Healthy oils are one of the most important yet most commonly omitted nutrients in the American diet. They have numerous benefits including improved cardiovascular health, brain health, skin health, joint health and improved athletic performance.

The healthy oils contain omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids as well as gamma-linoleic acid, or GLA. These essential fatty acids are crucial to the activity of every cell in your body, but your body can’t produce them. Omega-6 and omega-9 can usually be obtained through a diet rich in grains and olive oil, respectively. Omega-3, however, is missing from the typical American diet.

Oils are vulnerable to heat, light and oxygen. Most oils on supermarket shelves have been heat-extracted and “refined.” Heat causes oils to lose their beneficial properties, leaving them nutritionally empty. Worse, though, is the “refining” process, which uses harsh chemicals such as caustic soda and phosphoric acid. It also utilizes further heating, sometimes reaching frying temperatures. Although these processes give the oils a longer shelf life, they damage molecules in the fats, making them unrecognizable to the human body. These altered molecules are toxic and can contribute to such illnesses as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

Using healthy oils is easy once you get acquainted with them. Organic coconut and grape seed oils are two of the best oils for frying and sautéing, as they retain their properties at high temperatures. Coconut oil contains some saturated fat (no cholesterol), but it also provides healthy fats that our bodies need. Additionally, a recent study showed that coconut oil contains ketones that the brain can utilize as fuel, promoting healthy brain function. Use coconut oil instead of butter for baking, as a great snack on crackers with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and as a delicious complement to many foods, especially chicken.

The best sources of omega-3 oils in supplement form are fish oils, flax (whole seeds, milled or oil), and chia seeds. The best food sources for omega-3 are walnuts and cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon. Omega-3s break down into the component DHA and EPA, which aid the body in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, improving cognitive function, lubricating joints, healing skin conditions, and reducing inflammation.

Gamma-linoleic acid, found in borage oil and evening primrose oil, is another component of healthy oils that can be used to treat various conditions, particularly menopausal issues. Because it affects a different inflammation pathway than fish and flax affect, GLA provides a good accompaniment to those oils to relieve pain and inflammation.

It can also help with hot flashes, premenstrual syndrome, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cirrhosis of the liver, and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema. Additionally, GLA enhances the release of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.

Add the oils that your diet needs for a healthy, active body.