February is American Heart Month, so today’s Alternative Eats is focused on the best cooking oils for happy hearts! Consuming too many fats has been shown to increase your risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. So being mindful and being healthful go hand in hand--not just this month, but every day and with every meal. Not all fats are bad, however, so it’s especially important to understand the difference.
To break it down, there are several categories of fats. Saturated fats are the bad guys, known to raise cholesterol levels and clog arteries, and should be consumed sparingly. Trans fats, like those found in many processed foods, are more of a health concern than ever before and have also been associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, unsaturated fats are considered heart-friendly, as they help lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and potentially raise the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol. Not to say that you should replace all “bad fats” with “good fats”; instead, learn how to make healthier choices and replace less-healthy fats with better ones when you can.
Below, we’ve found 7 healthier cooking oil options for you to enjoy more heart-healthy meals. Try using them with your favorite recipes, in place of butter, shortening, or other types of fats.
7 Healthier Cooking Oils
- Olive Oil: High in antioxidants and shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet. Use olive oil when cooking, marinating chicken or fish, or as part of a simple salad dressing. Drizzle it over pasta as a substitute for butter, or use it in place of mayonnaise when preparing tuna.
- Coconut Oil: Also classified as a “superfood”, coconut oil is trending right now as an alternative to butter for cooking. A solid fat at room temperature, coconut oil is extremely versatile and can be used for almost anything, from sautéing veggies to cooking eggs. While it is cholesterol-free, it is still a saturated fat and should be limited in the diet. It has a wonderful natural flavor, but a little goes a long way, so use it sparingly. (And it’s not just great in the kitchen: Check out some of our favorite beauty uses for coconut oil!)
- Grape Seed Oil: High in omega-6 and antioxidants, grape seed oil can be used in cooking the same way that you would use olive oil. Because it has such a neutral taste, grape seed oil pairs well with other more prominent flavors, such as balsamic vinegar, garlic, and basil. Mix grape seed oil with your favorite balsamic vinegar to make a light and delicious salad dressing.
- Sesame Oil: Aside from providing key antioxidants, studies have also shown that sesame oil may also help to lower blood pressure. Because it stands up well to high heat, sesame oil works especially great for sautéing and frying. It has a more prominent flavor than other oils, so try using it in sauces and dressings.
- Avocado Oil: Just like the fruit it comes from, avocado oil has a nutty, buttery taste. Its health benefits are similar to those of olive oil, except it contains even more monounsaturated fatty acids. A downside: It can be pricier than other oils, so be sure to refrigerate avocado oil to retain its rich flavor.
- Macadamia Nut Oil: Though native to Australia, macadamia nut oil is becoming more widely available. Its healthy fat content is similar to olive oil, and it also has a significant amount of magnesium which is essential for your body’s bones, nerves, and energy production. Macadamia oil has a shelf life of about 2 years — even after opening — so no need to worry about it going to waste. Try using it in your favorite (healthier) baked goods to play up its nutty, sweet flavor.
- Walnut Oil: Rich in omega-3, omega-6, and B vitamins, walnut oil is another tasty oil to have in your kitchen. It can take on a bitter taste when exposed to heat, so use it in dressings or add it to already cooked fish or chicken to take advantage of its rich, nutty taste, along with its health benefits. Opened walnut oil will not last as long as other oils, so be sure to store in a cool, dark place, and use within 6-12 months of opening.
Looking for an Honest take on avocado toast? Check out our version of the healthy, go-to snack below!
Anytime Avocado Toast
2 medium avocados
4 slices whole grain bread
Toast bread. Slice avocado and divide amongst bread slices. Lightly mash with a fork. Sprinkle crumbled feta on top of avocado, and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy at breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
What are your favorite healthy oils to keep on hand? Let us know in the comments below.