Fats Friday: Spread Some Heart Health to Your Valentine


show-your-heart-some-spread-loveValentine’s Day is coming and you know what that means. That’s right, it’s time to show some love. An old proverb says the key to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The registered dietitian in me would agree, but with a few caveats: The key to our heart health is through our stomachs. Heart health isn’t just a men’s health issue—1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend tomorrow night creating a culinary masterpiece. But what to prepare? I won’t reveal my menu here, that’s a secret. But I will offer a few tips to heat up the health of your kitchen.


Much like the people we fall in love with, each type of cooking oil offers a unique blend of characteristics. No two are exactly alike. Some are stronger in flavor and need a thoughtful pairing, while some can easily blend into any situation. Some have the ability to withstand more intense heat, while others flourish in more mild conditions. So be selective—it’s not necessarily a bad thing!


  • Canola oil—use it for salad dressings, stir-frying, baking and marinades.
  • Soybean oil—use it for salad dressings or shortening.
  • Olive oil—use it for salad dressings (extra virgin), pan-frying, searing, stir-frying, sautéing, grilling, broiling, baking, or dipping.

DID YOU KNOW? Canola and soybean oils typically have higher smoke points than olive oil. The smoke point can dictate which cooking method is most suitable.


Rocky relationships can take a toll on our hearts. The same can be said of our diets. While choosing a healthful cooking oil can’t mend a broken heart, it can help lower cholesterol. Lowering cholesterol will help keep your heart strong. Cooking oils come from plant sources. They provide us with beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).

Each type of fatty acid has a different impact on health, and each type of oil offers a slightly different mix of fatty acids.

FUN FACT: Canola is a “relative” of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. They all hail from the Brassica family.


Olive oil has high MUFA content.

Canola is also a great source of MUFA and has the least saturated and the most omega-3 PUFA of the common oils and spreads.

Soybean oil contains a significant amount of omega-3 PUFA and the highest quantity of omega-6 PUFA among common oils and spreads.

All cooking oils contain some level of saturated fat.

Table Spreads

People often associate table spreads with margarine. The truth is that table spreads and margarine have distinct differences that are defined.

Vocab 101



Must contain at least 80% fat, per federal law, and the source of fat can be vegetable oil or milkfat. Typically, about 15% of the fat in margarine is saturated. There are very few consumer products on the market today that qualify as margarine.


Must contain at least 80% fat, per federal law, and the source must be milkfat. About 50% of the fat in butter is saturated.

Table Spreads

The fat content of table spreads can vary, with most being between 0 and 80% fat. The predominant source of fat for table spreads is vegetable oil, and typically around 10% of the fat in a table spread is saturated.

Trans Fat

All national brands of margarines and table spreads available to consumers on the market have removed partially hydrogenated oils (effectively eliminating trans fat) and list 0 grams trans fat on the label.

Some private labels of margarines and table spreads do contain partially hydrogenated oils in small enough amounts to also list 0 grams of trans fat on the label, per the FDA.

About 3% of the fat in butter is (naturally-occurring) trans fat. This amount is small enough to list 0 grams trans fat on the label.

Whether you’re looking for trans fat or not, it’s always a good idea to read your food labels!

Abuzz about Butter

abuzz-about-butterAlong with oils and spreads, butter is also a kitchen staple. In fact, it’s recently been reported that the US consumption of butter is at a 40-year high. A lot of buzz about butter has been saturating the nutrition world in recent years (pun intended!) A 2014 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine went so far as to question current dietary guidance on saturated fat intake. The article sparked much debate in the media and scientific communities.

Stay tuned, because research continues to examine the role of saturated fat in heart health. For now, Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10% or less of our total calories.

Bottom Line

Just like relationships, every good meal needs the right balance of health and flavor. There are many fat sources to choose from, so choose wisely in your quest to find “the one.”