Last week, the American Heart Association said coconut oil is unhealthy, reigniting a conversation about saturated fat and leaving some confused about what is healthy.
"There’s a disconnect between people’s general beliefs and what the data actually show," said Donald Hensrud, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program.
Like a gluten-free lifestyle, Hensrud said benefits of coconut oil aren't supported by good data. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. Current data shows saturated and trans fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
When shopping for a healthy oil, Hensrud said go for one with high levels of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Both are considered healthy fats that lower cholesterol.
Also, avoid partially hydrogenated oils — that's the source of trans fat, which raises bad cholesterol.
Here are some of the healthiest oils, as recommended by doctors and researchers:
High in monounsaturated fats: Olive oil is the shining star of healthy oils in this group. Many experts point to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine that enrolled 7,447 people ages 55 to 80-years-old and showed eating olive oil (or nuts) greatly reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research also suggests olive oil could help reduce the chance of breast cancer.
The type of olive oil can matter. Extra virgin olive oil has slightly more nutrients, Hensrud said. Sediment in the bottle could actually translate to vitamin E.
Avocado oil, which contains 71% monounsaturated fatty acids, has become a popular choice, and experts say for good reason. It has some of the same properties as olive oil, plus it has a high smoke point — meaning, it's safe to cook at high temperatures. Oils with low smoke points create toxic compounds when overheated (think: frying). Safflower and sunflower oils also contain high amounts of monounsaturated fats and have high smoke points (above 400 degrees).
High in polyunsaturated fats: The American Heart Association's Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease advisory showed corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and canola oil all contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fats. Canola oil and peanut oil are high in both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Canola is best for baking because it's largely tasteless and peanut oil is good for frying because of its high smoke point.
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