you are getting all you should from these healthy oils.

Monounsaturated Fats

Because of their molecular structure, monounsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, though turn solid when chilled. Like saturated fats, they are relatively stable and do not easily go rancid. The most common of the monounsaturated fats is oleic acid, the main part of olive oil, as well as being found in almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.

Monounsaturated fats both lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol and provide a number of other health benefits such as lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, aiding weight loss, especially reducing dangerous belly fat, lessening the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, and decreasing the risk for breast cancer. They also provide nutrients the body needs, such as vitamin E.

Polyunsaturated Fats

omega 3 salmon

The polyunsaturated fats found most frequently in the foods we eat are omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. Because the body is unable to make these, they are called “essential fatty acids” or EFAs, and we must get them from the foods we eat. These fats are liquid even when refrigerated.

Though we have been told that polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest for cooking, this is not true, as they are unstable and go rancid easily, omega 3 fatty acids in particular. Because of this, polyunsaturated oils should never be heated.

Polyunsaturated oils can be used for things such as salad dressing, where they are not heated. Be sure to choose an oil that says it is “unrefined” and comes in a dark bottle, as refined oils have been heated and thus are already rancid from processing.

Though we do need to consume some omega 6 oils, most people get far too much of it, as it is found abundantly in the western diet. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 oils should be at least 4 to 1, though the ratio most people actually consume is closer to 20 to 1!

Try to keep your consumption of polyunsaturated oils lower in comparison to your intake of foods and oils high in omega 3. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, soy, safflower, and canola are high in omega 6, so it's best to avoid these and instead choose olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, and organic butter for cooking purposes.

And though polyunsaturated oils in their unrefined state are healthy for you, when these oils are hydrogenated, they become dangerous trans-fats. These fats have been shown to lead to an increased risk of heart disease and are found in things like margarine and shortening.

omega 3 sardines

One way to prevent heart disease is to increase your intake of foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, the healthiest unsaturated fats. Studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids work by preventing the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. They lower triglycerides, increase "good" cholesterol, and reduce symptoms of depression, joint pain and skin problems, among other benefits. Omega 3 can be found in the largest quantities in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring, and in grass-fed beef, which has up to four times as much omega 3 as conventionally raised beef.

So be sure to include some unsaturated fats in your diet, in the form of nuts, seeds and healthy cooking oils. It's one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy!

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