By Wendy Sarubbi | August 26, 2014 11:37 am

With so many oils on the market, it’s hard for consumers to know which is best in terms of heart health and nutritional value. The College of Medicine’s internationally known cardiovascular scientist presented his top choices on August 19 at the college’s first Science and Wellness Series. Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, interim associate dean for research’s advice: sunflower oil, which he uses in his own kitchen because it is polyunsaturated, not overly processed and is perhaps the least expensive of the cooking oils.

“There are hundreds of varieties of oil, and it is very difficult to make an informed choice,” Dr. Parthasarathy told about 50 College of Medicine colleagues who attended the talk. “People may look at cost, appearance or what kind of bottle it comes in. But these are quite different from what is actually important.”

Dr. Parthasarathy provided a list of nearly 30 popular oils broken down by how much polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats they contain. Saturated fats are the most dangerous because they help to clog the arteries. Polyunsaturated are the healthiest oils; they can help reduce bad cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Oils containing the lowest amount of saturated fat include sunflower, safflower and sesame oil. The oils highest in saturated fat are coconut oil and margarine. However, coconut oil contains a different kind (medium chain) saturated fat that might have potential beneficial effects.

When choosing an oil for cooking, Dr. Parthasarathy warned that heat is a major factor in their healthfulness, because nutrients are lost in the heating process. He emphasized that smoke points are a very important aspect of choosing healthy cooking oils. The higher the smoke point, the hotter the oil can be heated before it begins losing nutrients. Sunflower, soybean and peanut oil have the highest smoke points, at around 450 degrees.

Olive oil is a popular oil but Dr. Parthasarathy does not recommend cooking with it, because medium heat destroys many of its beneficial nutrients. At 350 degrees, more than 60 percent of olive oils heart-healthy phenols are lost. Using olive oil in salads and other cold dishes is fine, he said, because a lack of heat allows the oil to maintain the nutrients it’s famous for.

Another consideration is processing. Many oils are manipulated or heated in processing. That means they’ve already lost many nutrients before they hit your hot pan. Cold pressed or virgin oils are healthier, he said, because they are not processed and still have their nutrients intact. Heavy processing is one reason that Dr. Parthasarathy does not recommend canola oil. He explained that more than 90 percent of the canola oil sold in the U.S. has been genetically modified and contains erucic acid, which is believed to be toxic.

Dr. Parthasarathy uses sunflower oil in his own kitchen because he says overall it has the most health benefits. “Sunflower oil is the safest as far as health benefit is concerned, and it’s cheaper,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about refined vs. virgin sunflower oil so you can use it for a general purpose. However, it is not recommended for deep frying.”

After his presentation, participants came up to ask more questions, some expressing surprise about the facts on canola oil and many excited to try Dr. Parthasarathy’s recommended sunflower oil.

The Science and Wellness talks are planned for each quarter on topics that combine scientific evidence with consumer questions and needs. Dr. Parthasarathy said he hopes to expand the talks to the main UCF campus, the surrounding Lake Nona community and to UCF Health, the College of Medicine physician practice. “We want to set an agenda where people will look forward to what we are bringing next,” he said.

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