A guide to pick the best cooking oil in India

 A guide to pick the best cooking oil in India

Which cooking oil is best for health in India? This is a common query among most of us. And why not? Hundreds of brands with hundreds variety of oils in the super market make us clueless and confused. So choosing the best cooking oil in India seems to be a daunting task.

Best” cooking oil is an all time controversial topic in nutrition science. If you are in late thirties, you probably remember how fascinating oil advertisements used to be back in 90’s. A tiny boy running around big poories ……remember? That’s the time when refined oil captured the entire market with a promise of keeping our heart healthy. Almost overnight, ghee, mustered/ coconut /groundnut oil, butter etc. was thrown out of the kitchen and heart healthy refined oil, margarine took the place.

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Then cut to 2006, olive oil came in the picture. Reason for ado? Again “heart health”. We were told olive oil is the best for treating as well as preventing heart diseases. Middle class Indians started saving money for olive oil. After all it’s a matter of your heart. “Health conscious” households even started making monthly poori -sabji in olive oil.

Today, market is filled with olive/ groundnut/ soybean/ corn/ sunflower/ safflower/ mustard/ rice bran/ canola/ sesame oil. Every variety, every brand is claimed to be “heart healthy”,“light”,full of ”antioxidants”,fortified with“vitamin A”,“Vitamin D”and what not. Apart from these, there are super expensive cold pressed olive/ avocado/ almond oils. So choosing one out of hundred is never an easy job.

Statistics are showing heart diseases are increasing significantly every year from 23.2 million(1990) to 37 million(2010)– even after using “heart healthy” oil. In every family there is patient suffering or suffered from any cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). In fact, CVDs have become the leading cause of death in India. So where are we going wrong?

How to choose the best cooking oil in India

All fats and oils provide the same amount of energy. One gm of fat/oil gives 9 kcal. So if you are thinking of low-calorie or high calorie oil, it does not exist. You should be careful of the quality of the oil.

To choose the best oil you need to check

  • the fatty acids profile of the oil and,

  • the oil processing method

If you follow the oil advertisements these days, you will always find few unknown difficult terms – like PUFA, MUFA, omega 3, omega 6 etc. These advertisements always put those words to catch your attention and claim those are important to keep your heart healthy.

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Let’s understand the basic first. Oils contain fatty acids. And it is the type of fatty acid which decides the quality of the oil – bad, good or best.The quality of oil depends on percentage of PUFA, MUFA, saturated fat, omega 3 and 6 and processing technique. Understand these unknown term first. Don’t worry it is not that complicated that you are thinking.

Fatty acids can be classified in few ways. Based on the structure, fatty acids can be divided as saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

  • Saturated fatty acid does not contain any double bond in their structure. They are compact and generally solid in room temperature. Foods high in saturated fats are coconut oil, ghee, butter.

  • Saturated fats are stable, heat resistant. Therefore they are excellent for Indian cooking.

But isn’t saturated fat raise bad cholesterol(LDL) and cause heart disease?

First of all LDL is low density lipoprotein, they are not cholesterol. LDL carry cholesterol particles in the blood stream. Study has shown that even all LDL are not bad. There are small LDL and large LDL, The small LDL is more likely to pass through the arterial wall and create trouble. Large LDL are fluffy and they generally can’t penetrate the arterial wall.

Multiple recent studies with huge human sample size have proved that there is no relation between dietary saturated fat and heart disease. Yes. that means cooking in ghee is safe for your heart health.

Now let’s check unsaturated fatty acids.

  • Unsaturated fatty acids contain one or more double bond in their structure and they are liquid in room temperature eg – cooking oil.

  • Unsaturated fatty acids are again divided as mono unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA – contain only one double bond in the structure) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA – Contain two or more double bond in the structure).

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MUFA is the current favorite of scientists

MUFA has many health benefits. Recent studies have pointed out that MUFA helps in weight loss, reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of heart disease, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation etc.

Few rich sources of MUFA are – Olive oil (73.1 gm/100g ), almonds (33.6 gm/100g), cashews (27.3 gm/100g), peanuts (24.7gm/100g) pistachios(24.2 gm/100g), pumpkin seeds (13.1 gm/100g) etc.

Now, lets check PUFA.

  • As the name suggests, PUFA contain more than one double bond in their structure. They are comparatively unstable in nature, get easily oxidized while heated. PUFA can be divided into omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

  • Omega-3 and 6 are both essential fatty acids. That means our body require them for brain function and cell growth but can not produce in the body. We must get them through daily diet.

  • Walnuts, flax-seeds, sunflower seeds and fishes like salmon, herring, sardine, mackerel are the best sources of omega -3-fatty acid.

  • All the plant-based oils are high in omega 6 fatty acids (except coconut and palm oil). The rich source of omega 6 fatty acids are – safflower oil (74.6%), sunflower oil (65.7%), soybean oil (58.9%) etc.

Health benefits of PUFA- omega 3 vs. omega 6 fatty acids

Health benefits of PUFA mainly comes from omega 3 fatty acid. EPA and DHA are the two types of omega-3-fatty acids, crucial for brain development and heart health and many other health benefits.

Risk of overconsumption of PUFA

A few decade back, we used to eat a diet where omega-6: omega-3 ratio was about 4:1 to 1:4. But now the ratio has become 16: 1. The consumption of vegetable oil (high in omega-6) has increased markedly in the last few years. Note that, omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory whereas omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory. While heated for a long time, vegetable oil (rich in omega-6) get oxidized and  release free radicals, which attack different organ, skin cell wall and create inflammation.

Inflammation helps us to fight against infection and heal. But chronic inflammation is the cause of diabetes, obesity, heart disease etc.

Fatty acids can also be classified by length of the fatty acid chain. There are short chain, medium chain and long chain fatty acids – among which medium chain fatty acid found to be most beneficial.

