Best Oils for Arthritis
The oil you put on your salad can add to your anti-inflammatory arsenal.
Among the myriad bottles of oils lining grocery store shelves are some that offer a dose of anti-inflammatory action and other health perks for people with arthritis. When part of a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, certain oils can help stave off heart disease, stroke and diabetes, for which many people with arthritis have an increased risk.
Some may also help prevent inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as certain cancers, says Sara Haas, a Chicago-based dietitian, chef and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
All oils are a mixture of fatty acids – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated –and it’s the ratio of these acids that determine whether an oil or fat is healthful or harmful.
“Healthy oils and fats have a higher amount of unsaturated fatty acids and a lower amount of saturated fatty acids than their less-healthy counterparts,” says Haas. “Unsaturated fats – mono and poly – have unique health benefits. Monounsaturated fats can help lower your blood LDL [bad cholesterol] level and raise HDL [good] cholesterol, which in turn can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Polyunsaturated fats may lower total blood cholesterol, which also helps prevent heart disease.”
At the other end of the spectrum are saturated fats, such as butter, which are solid at room temperature and are linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels and heart disease. This is a type of fat you should limit in your diet.
Squeeze the most health benefits out of your oils by understanding their best uses, which often depend on their smoke point. This is the temperature at which different oils begin to smoke and break down, which destroys the compounds that give them their health benefits.
“Finer oils with low smoke points are not good for most cooking applications because cooking destroys their nutritive value,” Haas says. She advises reserving oils with low smoke points for dishes that don’t involve high heat or for drizzling on soups and vegetables just before serving.
Storing oils properly will keep their taste and beneficial compounds intact. Air, heat and light speed up deterioration, and most should be kept on a cool, dark shelf. Some oils, particularly those high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, go rancid quickly and are best stored in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature before using. If oil has an unpleasant taste or odor, it’s time for a new bottle.
Here are Haas’s top picks for healthy oils.
High in monounsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, olive oils are among the best-studied fats, with many known health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil, the least refined type, is pressed mechanically rather than processed with heat or chemicals that change its chemical properties. It contains biologically active compounds – such as the polyphenols oleocanthal, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and lignans – that have been linked to reduced joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis.
Kitchen tips: “Extra virgin oil has a low smoke point, so it’s best for finishing foods or for dressings,” Haas says. “The smoke point of virgin olive oil is a little higher, making it a better choice for cooking.” Olive oil doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but lasts longer away from heat and fluctuating temperatures and even longer in the fridge. Once opened, it will keep for about six months on the shelf and up to a year in the refrigerator.
This winemaking byproduct, which is pressed from the seeds of grapes, is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and is a good source of vitamin E.
Kitchen tips: “This is a versatile oil with a neutral flavor profile,” says Haas. “Its medium-high smoke point makes it good for salad dressings, sautéing and baking.” Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to six months.
This oil is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linoleic acid, that have cardiovascular and cholesterol-lowering benefits. These fatty acids can also lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of body-wide inflammation.
Kitchen tips: To preserve its health benefits and nutty taste, it’s best not to heat this delicate oil, Haas says. Walnut oil can go bad in less than three months, so keep it in the refrigerator.
This pale green oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower heart disease and stroke risks. Research also suggests avocado oil has an anti-inflammatory effect, reducing CRP. It’s also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Kitchen tips: Avocado oil has mild flavor and a higher smoke point than most plant oils, so it performs well for high-heat cooking such as stir-frying. Keep in the refrigerator, where it will last about six months.
This oil is low in saturated fatty acids and is a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Research shows it helps lower cholesterol and heart disease risk.
Kitchen tips: Canola oil’s high smoke point works well for high-heat cooking applications like sautéing. Store in a dark, cool cabinet, where it has a shelf life of four to six months.
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