As 20% of our diet comprises fat, cooking oils play an essential role in our diet and cooking. Indian food preparation uses a variety of cooking methods such as seasoning, tadka/tempering, frying and sautéing dishes with oils to enhance flavours. Oil is heated at different temperatures when cooking. As a result, high-temperature cooking (deep frying) destroys antioxidants like vitamin E and beta carotene and produces toxic compounds that could be harmful to health. Furthermore, different oils have different compositions and it is crucial to select the right cooking oil to ensure health benefits.
The type, quantity and quality of oil you consume matters a lot.
Which oil is best for cooking?
There are four main types of fats in edible oils: saturated (SAFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), polyunsaturated (PUFA) and trans fats (TFA), of which SAFA and TFA are considered unhealthy. Amongst cooking oil peanut oil, sunflower, rice bran, and soybean oils are rich in MUFA and PUFA - better suited for frying, sauteing, grilling, and roasting. Mustard oil, sesame, and olive oil are rich in MUFA and are best suited for stir-frying and baking. Extra virgin olive oil is good for salad dressing.
There is no single oil that is best or worst. It is, therefore, advised to use oils in rotation.
Ideally, it is necessary to use two different kinds of oils each day for different cooking purposes to maintain a balance of essential fatty acids rather than changing the type of oil every month. E.g., mustard and rice bran oil; sunflower and groundnut oil etc. The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) recommends the blending of oils.
How about health claims?
Many brands of edible oils mark their products as heart-healthy, cholesterol-free, etc. Remember that all oils of vegetable origin are naturally cholesterol free. It is best to use the oil sparingly. Excessive use of oil results in obesity, cardiovascular risk, and other health complications. Taking a look at the Nutrition Facts on food labels can help you make a healthy choice.
It is recommended to use 500 ml oil per person per month (4 tsp/day per person).
Is the cooking oil used for frying reusable?
Using oils repeatedly, especially after frying, can alter their chemical composition. Reusing oil can lead to cancer (carcinogenic), heart disease, and acidity. Every time you heat oil, its properties diminish.
Oil used for frying can be reused 1-2 times for different purposes (seasoning/tadka). It is safer to discard oil if its colour changes to brown.
After filtering, use the oil used for frying to make curries or for tempering.
Consume used frying oils within two days, as its deterioration rate is higher.
How does cold-pressed oil differ from other oils?
Cold-pressed oil retains most of its original colour, flavour, and nutrients through minimal processing methods. Cold-pressed oils retain phytochemicals and antioxidants, such as vitamin E, because the temperature is carefully kept at room temperature while pressing the oil and the seeds are extracted at a lower temperature. Examples are coconut oil, soybean oil, groundnut oil, sesame oil, etc.
Cold-pressed oils have a shorter shelf life but are highly nutritious, whereas refined oils have an extended shelf life.
In a nutshell, a variety of cooking oils will provide maximum benefits such as nutritional value and taste when used in moderate quantities, combinations, and at the appropriate temperature with recommended storage. If you need help with the right choice of cooking oils, do consult our diet counsellor.