Reducing Inflammation: 6 Oils to Increase Your Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake.
Written by RD2BE: Maddy Brady, Reviewed by Leahy Nutrition.
There are so many different types of oil- from the more common olive oil, to vegetable oil, to even grapeseed oil. Oils are super popular and very versatile in cooking, and they have heart healthy benefits which make their popularity well deserved. Oils contain high levels of monounsaturated (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and low levels of saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have been linked to diseases like heart disease, while MUFA’s and PUFA’s are linked to an improvement in heart health. Two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are “essential” fatty acids meaning we cannot produce them in our bodies, so we need to consume them in our diet.
Omega 3 is found in some oils, flaxseed and fatty fish. It is primarily involved in brain health and heart health. It also has a wide range of functions throughout the lungs, heart, immune system and hormonal systems.
Omega 6 is found in avocado, nuts, some seeds and oils. It is involved in cardiovascular risk factors like inflammation and blood clot formation, and it is also used as an energy source.
The traditional American diet generally contains more omega-6 than omega-3 since omega-6 is found in more foods. It is thought that there may be a link between high intake of omega-6 foods and low intake of omega-3 foods as it relates to cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe there may be an ideal ratio of omega-3/omega-6 in order to balance out the inflammatory properties of omega-6, but this ratio is still being investigated. For now, the National Institutes of Health recommends increasing intake of omega-3 rather than decreasing intake of omega-6.
Simply speaking, researchers want you to eat more omega-3. But how do we do that?
Let’s take a look at a few different oils and identify which ones are the best sources of omega-3:
Mustard oil is primarily used in North and East India, and is known for its nutty taste and smell. Mustard oil has 70% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 20% polyunsaturated fatty acids – 10% of those PUFA’s coming from omega-3. Not only does this oil contain heart healthy omega-3 and omega-6 it also has other beneficial antioxidants like Vitamin E. According to a study by Harvard School of Medicine, the consumption of mustard oil as a cooking medium was associated with a 70% reduction in heart disease. Unfortunately mustard oil is not allowed to be imported into the US due to it’s content of erucic acid which has been linked to toxic effects in rats (no negative health effects from erucic acid have been documented in humans).
Rapeseed Oil (Canola Oil)
Canola oil is a popular oil in the United States and is recognized by many health professional organizations as being a heart healthy oil. Canola oil is significantly lower in saturated fat compared to other oils, and has the highest amount of omega-3 compared to every other cooking oil. Canola oil has a high smoke point, smooth texture and neutral flavor which makes it one of the most versatile cooking oils. It can be used for sautéing, grilling, baking and can even be used in salad dressings! Canola oil has a lower smoke point than soybean or peanut oil so it should not be used for high temperature cooking.
Olive oil is another common oil that can be used for pretty much everything except high temperature cooking. Olive oil is well known to have heart healthy effects and is a key component of the Mediterranean diet. Why is it so heart healthy? Olive oil contains a high amount of MUFA’s (75%), omega’s (11%) and many valuable antioxidants which can help improve HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. The best quality olive oil is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent the deterioration of nutrients.
Soybean oil is another popular oil in the US, commonly utilized for its high smoke point in frying foods. What many people don’t know is that this oil contains beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Although this oil does contain a higher amount of saturated fat compared to canola oil, this oil still has beneficial omega-3 and omega-6. Beware though- the high amount of unsaturated fatty acids also makes it spoil quickly, so this oil should be used fresh.
Rice Bran Oil
Rice bran oil is a very popular oil in Japan and China, commonly used in frying due to its high smoke point. Rice bran oil is extracted from rice hulls, and has many beneficial antioxidants that make it a great option for cooking. It’s rich in Vitamin E, phytosterols, and contains 47% MUFA’s and 33% PUFA’s. The only downside to this oil is that it has very little omega-3 and a higher amount of omega-6.
Not a cooking oil:
Flaxseed oil (also called linseed oil which is its non-consumable counterpart) comes from flaxseeds and is a very rich source of heart healthy omega-3. Flaxseed oil is commonly used as a supplement and should not be used in cooking. Research shows that the use of flaxseed oil can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and can benefit people with heart disease by lowering blood pressure. Flaxseed can also be found whole or ground. Consuming ground flaxseed has been shown to help relieve digestive conditions and provides omega-3 fatty acids.
Overall, there are a TON of cooking oils to choose from, each having different characteristics which make them beneficial.
When you choose a cooking oil, consider the following 3 things:
Smoke point of the oil -- is it appropriate for your cooking method?
Flavor of the oil -- will the flavor complement or add to the dish?
Fatty acid content of the oil -- is it mostly saturated fat, or unsaturated? Does it contain more omega-3 or omega-6?
Here’s a quick summary to help you decipher the nitty gritty mentioned above:
· The oil that is the best source of omega-3 is mustard oil, but canola oil is also a good option if you live in the US
· Olive oil and rice bran oil have extra antioxidants that make them beneficial, but these oils are low in omega-3
· Flaxseed oil is a good source of omega-3 but it should only be used as a supplement and not for cooking
For more information regarding oils and a breakdown of their fatty acid content, take a look at the graph below:
1. Mishra, S., & Manchanda, S. C. (2012). Cooking oils for heart health. Olive Oil, 1(3), 10.
2. Office of Dietary Supplements—Omega-3 Fatty Acids. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
3. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 5, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-flaxseed-and-flaxseed-oil/art-20366457
4. Rice Bran Oil—An overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/rice-bran-oil