While cooking oil of course contributes to the taste and texture of your dishes, it also works behind the scenes to either up or take away from the nutritional benefits of your meal. Many types of heart-healthy cooking oils you'll find lining the shelves of your local grocery store are considered anti-inflammatory because regular consumption of them has been scientifically linked to helping prevent chronic inflammation, which can manifest into chronic diseases and cognitive decline, among other health woes.
But not all oils are nutritionally beneficial. Some oils do the exact opposite, actually contributing to inflammation in the body. Confusing, right? Here, registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD, explains why not all cooking oils are considered equal. Plus, see her list of anti-inflammatory oils so you know exactly which ones work to support the body.
Why do some cooking oils cause inflammation?
According to Rifkin, one reason why some cooking oils are linked to causing inflammation is because they are high in saturated fats—and no, that's not the healthy type of fats we love avocados for. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to raising LDL cholesterol and up the risk for heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the U.S. It's why the American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat intake to under 5 percent of your overall diet.
These types of fats are primarily found in meat products, but Rifkin says there are a couple types of cooking oils that are particularly high in them. "Coconut oil and palm oil are both high in saturated fats," she says. Surprised about coconut oil? Years ago, this type of oil was uber popular in the wellness world, thought to be full of nutritional benefits. But according to scientific studies, it's...well, not the greatest. The best way to use this particular oil? Stick to using it as a beauty product and in moderation in the kitchen. While it may give good flavor to certain dishes, using it as your go-to isn't great for your heart.
As for palm oil, Rifkin says the main place you'll see this oil pop up is in processed foods. In addition to being high in saturated fat, palm oil is also notoriously known for contributing to deforestation. So that's two reasons to minimize your use.
Okay, so coconut oil and palm oil should both be used in moderation. But what cooking oils can actually work in your benefit? Fortunately, the list is a heck of a lot longer than two.
6 anti-inflammatory cooking oils
1. Olive oil
Olive oil is the primary cooking oil in the Mediterranean and Rifkin says there are absolutely benefits to this. "Olive oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health," she says. Besides being full of these beneficial fats, it's also a good source of antioxidants. Both of these reasons are why it's been linked in countless scientific studies to reducing inflammation. "Olive oil makes a great everyday cooking oil because it actually has a high smoke point, which not everyone realizes," Rifkin says.
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of olive oil:
2. Avocado oil
You probably already know how nutrient-rich avocados are. Rifkin says much of the fruit's nutrients can be found in avocado oil too. "Similar to olive oil, avocado oil is high in unsaturated fats, linked to lowering inflammation," she says.
3. Canola oil
Canola oil is one of the most common cooking oils in the U.S. and even though healthy eaters often give it the side-eye, scientific studies and medical experts at Harvard Health point to canola oil being healthy because, like the other oils on this list, it's a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants. However, Rifkin says this one isn't *as* beneficial as the others for preventing inflammation because much of its antioxidants are lost when it's being processed. For this reason, cold-pressed canola oil is more anti-inflammatory than regular canola oil, which is processed using heat. "While canola itself isn't inherently unhealthy, it's often used in many over-processed foods that are," Rifkin also points out.
4. Walnut oil
Scientific studies have found that consuming walnut oil regularly not only helps lower inflammation (Rifkin credits those healthy fats once again as to why), it's also shown to keep blood sugar levels steady. It's not surprising how nutrient-rich this oil is considering the nut itself is especially good for heart health.
5. Flaxseed oil
By now, you can probably guess why flaxseed oil makes the list of anti-inflammatory oils. Yep, it's also high in omega-3s. "Flaxseed oil, fibers, and flax lignans have potential health benefits such as in reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and autoimmune and neurological disorders," an article published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
6. Pumpkin seed oil
Scientific studies have also linked regular consumption of pumpkin seed oil to lowering inflammation because it too is high in unsaturated fats and antioxidants. It's also been linked to helping prevent type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer.
Cooking with an anti-inflammatory oil is the perfect way to start your meal off with health benefits before you even incorporate any food and, as you can see, there's no shortage of ones to choose from. Different oils work best for different dishes since they have different flavor profiles and burning points. Experimenting is the fun part anyway! Play around with the oils on this list and you'll soon discover your new favorites. Your meals and your body with both benefit.
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