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Why medium chain fatty acids are favored?

Firstly, let me mention that coconut oil contains more than 50% of medium chain fatty acids. Medium chain fatty acids are easily digestible and produce instant energy. These fatty acids help to reduce weight, optimize the growth of your gut bacteria and support gut lining. It reduces the risk of heart disease, can control body weight, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Criteria for best cooking oil in India

Therefore, you must choose a cooking oil which has a balance of –

  • saturated fat

  • mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)

  • omega 3 fatty acids and

  • medium chain fatty acids.

And contain less amount of –

  • polyunsaturated fatty acids

  • specially omega 6 fatty acid

The dream composition of cooking oil depends on the processing

Based on the oil processing technique, all the oils available in the market can arranged in two groups –

1. Refined oil

Soybean/ rice bran/ sunflower/ safflower/ corn/ canola oil, etc are the refined oil available easily in the market. They are comparatively cheaper in price. One liter of refined oil costs between Rs 70/- to 120/-.

Solvent extraction method is used to make refined oil. In this method, high heat is applied to extract the oil along with chemical treatment. During this process, oil losses all its vitamins and minerals. Fatty acid chains break down and the oil becomes unstable. Later, various other chemicals are used to neutralize the color and odor of the oil. Then preservatives and additives are added to increase its shelf life.

Therefore refined oils are colorless, tasteless, odorless liquid. As it losses all its nutrition during processing, vitamin A and D are fortified. Please note, this fortification is not that helpful as fortified vitamins generally does not get absorbed in our body.

Refined oils are high in unsaturated fatty acid specially in omega 6 fatty acids which become unstable in higher temperature after a certain time. Therefore refined oils are considered as one of the major culprits for chronic inflammation, which most likely leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Check the label of all the processed, packaged and junk food. The common ingredient will be refined soy oil. Yes, other than excessive amount of sugar, salt and chemicals, usage of refined oil is another big reason to say no to all such foods.

2. Cold pressed oil /Kacchi ghani

Cold pressed oils or kachhi ghani oils are the best option for cooking oil these days. In this method oil is extracted by pressing the seeds in a traditional way using ghani at lower temperature. Therefore oil manage to retain its color, odor, taste and nutrition (vitamins and minerals).

One liter of cold pressed/ kachhi ghani oil may cost between Rs. 150 -1000/- depending on the type of seed/fruit.

What is filtered oil?

Oils are sometimes filtered through a special filter to separate the solid and contaminated particles. No chemical is used in this process. Therefore the color and flavor of the oil remain intact (eg- filtered groundnut oil).

What is virgin and extra virgin oil?

Extra virgin oil is the highest grade of virgin oil derived from cold pressed technique. Virgin oil is nothing but a little lesser in quality standard.

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Which is the best cooking oil in India?

Traditionally Indian has used kachhi ghani mustard oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil and coconut oil as a main cooking medium. As per local availability east and north India used to use mustard oil. South India specially in Kerala, Tamilnadu- coconut oil used to be the first choice. Sesame and groundnut oil used in west and central region of India for decades.These oils have a higher smoking point (burning point) which are perfect for Indian cooking.

Apart from these, ghee has been used to prepare special foods like sweets, savory items. Today studies are pointing out on the same direction.

After almost banning coconut oil/ ghee/mustard oil/ groundnut oil for last two decades, now studies are tagged coconut oil and ghee as a super food for its wonderful fatty acid composition saturated fat, medium chain fatty acid, etc. Mustered oil has been found to be the most heart healthy oil due to its fantastic combination of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

What about using olive oil for cooking ?

Indian cooking requires high heat. Therefore, oils with high smoke points are good for Indian cooking. Otherwise, once oil reaches the smoking point, fatty acids started breaking down and release free radicals, which create harmful effect on us causing chronic inflammation.

The smoking point of

  • Kachhi ghani mustard oil 250 degree C

  • Ghee 251 degree C

  • Coconut oil 177 degree C

  • Sesame oil 216 degree C

  • Filtered groundnut oil 160 degree C and,

  • Extra virgin oilve oil 160 degree C                                                                  Having a lower smoking point, olive is not suitable for Indian cooking. It is best if used during tossing vegetables or used as a salad dressing. Making Indian dishes like bhaji or poori sabji which require high heat using olive oil is actually dangerous for health. Similarly groundnut oil is not safe for deep fry. It is good for cooking sabji, dal etc.

Also read-

White sugar vs. brown sugar vs. Jaggery

Are you eating the right oats?

Which is the best chocolate in India?

White rice vs brown rice, what to eat?

Bottom Line

Which cooking oil is best for health in India? The answer is ghee along with kachhi ghani mustard oil, coconut oil, sesame oil or filtered ground nut oil are the best cooking oil in India. Pick your oil according to your tradition and present place. Change your cooking oil in every two months. Remember, moderation is the key for nutrition. Overuse of these oils may kill all its goodness. So be careful. Stop using refined oil as regular cooking oil. All you need to do is pick the right one and the right quantity. Oil is not bad, right? What do you think?

Dr. Soma Chakrabarty


Dr. Soma Chakrabarty has done her Ph.D. in Food and Nutrition in 2017. She is based in Hyderabad. She has 12 yrs of working experience in nutrition. Dr. Soma guides people to modify eating behavior and achieve the goal of wellness. She believes in a sustainable diet that helps people to live rather than survive.

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  • Very nice and informative👌

  • A well sorted article with right amount of information

  • But cold pressed is so expensive. How can middle class Indians afford this?

    • Exactly. That is why it is best to use kachhi ghani mustard oil or filtered groundnut oil/sesame oil or coconut oil but not refined oil at any cost.

  • Informative..Right oil in right amount is the key to a safe heart

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