Pick Your Oil Carefully

R Ambika Rajendran1, Dhandapani Raju2 1Division of Genetics, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa Campus, New Delhi - 110012, India 2Division of Plant Physiology, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa Campus, New Delhi - 110012, I

2019-05-08 09:16:11

Credit: pixabay.com

Credit: pixabay.com

Cooking oil is an incredible part of Indian cuisine. Cooking oil/edible oil is derived from natural sources like plants, animals or synthetic sources and is used in frying, baking, flavouring, salad dressing and other types of cooking.  Market has cooking oils from several plant sources such as olive, palm, soybean, canola, corn, peanut and animal-derived oils like butter and lard. Oil has a clear cut role to play in human health and metabolism. Industrialization and urbanizations has given a wide range of oils for customers to pick from. Health awareness, twisting of Indian cuisines, lifestyle diseasesforces consumers to learn about the different cooking oils available in market and analyse its merits and demerits.

Oil is the main source of dietary fat. Dietary fat is an important nutrient and source of energy for many functions in the body. Large amount of fat is stored as fat cells which are source of available energy. Fat provides 37 kJ per gram energy in place of 17 kJ per gram from carbohydrates or proteins. Fats serve insulate the body, support and cushion vital organs. Fat is needed to transport fat-soluble vitamins. The quality of fat in the diet has impact on normal growth, development, brain function and blood cholesterol levels. The fatty acid composition, anti-nutritional factors, vitamin and mineral content in oil decides the qualities of oil.

Chemically, fats are triglycerides. A triglyceride consists of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids linked to the glycerol molecule. Different combinations of fatty acids are linked to the glycerol backbone. Fatty acids are classified based the presence/absence of double bonds between carbon atoms in fatty acid carbon chain. Saturated fatty acids(SFA)contain no double bonds.SFA includes myristic, palmitic, stearic and butyricacid. Unsaturated fats have one or more than one double bonds. It can be either monounsaturated (MUFA) or polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). MUFA contain one double bond and PUFA contain more than one double bond. PUFA are further classified based on the position of the first double bond from the methyl end of the carbon chain. Oil is a mixture of SFA, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). MUFA is oleic acid (C18:1n-9) that dominates in Western diet.PUFA includes mainly linoleic acid (C18:2n-6), a lower proportion of alpha-linolenic acid (C18:3n-3),low proportion of long chain arachidonic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, docosapentanoicacid and docosahexaenoicacid. Linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) are essential fatty acids as human body cannot synthesize these on its own and is gained from dietary sources. Essential fatty acids play vital role in brain and health development.

Fatty Acids


Linoleic acid

soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower oil

Gamma-linolenic acid

Black currant, evening primrose, borage

arachidonic acid

Meat, poultry, Fish

alpha-linolenic acid

Walnut, flax, canola, soybean

Eicosapentaenoic acid


Docosahexaenoicacid, Docosapentanoicacid

Oily Fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and snoek)

Oleic acid

Olive, canola, nuts, dairy, meat and chicken products

Saturated fats

Palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and animal fats


Nutritional profile of major oils





Taste/ Aroma

Viscosity / Oil density




Negative Effects


Slows digestion

Light yellow

Mild flavor

Slightly thicker in viscosity

Frying, baking, salad dressings

Approved as healthiest oil by many associations (American Dietetic Association, and American Heart Association)

Lowers risk of heart disease,

At high temp, its toxic and smoky; excessive consumption causes respiratory distress, anemia, constipation, blindness


Improves apparent digestibility of SFA, MUFA and PUFA but reduces the retention of MUFA and PUFA

Pale Transparent  Yellow

Yes (High Oleic),
No (Regular)

Low viscosity

Cooking, salad dressings, margarine, shortening


Lowers the level of bad cholesterol without lowering level of good cholesterol

Retains moisture in skin & resist infection in infants

Beneficial in treatment of obesity, diabetes, diarrhea, teeth disorder and beauty aids.

It can cause peanut allergy, Cold-pressed peanut oil is not good, excessive consumption can cause hyperacidity, indigestion and heart burn


Good even at high temperatures

Yellowish to green ( Greener it is, purer it is)

Strong flavor


Sautee, stir frying, cooking, salad oils, margarine

Longer storage life
Healthiest when consumed uncooked.

