Which oil is the best and healthiest to cook with? This million-dollar question is sure to blink bright in the mind of most if not all. Amidst partial information, marketing messages, hearsay and prevalent misnomers, it is often easy to be swayed as to the choices you make regarding cooking oil. The attempt here is to dispel some of the fallacies that surround edible oils and share a factual perspective that can help you make the best choice for your kitchen.
Myth: Oil=fat & fat is bad
A common oversight that people often make is trying to eliminate fats completely from their diet. In reality, an ideal diet should consist of 15-30 per cent fats, and edible oils form a major contributor to dietary fats. So, instead of eliminating oil completely from one’s diet, smart choices regarding usage of oil must be made with consideration to Indian cooking methods which are different quite from that of the west. Edible oils have several fatty acids that positively contribute to the proper functioning of human metabolism. These fatty acids can be aligned broadly under three classes:
- Saturated fatty acids (SFA) – Subdivided into long, medium and short-chained SFA. Commonly found in coconut oil, palm oil
- Mono Unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)- Mostly found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil.
- Poly Unsaturated (PUFA) – Subdivided into n-6 PUFA derived from linoleic acid &n-3 PUFA found in fatty fish and also derived from Alpha-linolenic Acid. PUFA is mostly found in flax oil, corn oil, soyabean oil, sunflower oil
The four fat-soluble vitamins namely vitamin A, D, E and K, in fact, require fats and oils in the food so that they can be absorbed through the gut. Inadequate fats may result in the deficiency of these vitamins leading to night blindness, osteoporosis, bleeding from skin and mucosa, dry skin, and susceptibility to infections due to decreased immunity.
Myth: Refined is right
The making of refined oils involves extracting oil at a very high temperature by using chemicals, which results in the loss of vital nutrients. It is again subjected to a very high temperature to neutralize the taste and to deodorize it, which causes the further breakdown of the chemical structure and turns the oil bad. So what is left behind is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, nutrition ripped fluid. No matter which oil it is, once it goes through the refining process, it loses all its nutritional value. On the other hand, cold-pressed oils are extracted by the method of pressing which does not involve heat. Thus it retains all vital nutrients, as well as its natural aroma, and flavour. They require the usage of best quality seed and hence high-quality oil is assured.
Myth: It is okay to reuse cooking oil
Every oil has what is called a smoke point and if heated beyond that, the oil starts to break down and releases harmful chemicals or free radicals that make it harmful for consumption. There is a prevalent practice in India to recycle used oils(remaining fried oil in the pan) for 2-3 times in shallow/deep frying until it exhausts completely, which increases the content of secondary oxidation products in recycled oil. Thus, the Indian deep-frying practices are harmful to a large extent to the nutritional quality of oils which is generally experienced as an off-flavour, visibly dark colour and increased viscosity due to polymerization. If you accidentally let your oil smoke or catch fire, get rid of it and start over. Once the oil has been used for deep frying, the left-over oil should be sieved and stored in an airtight container to avert further degradation. This oil can be utilized for low-temperature cooking (but not for re frying) within a span of a few days. Though, if you notice extreme physicochemical changes like darkening of the oil or foul smell, avoid further use and discard it.
Now that we have explored and clarified on some of the common misconceptions regarding edible oils, it is time to address the question as to the best oil to use. Is there any single oil that can be recommended as the most appropriate one for cooking, in order to remain healthy? The answer is NO with the solution being to use a combination of oils to address nutritional requirements and also ones that fit the type of cooking. Benefits of this approach
- Complete dependence on single oil may not be able to fulfil the proper balance of fatty acids that are required to remain healthy. It is crucial to get enough of both the MUFA & PUFA and some SFA. Additionally, it is important to get the correct ratio of linoleic & Alpha-linolenic Acid from the oils used. It is thus recommended to use different cold-pressed oils such as groundnut oil, sesame seed oil, mustard oil, coconut oil in rotation or one can use blended oils in order to get the right nutrition.
- Blended oils not only provide the goodness of two oils in a single pack, but they can also provide important essential fatty acids and micronutrients on a daily basis rather than sacrificing one micronutrient for a shorter time to get the other. It is also much more convenient to have a blended oil for all cooking purposes than having different oils for different cooking purposes.
- For Indian cooking that involves frying/deep frying, one can use cold-pressed oils like coconut oil, mustard oil, sesame seed oil, groundnut oil or pure desi ghee. The high smoke point ensures that the oil doesn’t break down into harmful elements.
- Olive oil which is one of the healthiest oils is best as a salad dressing and for dishes which involve mild sautéing such as pasta, and other Spanish and Mediterranean dishes as it does not blend with our Indian style of cooking.
It is also recommended to buy cooking oils in smaller containers to avoid waste, and store them in a dark, cool place to keep them fresh longer.
While it may initially be a bit confusing, once you start rotating your oils with the right blends and use the appropriate ones for different types of cooking, it would do you good in extracting the best benefits of using oil. It is also important to note that oils generally pack a lot of calories in them. Hence, the use of oil must be in moderation. Also, try not to overindulge in deep-fried stuff and maintain a fine balance of the amount of oil intake by considering all sources while ensuring the right mix of oils are consumed. This will ensure a well balanced edible oil equilibrium that is best suited for the wellbeing of our body while extracting its nutritional benefits to the fullest.