Heart Healthy Oils - Sunflower, Canola, or Olive?

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

Deciding which oils are the best if you are trying to promote heart health can be confusing. I want to share another question someone recently submitted.


I know saturated fats like butter and lard (hard fats) are not great for cholesterol. Also not hydrolyzed (trans fats) like margarine are not good either. Unsaturated fats are good like fish oil (soft fats).

Where do sunflower and canola oil fall? Are they unsaturated (soft fats)? Olive oil I assume is good fat.


First, some basics: Oils are a blend of saturated and unsaturated fats. There are two types of unsaturated fat - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Olive oil is my first choice for meal preparation. Olive oil is considered a monounsaturated fat. It's comprised of 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon making it 14% saturated fat, 78% monounsaturated fat, and 8% polyunsaturated fat. When purchasing olive oil select "extra-virgin" and "virgin" olive oils, the least processed forms. The terms 'light' or 'lite' on an olive oil label is referring to the flavor.

Canola oil is my second choice oil even though it contains less saturated fat at 1 gram of saturated fat per tablespoon. The breakdown of fat for canola oil is 7% saturated, 62% monounsaturated, and 31% polyunsaturated.

Sunflower is not an oil I use unless a restaurant I dine at is using it during preparation. Sunflower oil is comprised of 11% saturated, 20% monounsaturated, and 69% polyunsaturated fat.

Just as an FYI, coconut oil is ~90% saturated, 6% monounsaturated, and 2% polyunsaturated. Sharing since there's been a lot of debate recently on the health benefits of coconut oil.

Your solid fats, such as butter, have a saturated fat content of ~70%, which lard is 43% saturated.

Now, just because I select olive oil over canola oil doesn't mean you have to. Either are good heart healthy choices.

Be sure to sign up for the free ecourse How to Lower Cholesterol in 8 Simple Steps at http://lowercholesterolwithlisa.com.

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.