Are all polyunsaturated fats created equally “healthy”?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • It seems that the fat discussion, as in food oils, continues to trend amidst the recent FDA move to begin the process necessary to achieve an ultimate ban of trans fats in the marketplace.  A recent comment on the TV show, The Chew, a mostly entertaining cooking show, that also occasionally offers healthy cooking tips, challenged me.  One of the male hosts suggested that cooking with lard is “the healthier choice.”  It was said in the context of a discussion about not choosing to cook with trans fats, but to call lard “healthy” is a bit of a stretch – actually it’s a big stretch.  Yes, a saturated fat is better to cook with than trans fat, but, saturated fats like butter and lard should be used in small amounts, with consideration as to how often you are cooking with them.  Sure, they provide delicious taste and they are not as detrimental to health as trans fats, but a number of well-regarded health and nutrition experts consider saturated fats to be “artery-clogging” in nature and certainly not heart healthy.  There’s no need to ban them.  Just use them artfully amidst other “better-for-you” oil choices. …which takes us to the next point.

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    Pretty much everyone will concede that monounsaturated fats like olive oil, are good-for-you fats, though certainly caloric.   These oils are liquid at room temperature, not implicated in heart disease, and are in fact, credited with reducing LDL or bad cholesterol without affecting your HDL (good cholesterol) levels.  Extra virgin olive oil is an even better choice for lowering LDL levels. Avocadoes are another source of monounsaturated fats.



    Polyunsaturated fats are an interesting group of oils.  These oils have varying ratios of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated oils with significantly higher levels of omega 3 to omega 6 (like canola and soybean oils) are considered heart-supportive.  When there is a substantially higher presence of omega 6 fatty acids, like in corn, sunflower and safflower oils, there may be a lowering of HDL or good cholesterol, making these oils a less healthy choice for regular use.   A recent study suggests that the health claims currently associated with polyunsaturated oils that are higher in omega 6 should be “reconsidered and removed.”  Nuts and nut oils are also associated with a healthier impact on heart health.   And certain fortified margarines that contain plant stanols can also reduce LDL, if used according to recommendations (consumption of usually 2 grams of stanols daily needed). 



    So now let’s go back to the lard discussion.  Lard is essentially saturated fat.  Though the debate about the role of saturated fat in a healthy diet continues, the nature of saturated fat is artery clogging.  It is present in whole fat dairy products and meats and in products like lard, derived from these two food groups.  Yes, using small amounts selectively in a balanced diet is acceptable – but to call it healthy is frankly quite wrong.  And yes, it is better than transfat, but again, it is not an ingredient I would use irreverently.  If you do need to cook with oils, lean to the monounsaturated oils and the polyunsaturated oils that are higher in omega 3 fatty acids.  And learn more about monounsaturated fats, soybean oil and canola oil, so you understand how to use them in healthier recipes.  Save the lard and butter for very, very special dishes.


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    Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on local and national news and talk shows, and check out her website.  Follow my blogs.


Published On: November 14, 2013