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Sunflower, Olive, or mustard: which is the oil for you

When it comes to cooking oils, there’s a wide range to choose from, and picking the right oil can get tricky. To make matters easier, we speak to experts to help you figure out which cooking oil is best for you.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 18, 2014 18:54 IST
Sumedha Deo
Sumedha Deo
Hindustan Times

It’s easy to get confused when you step into the cooking oil aisle at your local supermarket — from old favourites like groundnut, mustard and sunflower, to newer entrants like canola, rice bran and olive, the options vying for your attention are numerous.

And with nutritional information that includes esoteric terms like MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acid) and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid), picking the right oil can get even trickier.

To make matters easier, we speak to experts to help you figure out which cooking oil is best for you.

Take your pick
"Oils can be classified under four categories as per their fat content: saturated, unsaturated, mono-unsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA). Unsaturated oils are more beneficial and healthier," says Ekta Tandon, head of nutrition at the Mumbai gym, Fitness First.

"Saturated fat contains triglycerides, which could clog your arteries, but that doesn’t mean they have no benefits. Coconut oil contains saturated fats, but is good for your hair and skin. Ghee also has them, si it's beneficial if consumed within limits," she says.

Read: The oils you should consume

The best way to choose your cooking oil is by keeping two things in mind: the type of cooking and your nutritional needs. "Olive oil is not a good choice for deep-frying as it has a low smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts to burn)," says nutritionist Prachi Shah.

She suggests the use of groundnut or sunflower oil for the same. Coconut and palm kernel oils are high in saturated fats, which make them unsuitable for those suffering from cholesterol-related problems. "These are flavourful oils, but their use should be heavily restricted for blood pressure and heart patients. You could use small quantities as salad dressings or in marinades," says Shah.

Kill bad fats
Substitute your regular oil with a healthier option for an easy fitness fix. "Substituting canola oil for solid fat in recipes eliminates trans-fat, reduces saturated fat and drops total fat by up to 25%," says Dr Ashish Contractor, head of preventive cardiology at the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai.

"It is also free of cholesterol and is a good source of vitamins E and K, omega-3 fat and plant sterols, which may help protect your heart," he says.

Another way to eliminate bad fats is to mix oils. "I recommend using an equal ratio of groundnut and safflower oil for everyday cooking. For frying, use a combination of mustard and sesame oils," says Shah. Mixing has its advantages — you get the nutritional benefits of healthier oils without compromising on the taste of the nuttier ones.

"Canola doesn't have a distinct flavour, so it lets the ingredients retain their taste," says dietician Rekha Sharma.

Oil profile

Groundnut:High in MUFA and PUFA, which help in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It's a good source of vitamin E, which is known to act as an antioxidant by protecting the skin from acne or scars.

Safflower: It's light flavour doesn’t overpower other ingredients. It contains a protein that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Mustard: High smoke point makes it ideal for frying. It can also be used as a stimulant to help digestion and circulation. Due to its antibacterial properties, this oil can help protect the skin.

Sesame:It has a fairly neutral flavour and a high smoking point. It is also high in PUFA and contains traces of calcium, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Canola: It also has a good content of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. With only seven per cent saturated fat, it is one of the healthiest cooking oils. Being light in texture, it does not absorb too much into food, which means you end up using less oil.

Olive: High in MUFA, so linked to lower risk of heart disease and breast cancer. Extra virgin oil is rich in natural plant antioxidants that can protect against damaging free radicals. Reasonably high in saturated fat, so don’t use in excess.

Read: Want slimmer waistline, switch to olive oil

Palm: Contains vitamin E and carotenes, which have been shown to help protect the body from free-radical damage. It is 85 per cent saturated fat, so use in limited quantities. Also, the demand for palm oil is driving rainforest destruction worldwide.

Sunflower:It is a good source of vitamin E — it contains all your daily requirements in 1-2 tbsp — and the PUFA in it helps lower cholesterol. It doesn’t smoke at high temperatures. However, re-using the oil more than a few times for deep-frying could cause the formation of harmful trans-fats. Rice bran: High in MUFA and PUFA. Good for deep-frying because of its high smoking point.

(with inputs from Ekta Tandon, Rekha Sharma and Dr Ashish Contractor)

First Published: Feb 18, 2014 18:32 IST