Healthy oil for cooking

Do you really think, an absolutely fat free diet can give you a perfect weight loss? No! Some selective fats and oils provide you with the essential fatty acids that help lower the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases, improve cognitive functioning, lubricate joints, treat depression and contribute a healthy skin. Hence, a little quantity of fat is vital even on a weight loss diet.

But choosing a correct oil for consumption among the variety of options available out there, is a real task. The oil you select should suit the overall family's health. It should suit your cooking methods. Before selecting a healthy oil for cooking for your kitchen, you need to understand simple basics about the constituents in different varieties of fats.  Read on:

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is naturally present in fats from animal origin. Among all, organ meats, egg yolk, butter, ghee, cream and cheese are ranked higher. Hence, using these fats as your cooking medium will not only cause weight gain but also put your heart to a risk. Cholesterol is that constituent which is naturally synthesized in our bodies, which means, we don't really need to get it from outside source. Cooking oils from plant origin such as sunflower, safflower, soybean, olive, corn, etc. do not actually contain cholesterol, but they promote it's formation in the body. It has been found that plant based oils, that are high in saturated fats, lead to high cholesterol levels in the body. Hence, it is recommended, that intake of oils high in saturated fats should be low in your diet or used in combination with other oils. Cholesterol has two basic fractions- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL - bad cholesterol) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL - good cholesterol). Elevated levels of total blood cholesterol or LDL is an alarming sign of all cardiovascular diseases.

Unsaturated Fatty Acids: They are considered 'heart friendly' as they do not increase the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood. They may be either 'monounsaturated' or 'polyunsaturated'.

Mono-saturated Fatty Acid (MUFA): MUFA's present in cooking oils help reduce the LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and at the same time help increase the good cholesterol.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA): PUFA's in oils also lower the 'bad' cholesterol as well as total cholesterol. Using such oil in higher quantities also may prove to be risky as lowered HDL may again develop a heart disease. The beneficial omega-3 fatty acids belong to this group.

Saturated Fatty Acid (SFA): Consumption of SFA in small quantity is desirable but excess consumption may elevate LDL and total cholesterol that may deposit on blood vessels and promotes clot formation and cardiac problems.

Different cooking oils contain these 3 fatty acids in different proportions. To achieve the maximum benefit, the healthiest option would be combining 2-3 oils that would suffice the body's requirement for all three fatty acids and cholesterol.

The table below shows, the different vegetable oils in the market and their compositions (g/100g of oil) which would help you choose your own combination of 'healthy oil for cooking',







Groundnut oil




0.5% or less

Gingelly or Sesame oil





Olive Oil




0.5% or less

Soybean oil





Mustard/Canola/Rapeseed oil





Rice Bran Oil





Sunflower Oil




0.5% or less

Safflower/Kardi Oil




0.5% or less

Palmolein Oil




0.5%or less

Coconut Oil




0.5% or less

Corn oil





Now, let us see what these figures actually indicate:

Groundnut or Peanut Oil: It is much popular in the Asian continent. They are a rich source of MUFA that help lower the LDL but also provide a fair amount of saturated fat. Hence, using groundnut oil in large quantities may not be healthy.

Gingelly or Sesame Oil: Gingelly or sesame oil is preferred for it's antioxidant and anti-depressant properties. It contains high amount of omega-6 fatty acid or linoleic acid (PUFA) and MUFA. Making it a part of your oil combination is a good idea since it is also rich in certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin B6, copper, magnesium and iron.

Olive Oil: Olive oil is a popular cooking medium in the Mediterranean region. You may find it bit expensive than other cooking oils, but olive oil provides you the maximum health benefits. Among all oils, it is the richest source of MUFA's  and contains very less saturated fats. Apart from reducing the bad cholesterol, the antioxidants in olive oil reduce the risk of some cancers, diabetes, blood clot formation and influences the body fat distribution. According to the FDA, daily consumption of olive oil (1 tbsp) may reduce the risk of all cardiac diseases.

Among all varieties in olive oil, the extra virgin olive oil is considered as the best. Having a low smoking point, it may be used in salads, light sauteing or grilling.

Soybean Oil: Soybean oil is gaining a fast popularity due to the presence of beneficial omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (PUFA's) in it. They may be helpful in reducing the total cholesterol. But they are comparatively low in MUFA's. But if it is used in combination of a MUFA rich oil, you can achieve a perfect balance of all fatty acids. Soybean oil may be used in curries, seasonings, etc but should be strictly avoided for deep frying it is a PUFA rich oil. PUFA's get oxidized at high temperatures and release toxic substances.

Mustard/Canola/Rapeseed Oil: After olive oil, mustard oil ranks second in highest MUFA content. It also contains least saturated fats. But mustard oil is not advisable for large quantity or daily use as it also contains 'Erucic acid' which has detrimental health effects. It may be used in combination with some PUFA rich oil to reduce the effect of Erucic acid.

Rice Bran Oil: Rice bran oil is commonly used in countries like China, Japan, India and other Asian countries. It is extracted from rice bran. Apart from being a rich source of MUFA  and PUFA, it contains 'oryzanol' which has cholesterol lowering properties. It also contains vitamin E and squalene which results in a healthy skin. Rice bran oil is stable at high temperatures and does not form any toxic products. It may be used for deep frying.

Sunflower Oil: Today, sunflower oil is widely available in the market under many brand names. It is rich source of PUFA , especially omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic) which help reduce total cholesterol (good and bad both). Hence, it should be combined with another oil such as red olive, palm or palmolein oil which is low in omega-6 fatty acids. It is moderately high in MUFA  and low in saturated fats .  Sunflower oil has a high smoking point and may be used in regular cooking but in combination with a MUFA rich oil such as olive or rice bran.

Safflower/Kardi Oil: Safflower oil is the richest source of omega-6 fatty acid  among all vegetable oils. Hence, it is recommended, like sunflower, even safflower oil should be used in combination of a MUFA rich oil which is low in linoleic acid.  

Palmolein Oil: Palmolein oil is rich in MUFA and saturated fats. You may combine it with a PUFA rich oil such as sunflower or soybean.

Coconut Oil: Being extremely high in saturated fats, coconut oil is regarded highly unhealthy. But that's the biggest misconception. The saturated fats contained in this oil is different from that present in animal fat. Consuming coconut oil won't harm your cholesterol levels. In fact, little amount of coconut oil has a number of health benefits. It may be combined with sunflower or safflower (PUFA rich) oils.

Corn Oil: Corn oil is also a healthy option that may be made a part of your oil combination. It is low in saturated fats and high in MUFA  and PUFA .

These are the different vegetable oils available in the market. Ideally, I would suggest you a combination of 2-3 in your diet. For example, if you are using olive oil in your salads and soup seasonings, you may use rice bran or groundnut for frying or grilling and soybean or sunflower for other preparations. Some of the ideal combinations may be:

Olive + Rice bran + Sunflower/Safflower

Olive + Soybean/Sunflower

Groundnut + Mustard/Corn + Sunflower

Coconut + Rice bran + Sunflower

Palmolein/Rice bran/Groundnut + Sunflower/Safflower

Cooking medium such butter, vanaspati or ghee contain high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol and may be used in a little amount or rarely. One tsp of ghee/day may be beneficial and may be added as a saturated fat in your diet.

Select your cooking oil wisely, trim that extra fat!

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