Which is the best cooking oil for the heart and cholesterol

Which oil is good for health? Which cooking oil is safe to use? Which oil will bring down cholesterol levels? Which is a heart friendly oil? Searching for answers to these questions? Read this guide to ease the confusion.

Cooking oil – the one ingredient that most of us cannot do without, is the one ingredient that perhaps creates the maximum confusion. There was a time when cooking was a simple affair, with not much thought going into which oil to use. Traditions were followed in almost every kitchen, and every region and family had its favourite cooking medium. Our mothers and their mothers swore by them. Particular oils, it was said, enhanced the taste of specific dishes. For instance, 'avial' was cooked in coconut oil and it would be considered sacrilege to prepare 'Doi Maach' in anything other than mustard oil – there was no other way to make these dishes. Not until new data, based on research, started pouring in – making hitherto acceptable edible oils into fiends that choked our arteries and caused ailments that we could barely pronounce, leave alone comprehend.

Good for health oils vs. Bad for health oils

All oils are not equal – that is an unquestionable fact. The only way they are equal is in the number of calories they provide per gram. Oils affect our bodies differently since different oils have different properties. That is the reason for them being categorized into 'good for health' and 'bad for health'. With so many selections of cooking oils in the market and so much being written and being said about the different varieties of edible oils, it is actually challenging for the consumer to decide which oils are best for consumption. Are all oils that have been relegated into the 'bad for you fats' category actually bad?

If you are someone who reads the daily newspaper, you would perhaps be as baffled, as I get, by the 'healthy oil' fads that become a trend, every other month. There are frequent reports 'glorifying' certain edible oils and some others slating the same cooking oils – leaving me to wonder, what to cook my meals in!

That takes me back, to what my grandmother had to say, about oils. In her book, all oils offered some health benefit. It's true that oils remain indispensable in Indian kitchens. Boiled and steamed foods do not tickle the Indian taste buds. Healthy oils must be an essential part of our diet since they are vital for the metabolic process. Oils also have nutritive values and are not just a calorie dense ingredient.

Since oils are important for our bodies to function properly it is important that we understand different oils and their benefits, rather than deleting them from our diet on mere hearsay. So, here is a lowdown on some of the most commonly used oils in Indian cuisine.

Coconut oil

Used extensively in the preparation of food in the state of Kerala, coconut oil is extracted from 'copra', the dried fleshy part of the coconut kernel. Coconut oil has a strong, distinctive smell and a rich flavour that can best be described as sweet. Food cooked in this oil is easily discernible.

Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fats that are known to raise levels of artery clogging low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which in turn can trigger life-threatening cardiovascular disease. However, it is this high level of saturation that keeps the oil from turning rancid, thereby increasing its shelf life and of products prepared using it.

Coconut oil though is not all bad. It is known to improve sluggish thyroid glands. Regular consumption of the oil also intensifies metabolism. The high levels of saturated fats in the oil keep the skin from drying and flaking.

Since it is a saturated fat it caution should be maintained in using it. The oil should be consumed in limited amounts to avoid the build up of plaque in the arteries.

Olive oil

No other oil is as celebrated, as the olive oil. It's a rich source of heart friendly omega-3 monounsaturated fatty acids and has remarkable antioxidant properties. It is also a source of vitamin E and unique disease-fighting photo chemicals all of which help keep the arteries clean, making it the best oil, for consumption. Olive oil remains one of the costliest oils. It is available in different variants - graded based on how the oil is processed.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – This oil is of the finest quality, bursting with antioxidants and a low acidity level of 1 grams of oleic acid per 100 grams. Extra virgin olive oil is obtained from freshly picked olives through the cold press process. It has a sparkly golden colour, with a touch of green and a wide variety of aromas and a rich 'fruity' taste. Heating makes the oil lose its potency and is therefore not recommended for cooking. It is best used as salad dressing. Drizzled over dal or sabzi, gives the dish a nice flavour.
  • Virgin Olive Oil – This unrefined oil is a little more acidic (around 3 grams of oleic acid per 100 grams) than the extra-virgin variety. It is ideal for cooking as well as good for salads. It can be used to sauté onions and other Indian masalas.
  • Other variants of olive oils - Extra light olive oil, light olive oil, pomace olive oil, pure olive oil and refined olive oil are the other types of refined olive oils. They are not as beneficial as the extra-virgin and virgin variants. These oil have higher acidity levels and have lower nutritional values.

