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 of variety of oils in the supermarket 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 the late thirties, you probably remember how fascinating oil advertisements used to be back in the 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.
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 whatnot. Apart from these, there is 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 about 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 a 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.
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 the oil depends on the percentage of PUFA, MUFA, saturated fat, omega 3 and 6, and processing techniques. Understand these unknown terms first. Don’t worry it is not that complicated that you are thinking.
Fatty acids can be classified in a few ways. Based on the structure, fatty acids can be divided into saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acid does not contain any double bond in its structure. They are compact and generally solid at 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 carries cholesterol particles in the bloodstream. Study has shown that even all LDL is 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 a huge human sample size have proved that there is no relationship 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 bonds in their structure and they are liquid in room temperature eg – cooking oil.
Unsaturated fatty acids are again divided as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA – contain only one double bond in the structure) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA – Contain two or more double bonds in the structure).
MUFA is the current favorite of scientists
MUFA has many health benefits. Recent studies have pointed out that MUFA helps in weight loss, reduces the risk of cancer, lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure and thus reduces the risk of heart disease, improves insulin sensitivity, reduces 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, let’s check PUFA.
As the name suggests, PUFA contains 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 requires them for brain function and cell growth but can not produce in the body. We must get them through a 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
Risk of overconsumption of PUFA
A few decades back, we used to eat a diet where omega-6: the 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 the 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.
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 –
monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)
omega 3 fatty acids and
medium-chain fatty acids.
And contain less amount of –
polyunsaturated fatty acids
especially 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 be 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/-.
The 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 do not get absorbed in our body.
Refined oils are high in unsaturated fatty acids especially in omega 6 fatty acids which become unstable in higher temperatures 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 an excessive amounts 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 options for cooking oil these days. In this method, oil is extracted by pressing the seeds in a traditional way using ghani at a lower temperature. Therefore oil manages 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 standards.
Which is the best cooking oil in India?
Traditionally Indian has used kachhi ghani mustard oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil, and coconut oil as the main cooking medium. As per local availability east and north India used to use mustard oil. South India especially in Kerala, Tamilnadu- coconut oil used to be the first choice. Sesame and groundnut oil used in the west and central region of India for decades. These oils have a higher smoking point (burning point) which is perfect for Indian cooking.
Apart from these, ghee has been used to prepare special foods like sweets, savory items. Today studies are pointing out in the same direction.
After almost banning coconut oil/ ghee/mustard oil/ groundnut oil for the last two decades, now studies are tagged coconut oil and ghee as a superfood 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 effects on us causing chronic inflammation.
The smoking point of
Kachhi Ghani mustard oil 250 degrees C
Ghee 251 degree C
Coconut oil 177 degrees C
Sesame oil 216 degrees C
Filtered groundnut oil 160 degrees C and,
Extra virgin olive oil 160 degrees 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.
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 groundnut oil are the best cooking oil in India. Pick your oil according to your tradition and present place. Change your cooking oil every two months. Remember, moderation is the key to nutrition. Overuse of these oils may kill all its goodness. So be careful. Stop using refined oil as a 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?