Most cooking oils look alike, but they aren't alike in the way they affect your health. Some oils are better for you than others. A few can actually help protect you against heart disease.
Lard, butter, and other shortenings are the cooking agents to avoid. They are high in saturated fats, which increase blood cholesterol and lead to clogged arteries. Most saturated fats come from animal products, but some are vegetable. Coconut and palm-kernel oils, for example, are high in saturated fats, and though they are little used for cooking, they are found in many processed foods, from cereals to candy bars to some microwave popcorns. Avoid them when possible.
Polyunsaturated oils are a step in the right direction. These include corn, cottonseed, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower oils, which contain no cholesterol. Polyunsaturated oils actually help reduce blood cholesterol levels. But polyunsaturates' effects aren't all beneficial: they reduce bot"good"bad" cholesterol.
For a healthy heart your body needs less low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and more high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. By lowering both, you're not gaining much.
Fortunately, another group of oils seems to be just what the doctor ordered. The monounsaturates in avocado, olive, peanut, and canola oils reduce the LDL but do not affect the HDL. This increases the important HDL- to total-cholesterol- ratio and helps keep arteries from clogging.
Studies have shown that people who eat more monounsaturates have lower levels of bad cholesterol than those who simply eat a low-fat diet.
Does this mean you should throw out your corn oil and sunflower oil and use only monounsaturates? Not entirely. Researchers say a certain amount of the essential fatty acid in polyunsaturates is necessary for the body's system. You can help your heart by reducing your use of polyunsaturates and increasing your consumption of monounsaturated oils.
One of the best and newest monounsaturates is canola oil, which, at 6 percent saturated fat, is the lowest in saturated fats of all of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Canola oil can be used on salads and for cooking.
Avocado oil has a delicate essence of avocado flavor and makes delicious mayonnaise or salad dressing. Because of its high smoke point, avocado oil is excellent for cooking.
Peanut oil has a nutty richness that adds flavor to Chinese stir-fry dishes.
Olive oil, a necessity in authentic Italian and Greek dishes, is good in salad dressing.
And what about those highly touted fish oils? Well, they are primarily polyunsaturates that contain the fatty acid omega-3, especially effective for lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides. Cold ocean fish, particularly tuna, salmon, mackerel, and herring, have omega-3, as do cholesterol-rich shrimp and lobster (taken off the list of no-nos and declared desirable when eaten in moderation). Canola oil, soybeans, walnuts, walnut oil, and wheat germ are also sources of omega-3.
The following recipes contain all that is currently known to be good in cooking oils. You can eat them with added pleasure knowing you are doing something good for your heart.
Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce
(Makes 10-12 servings)
2 quarts water
2 cups dry white wine
1 small onion, vertically sliced
4 lemon slices
3 parsley sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt, if desired
1 (5-6 lb.) whole fresh or frozen
Alaska salmon, thawed if necessary
1 envelope unflavored gelatin