Brings health benefit
Reduce heart disease, risk of some cancer, diabetes
Influence body fat distributes

 At high temp it loses some of its flavor and also become unstable



Pale Yellow

No flavor



Cooking, salad dressings, margarine

In salad because doesn't get solidify when chilled,  used in both cooking and cosmetics

Helps in losing weight
Reduce level of cholesterol
Strengthen immunity Helps in treatment of diabetes
Promotes hair growth and a healthy skin

If not taken in balance then it may have side effects.



Golden Yellow

Reddish shade


Low viscosity

Frying, baking, salad dressings, margarine, shortening

1. Recommended by American Health Commission (AHC)
2. Retains 100% food taste

Easy to Digest
Beneficial to health heart
Reduce risk of Chronic diseases

Very high omega-6:omega-3 (49:1) may increase the probability of a number of diseases and depression; High intake of Omega-6 may cause breast cancer or prostate cancer; Essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan.


Low Digestibility

Clear, transparent, water like color

Light Yellow

No taste

Bland Taste (Non Spiced)

Medium Odour

Slightly thicker in viscosity

Cooking, salad dressings, vegetable oil, margarine, shortening

Soybean oil contains natural antioxidants which remain in the oil even after extraction. These antioxidants help to prevent the oxidative rancidity.

Reduce cancer cell activity
Lower cholesterol
Helps in controlling osteoporosis
Control blood sugar level

It may cause some side effects to health

Rice Bran

Easily digested

Light golden color

Pleasant nutty & buttery Taste

Light viscosity making it non-sticky and easily emulsifies in dressings and sauces

Cooking, frying, deep frying, salads, dressings. Very clean flavoured& palatable.

Recommended by such organizations as the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization

No cholesterol

No trans fatty acids. Naturally low in saturated fat.
Rich in oleic and linoleic fatty acids.
Naturally free of trans fatty acids

Skin side effects (irritation, itching); Lowers the amount of blood calcium in the body; causes intestinal ulcers or conditions that cause difficulty swallowing or digestion


Stimulates Digestion


Pungent, unpleasant taste



Cooking, frying, deep frying, salads, dressings.

Helps in winter for making body warm.
It can be used for driving up muscles.  

An antibacterial oil
Protects teeth from germs if rubbed on gums and make gums strong
Organic mustard oil helps preventing cancer and is also helpful for slowing down the ageing process

Erucic acid, a fatty acid that has undesirable effects on health when consumed in large amounts





Distinct nutty aroma and taste


Cooking, frying, deep frying, salads, dressings.

Rich in gamma-tocopherol, linoleic acid and oleic acid

Prevents hypertension, diabetes, cancer; improves oral health, Boosts metabolism, digestion

Increase in body weight;if hypersensitive there is risks of colon cancer, diverticulitis, allergic reactions

Points for a judicious choice of oil to cook

  • Avoidtrans-fats.Look for trans-fat content in oil brand.Trans-fats: This is another class of fats formed by the partial hydrogenation of unsaturated fatty acids. According to arrangement of chains of carbon atoms across the double bond, fatty acid may be cis (chains are on the same side of the double bond) or trans (chains are on opposite sides of the double bond). Trans-fatty acid (TFA) is the unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid(s). Trans-fats are primarily meant to prolong shelf life of food.It should not exceed 2% of the total oil. Most of the snack foods and junk foodsare made with partially/completely hydrogenatedvegetable oils which containstrans-fats.Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing hydrogen gas into oil as high pressure. The more solid the oil is the more hydrogenated, such as margarine, crisco or lard. Refining (cleaning, neutralization, filtration, bleaching, deodorizing) also leaves transfats in oil.
  • Restrict the quantity of oil consumption by a person per day to 3-4 tea spoons.
  • Avoid common Indian habit of re-heating and re-cooking oils.
  • Changing or rotating oils is healthy as it gives the body the different essential fatty acids which it needs.
  • Use a thoughtful combination of MUFA, PUFA and SFA. Thumb rule is 20% SFA,30% PUFA and 50% MUFA. Optimum ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid is 4:1.
  • For deep frying, use a fat with a smoke pointabove 400°F.Refined oil is good for frying as it produces less smoke.
  • Unrefined oils/cold pressed virgincan be used for milderapplications and not for frying

A healthy diet plan and workout can keep up well-beingto a large extend.