5 cooking oils: What's healthy and what isn't

Starting this month, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) is subsidising wholesale oil suppliers to encourage them to sell a healthier cooking oil to food outlets.

Thus far, the most commonly used oil is palm oil. HPB wants to replace this "unhealthy" oil with a healthier oil by subsidising the difference between the cheaper palm oil and the slightly more expensive mix of canola and palm oil.

What makes an oil healthier or less healthy is the type of fat it contains, as well as the nutrients that can be found in it.

According to HPB, the unhealthy fats are transfat and saturated fat, both of which increase levels of unhealthy cholesterol. The healthy fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which lower levels of unhealthy cholesterol and can reduce chances of heart problems.

We take a look at three cooking oils that are known to be healthier options, and see how canola and palm oils compare against these healthy options based on the type of fat each oil contains.

Canola oil contains 31 per cent polyunsaturated fat, 62 per cent monounsaturated fat and 7 per cent saturated fat. This is probably the lowest amount of saturated fat out of all commonly used cooking oils. Canola oil does tend to be highly refined, meaning that while it does not have as many antioxidants as an oil like olive oil may have, it has a relatively long shelf-life.

Palm oil contains 38 per cent monounsaturated fat, 10 per cent polyunsaturated fat, 52 per cent saturated fat. This oil contains antioxidants including vitamins A and E. However, its high saturated fat content means that it could pose a threat to cardiovascular health and increase cholesterol levels.

Walnut oil contains 24 per cent monounsaturated fat, 67 per cent polyunsaturated fat, 9 per cent saturated fat. This oil tends to be more expensive, and has a rich, nutty flavour. It is rich in omega-3, a specific type of polyunsaturated fat, which is known to be good for the heart and have anti-inflammatory properties. A drawback, however, is that this oil has a short shelf-life, and needs to be refrigerated.

Probably the most famous for being healthy, this oil contains 78 per cent monounsaturated fat, 8 per cent polyunsaturated fat, 14 per cent saturated fat. This oil has the highest concentration of antioxidants, and is known to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. The oil is supposed to help lower the risk of not only heart diseases and stroke, but also diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer and metabolic problems.

Coconut oil contains 6 per cent monounsaturated fat, 1.6 per cent polyunsaturated fat and a whopping 92 per cent saturated fat. While coconut oil is rich in saturated fats, it is still a great oil with many health benefits when used sparingly. The oil is supposedly able to help boost immune systems, improve digestion and reduce stress levels. However, the oil is rich in unhealthy fats and must be used carefully.

Information culled from http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/5634, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2011/Ma…, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/healthy-cooking-oils-buyers-… and http://authoritynutrition.com/healthy-cooking-oils/

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