How To Choose The Right Cooking Oil

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By: Dr. Samayug Bhowmik, Bureau Chief, ICN-West Bengal 

KOLKATA: Cooking oil is an essential ingredient and almost always present in majority of Indian dishes. Whether it is a serving of mixed greens or in main course, oil is used for cooking and adds flavour to our food. 

However, choosing the correct cooking oil can save you from heart diseases, highcholesterol problems. Given below  are a few guidelines by which everybody will know which cooking oil should be be used when.

Edible oils used are Mustard oil. Sunflower oil, Olive oil, Rice bran oil, Flaxseed oil, Groundnut oil, Palm oil, Sesame oil, Sesame oil, Canola oil, Corn oil, Soyabean oil.

Before getting  knowledge about different edible oils, it would be good to know few scientific terms and other related scientific issues.  In brief, they are discussed below.

Free radical, Oxidative stress and Antioxidants.

Free radicals are produced by a process called as Oxidation; it is a chemical reaction in presence of high heat. It regularly occurrs  when we cook and heat any substance with any oil. When this free radical contained foods are consumed by us, it damages healthy cells inside our body and produces damage to different cells in our body. This is known as oxidative stress. To counteract the above situation we need some antidotes which are known as Antioxidants. 

Antioxidants are of two types 

1.Natural : beta-carotene,vitamin-A,

vitamin-E etc.These  are commonly found in different foods,vegetables and fruits. 

2.Industrial:  These are mainly used  as food preservative.

Any oil or fatty substances are composed of different chemicals mainly organic in nature. The list is given below.

Mustard oil

Mustard oil is used traditionally in Indian cooking . It has antibacterial properties it protects our skin. It also fights germs and viruses as well as helps to prevent cough and cold.

Sunflower oil

Sunflower oil is a good source of vitamin E. It contains all the essential nutrients. Sunflower oil also reduces the risk of heart diseases. It boosts the immune system, and promotes the proper functioning of nerves. 

Olive oil

Olive oil is another great alternative as it contains a good amount of antioxidants that reduces joint pains as well as lowers the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It also reduces the risk of stroke. 

Rice bran oil

Rice bran oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and Oryzanol. This has cholesterol-lowering properties. 

Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed oil is another great cooking oil as it is rich with  omega 3 fatty acids which is extremely beneficial for our health and is also important in prevention of Crohn’s Disease and colitis.

Groundnut oil

Groundnut oil is rich in mono-unsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA), which helps in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It is also a good source of another antioxidant called vitamin E. 

Palm oil

Palm oil is a rich source of antioxidants, carotene and Vitamin E. It is a useful for combating Cancer and Alzheimer’s.  It also helps patients suffering from Arthritis.

Corn oil

Corn  is extracted from maize.It is mainly a polyunsaturated fatty acid with some monounsaturated properties. It is mainly used for frying . It is better at lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels than olive oil. It is also better for frying foodstuffs in high temperature.  

Sesame oil

Sesame oil is another oil available in India which has some restorative properties. Sesame oil is beneficial for diabetics. 

Canola oil

Using Canola oil eliminates the trans-fat, and thus effectively reduces the saturated fat thus dropping the overall fat in the body. It is also cholesterol-free and is a good source of vitamins E and K. Canola oil is a heart friendly oil that reduces the blood pressure and cholesterol, and may be used as a substitute for butter and margarine during grilling process.

Soyabean oil

Soyabean oil is high in poly-and monounsaturated fatty acids. It additionally reduces the danger of cardiovascular sickness.

Edible oils are composed of several fatty acids which are as follows

1. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) which have 3 parts

a. Short-chain, 

b. Medium-chain

c. Long-chain 

      2.Monosaturated (MUFA)

      3.Polyunsaturated (PUFA) which is further subdivided into

  1. a) Linolenic (LC or n6), 
  2. b) Alpha-linolenic (ALNA or    n3) acid 
  3. c) Transfatty acids (TFA)), it also similarly acts as other polyunsaturated acids. It is produced from vegetable oils which are popularly known as Vanaspati.

     4) Antioxidants.

  1. a) tocotrienols, 
  2. b) tocopherols
  3. c) oryzanol,  
  4. d) phytosteroles

The table below shows the approximate fatty acid composition of various edible oils.

Approximate fatty acid composition in grams /100 g.

