Not all fats and edible oils are bad for health

Updated on Aug 12, 2007 04:30 AM IST

All fats and edible oils are not bad for health. While bad fats raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes, good fats protect against them, writes Sanchita Sharma.

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Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

Most brands of edible oil claim to be more healthy than the other, leaving even informed consumers confused. Reams have been written about a healthy oil being one that has no trans fatty acids, is low in saturated fatty acids, high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and also has some amount of poly-unsaturated fatty acids. But what does all this jargon mean?

All experts say that olive oil is the healthiest oil and people obviously know: its consumption in the metros has been skyrocketing. In 2006-07, India imported about 1,500 tonnes of olive oil, of which half was for consumption and the other half for industrial use in sectors such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. But with a one-litre bottle of Pomace olive oil — the cheapest — priced at Rs 400, Pure Olive Oil (Rs 550) and Extra Virgin costing Rs 600 (prices for imported Leonardo brand), some people want options that are cheaper yet healthy.

"Among the best oils are olive oil, mustard oil, til (sesame) oil, rapeseed, canola and rice bran oil,” says Dr RR. Kasliwal, senior consultant cardiology, Apollo Hospital. Canola oil imported from Canada is widely available and priced at Rs 260 (Hudson Canola Oil) a litre.

"Other vegetable oils such as corn, soyabean and groundnut are also good, but one must remember that refining and de-odouring spoil the oil. Refined oils should be avoided,” says Kasliwal. Refining involves heating the oil to a temperature higher than 200 degrees Celsius, which not only destroys the vitamins but also produces cell destroying oxidants and trans fatty acids.

"Trans fatty acids found in refined oils and vanaspati are worse than cholesterol in terms of their impact on cardiovascular health,” says Ishi Khosla, nutritionist, WholeFoods. Trans fatty acids are widely used in the food processing industry as they retain the flavour of the food. The US Food and Drug Administration has made it mandatory for all packaged food to carry a health warning listing the amount of trans fatty acid used in their products.

It’s easy to avoid the worst oils: stay away from any oil that solidifies at room temperature. “Hydrogenated oils such as vanaspati should be avoided and the oils we recommends are a mixture of mustard and olive, or mustard and corn oil,” says Khosla.

The National Institute of Nutrition has done extensive studies on the subject and concluded the best combination is mustard and til oils in a ratio of 3:1 (three parts mustard, one part til oil).

Rice bran oil is another good choice as it is also rich in the Vitamin-E group anti-oxidants as tocopherol, oryzanol and tocotrienol, all of which fight cancer. A study from Japan in the Journal of Nutrition reported that it even lowers cholesterol better than olive oil.

Essential fatty acids come from the omega-3 and omega-6 families, and play a role in our body’s inflammatory response. Omega-6 fatty acids is found abundantly in our diet (dairy, meats, poultry, corn and sunflower oils), but omega-3 fatty acids is found in good amounts in fish and nuts such as walnut.

“Mustard and olive oils are good vegetable sources of omega 3 fatty acids, so they must be included in the diet. In fact, I ask all my patients to keep changing their cooking oil every three months or use a combination of three to four oils to get the health benefits of all of them,” says Kasliwal.


    Sanchita is the health & science editor of the Hindustan Times. She has been reporting and writing on public health policy, health and nutrition for close to two decades. She is an International Reporting Project fellow from Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and was part of the expert group that drafted the Press Council of India’s media guidelines on health reporting, including reporting on people living with HIV.

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