Maybe you’ve seen “high oleic oil” in an ingredients list on a package of your food lately. But what exactly is it and is it healthy or unhealthy? Here are some quick facts about high oleic (canola, sunflower, corn) oil:
What is “high oleic” oil?
High oleic oil is any oil that is high in monounsaturated fats. Olive and canola oil are naturally high in monounsaturated fat, but they are also high in polyunsaturated fats which mean they are not very shelf-stable. In recent years, scientists have developed sunflower (and other) oils that are bred to be high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats so they can be used in products that need to be shelf-stable.
Why do food companies use high oleic oil?
In the past, food companies used hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to keep food shelf-stable and preserve flavor. When companies had to stop using trans fats, they switched to high oleic oils or palm kernel oil to make their food last longer for customers. These oils are often used in packaged baked goods (packaged cakes, cookies, etc), as spray coating for cereal, crackers and dried fruit; and in non-dairy creamers as well as many types of frying.
Is it healthy?
As far as we know, yes. High oleic oil is high in unsaturated fat, low in saturated fat, and has no trans fat. The large amount of monounsaturated fat in high oleic oil has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) without lowering HDL cholesterol (the good kind). When LDL cholesterol goes down, so do the risks of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
Should I buy foods made with high oleic oil?
Only packaged, processed foods will contain these oils. It’s best not to rely too heavily on these types of products anyway, and to focus on eating mostly whole foods. But if you’re going to buy packaged, processed food sometimes, then yes, look for the term “high oleic sunflower (or other) oil” in the ingredients list. This is a much better option, as far as we know, than trans (hydrogenated oil) and saturated fats.
What oil should I be using at home in my own cooking?
Extra virgin olive oil (for dressings and foods that won’t be cooked), canola oil (for cooking when you’ll be using high heat) and coconut oil (for baking, cooking and/or when you want a hint of coconut flavor) are the oils I’d recommend, and what I use in my own kitchen. Make sure to choose organic oils whenever possible in order to avoid GMOs and toxic persistent pesticides!