OILS SFA short chain SFA medium chain SFA long chain MUFA PUFA






Coconut oil 14 63 12 7 2 <0.5 4
Ghee 10 15 40 32 2 0.5 4
Vanaspati —- 1 23 19 3 <0.5 6
Palm oil —- 1 44 44 10 <0.5 20
Olive oil —- —- 13 76 10 <0.5 20
Groundnut oil —- 1 23 50 25 <0.5 50
Rapeseed/mustard oil —- —- 8 70 12 10 1
Sesame oil —- —- 15 42 42 1 42
Rice bran oil —- —- 22 41 35 1.5 23
Corn oil —- —- 12 32 55 1 55
Sunflower oil —- —- 13 27 60 <0.5 120
Soyabean oil —- —- 15 27 53 5 11

In any oil long chain SFA is the most harmful ingredient, because it increases Total and LDL cholesterol which are the risk factors for the cholesterol deposit inside the blood vessels of heart and in other areas. 

However, short- and medium-chain SFA are not so much harmful, as they do not increase cholesterol. PUFA and MUFA are other types of fatty acids they can lower LDL cholestrol and thus produces protective effects over heart. On the side n6 (linolenic acid) and n3 (alpha-linolenic acid) are essential fatty acids required for proper functioning of the body. 

Although n6 lowers not only LDL cholesterol but can also decreases HDL cholesterol whereas n3 to some extent lowers triglycerides, blood pressure, improve blood circulation.Thus n6 and n3 should be present in balanced proportion in any edible oil which then will be more acceptable for maintaining our good health. Several dietary recommendations suggest that the ratio of n6:n3 where PUFA should be 5:1to10:1. 

On the other hand, transfatty acids (TFA) produced from vegetable oils, they creates harmful effects over different varieties of cholesterol and thus increases the risk of developing Heart Diseases. Many surveys and  reviews have demonstrated that high intake of TFA was associated with increased heart ailments and other chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression, etc. 

Antioxidants present in several oils (like tocotrienols, tocopherols, oryzanol, and phytosteroles) have favorable effects over body fats and oxidative stress and can prevent heart disease. Different studies indicate that olive oil intake can give us  various health benefits in addition to reduced risk of coronary heart disease. 

In olive oil, apart from monounsaturated fatty acids, there is another compound called as polyphenolic compounds which has some beneficial effects over cholesterol concentrations and reduction in oxidative stress. 

However, the main limitation of Olive oil is that it does not have ideal n6 n3 ratio and thus not be suitable for Indian cooking. Mustard oil is considered healthy edible oil because it is low in SFA, high in MUFA and PUFA, especially alpha-linolenic acid, and a good n6:n3 ratio (6:5). It is also available in nonrefined (cold compressed) form and is relatively stable during cooking at high temperatures. Again several studies also suggest that mustard oil may be associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease as compared to other oils.

Blending of oils means combination of the potency of two/more edible oils to offer  a balance of fatty acids and antioxidants thus to enhance the oxidative and thermal stability of oils. A blend of rice bran oil and safflower oil (70:30) with added antioxidants reportedly improves several cholesterol parameters. Canola oil with Flaxseed oil effectively reduces Cholesterol burden. Thus blending of different oil can give us some more benefits. 

Indian cooking style differs greatly, as during cooking of our food ,the oils are often subjected to high temperatures. As a result, exposure to high temperatures not only destroys antioxidants like vitamin E and β-carotene but also produces toxic compounds known as free radicals that may potentially harm our body. 

It is advisable to avoid refined oils, since during the refining process, oils are heated to high temperatures resulting in their degradation and generation of free radicals. Refined oils, particularly high in PUFA,if used at all, degrade easily and therefore, should be avoided for frying. On the contrary, oils high in saturated fats (like ghee/coconut oil) can be used for Indian cooking, as they are comparatively stable during frying process. 

Mustard or Rapeseed oils – due to their favorable n6/n6 ratio, low SFA, and high MUFA content along with their relative stability during cooking – can be a preferred choice, particularly mustard oil in its non- refined form although most Indians prefer Mustard oil than Rapeseed oil. Furthermore, appropriate blending of edible oils (such as rice bran and safflower oil; coconut and sesame oil; canola and flaxseed oil) also appears to be a good option to reduce cholesterol.

Now, after acquiring  information about edible oils, I am sure it will be easy for you to decide which oil to use for your  everyday cooking.

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