Mustard Oil

Mustard oil is used in cooking, making pickles, salads as well as a body massage oil. It has a rich golden colour, a sharp piquant flavour and a strong smell. It needs to be brought to smoking point, before it can be used for cooking.

Mustard oil is used predominantly in the hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and West Bengal. The oil is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Consumption of mustard oil is said to be beneficial for the digestive system, as it helps the intestine secrete digestive juices that improve digestion.

It is also antibacterial and regular consumption of the oil combats bacterial infections in the urinary tract, digestive system, colon and excretory system. Ayurveda also celebrates the oil's antifungal properties. It inhibits fungal infections.

Mustard oil has a downside too. It is known to cause respiratory problems in susceptible people. Consumption of copious amounts of the oil is not recommended.

Groundnut Oil

Groundnut or peanut oil is a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it a heart friendly oil. The oil has a high smoking point, which makes it a good choice for deep-frying, and shallow-frying and of course sautéing.

Peanut oil is also a pleasantly flavoured oil and can best be described as sweet and palatable. It is virtually cholesterol free and has miniscule amounts of the saturated fats. Additionally, the oil is a good source of resveratrol which can aid with the prevention of degenerative nerve disorders.

On the flipside peanut oil can trigger allergic reactions in those who suffer from peanut allergies. The most common allergic reaction to the oil could be an outbreak of hives, swelling and rashes.

Rice Bran Oil

Rice bran oil is excellent for the Indian style of cooking. Its high smoking point makes it suitable for frying. The mildly flavoured oil helps in retaining flavours of the food that is cooked in it. As the name suggests, the oil comes from rice, it's extracted from rice bran which is the brown layer that covers unpolished rice.

Rice bran oil falls in the category of healthy oils. It is a rich source of vitamin E, which is a great antioxidant. Additionally, it is also rich in oryzanol, another compound that has antioxidant properties. This makes it a heart friendly oil. It raises levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduces triglycerides and LDL (the bad cholesterol). Consumption of rice bran oil will improve the cholesterol quality in the body.

Studies indicate that rice bran oil can also alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms related to menopause.

Rice bran oil can be good for people prone to kidney stones as it lowers calcium absorption and formation of certain types of kidney stones. However, it also puts you at a risk of hypocalcemia, where the calcium in the blood drops dangerously low. It is therefore advised that the oil is not used for long durations. It is best to use the oil in combination with other oils.

This is not a complete list of oils. There are many other healthy oils out there, such as –
  • Canola oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Sesame or gingelly oil
  • Soya bean oil
  • Cotton seed oil

Oils that are bad for health contain high levels of saturated fats. Some fats that must be avoided are –
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Butter
  • Ghee

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Guest Author: Prakash12 Oct 2016

While the other did her best to glorify the importance of other cooking oil in her write up, she made a mere mention about sunflower oil and other oils which are also important to have check on heart disease. For me I have been trying the sunflower oil since 20 years and feeling safe and has no health issues so far. But occasionally during festivities out of compulsion and need, we are bound to use the groundnut oil. Though we purchase the double refined one, still I find there is stomach disorder occurring in the children the next day. So we have decided that even the sweet and hot items are be prepared with sunflower oil which is less sticky too. When we fry the papad with sunflower oil, we could see no residue of oil presence on the papad and thus even when doing Puris we would find no presence of oil residue on them and thus I vote for sunflower refined oil for cooking.

Guest Author: 12 Oct 2016

Thank you for sharing your experiences with different oils. Here is some additional detail on sunflower oil -

Sunflower oil is a mix of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (namely linoleic acid).

Every tablespoon of sunflower oil has 1.4 grams of saturated fat, 2.7 grams of monounsaturated fat and 8.9 grams of linoleic fatty acid. Research findings indicate that polyunsaturated fatty acids lower cholesterol levels. Sunflower oil is devoid of alpha-linoleic fatty acid which is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fat. Though, it has copious amounts of linoleic fatty acid, an omega-6 fatty acid which is healthy but not the same as omega-3.

Health experts recommend that a mix of healthy oils is consumed, instead of having just one type of oil. There are many benefits of having a mix of oils.

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