Which cooking oil is healthy?

By Naini Setalvad

Which cooking oil is the healthiest? How to choose the right oil for those with cholesterol? How much of each oil can be consumed? These are some of the many questions we have about cooking oils. 

No oil can be termed ‘healthiest’
Firstly, there is no particular oil, which could be termed as “the healthiest oil.” Each oil has its own merits and demerits. Oils can be classified under four categories as per their fat content: saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Unsaturated oils are more beneficial and healthier.

Saturated oils also have benefits
Saturated fat contains triglycerides (the component that affects your cholesterol levels) that could clog your arteries. Saturated oils however, are not your enemies. Coconut oil contains saturated fats, but is good for your hair and skin. Ghee also contains saturated fats but is beneficial if taken within limits. Other oils that contain saturated fats are palm oil and kernel oil.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are heart friendly as they contain good cholesterol or HDL (high density lipoprotein). Of the vegetable oils, monounsaturated oils work the best on cholesterol levels. Olive oil, peanut oil and mustard oils are monounsaturated oils.

The third type of fat is the polyunsaturated fat. These contain Omega- 3 and Omega-6 fats. Whole sources of polyunsaturated fats are the best. Sources of these are flax seeds, walnuts and oily fish.

Here are some facts about commonly used oils in Indian cooking:

Groundnut oil
Groundnut oil has a near-perfect ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Diets that include groundnut oil are effective in protecting against heart disease, as compared to most oils.

Groundnut oil contains natural antioxidants that prevent formation of free radicals and protect us from various cancers. It also helps reduce cholesterol levels. It lowers the bad cholesterol in our body without lowering the good cholesterol. Good cholesterol is HDL (high density lipoprotein) that transports cholesterol back to the liver and prevents blockages. Bad cholesterol is LDL (low density lipoprotein) that transports cholesterol to tissues and arteries causing blockages.

Sesame oil
Sesame oil is of two kinds — refined and unrefined. Organic, unrefined sesame oil adds an amazing flavor to food.

Sesame oil is rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Sesame oil contains fat soluble antioxidants that prevent formation of free radicals. It has cholesterol lowering properties too. Sesame oil helps people with anxiety, nerve and bone disorders. It also improves circulation, improves immunity and helps ease digestive problems like flatulence, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. If used regularly, sesame oil helps combat stress, tension, nurtures the nervous system, relieves fatigue, cures insomnia and improves vitality.

Sesame oil will also protect you from cancer. Since it is a rich source of calcium, it helps those with arthritis and joint pain.

Sunflower oil
Sunflower oil is high in the essential vitamin E and low in saturated fat. Sunflower oil, refined or unrefined is heart friendly. It lowers cholesterol levels as it contains the right amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Safflower oil
Safflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fats. It has properties which help in reducing weight. In addition, they help in the strengthening of the cell membranes, thus preventing the entry of toxins. This aids in boosting immunity. Safflower oil reduces cholesterol levels too, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Safflower oil is also recommended to diabetic patients as it reduces blood sugar levels. This oil also helps ease premenstrual symptoms.

Choose The Right Oil

Always remember that oils are better cold pressed and organic rather than refined. Refining them reduces their health properties. There is no one “best cooking oil”; each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Simply choose the one that works best for you. Avoid trans fats. Hydrogenated vegetable oil contains trans fats. These elevate cholesterol levels, putting your heart at risk.

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