Choosing cooking oils, especially in the face of the extravagant claims that companies are wont to make, is a tough ask. The choice is especially critical at a time when coronary problems are at an all time high in India. The very controversial and polarised debate about the safety of various types of fats is also not helping our cause. In this blog, we plan to cover the upsides and downsides to different fat types, and discuss which oils have the best mix of them.
Different Kinds of Fats
By “fats”, we mean the molecules which make up, in varied concentrations, all of the vegetable and animal fats we use in cooking. A fat is made up of two smaller molecules: a monoglyceride and a fatty acid.
Fatty acids are long chains of carbon atoms. The carbon atoms may share a double bond with each other, or such bonds may dissolve to form bonds with other molecules, like a hydrogen molecule. Depending on the number of hydrogen bonds on the fatty acid molecules, we go from no saturation (i.e., no hydrogen bonds) to saturated. Molecules can also be monounsaturated (a single carbon double-bond) or polyusaturated (multiple carbon double-bonds).
Phew! Now that we are done with that tedious chemical verbiage, we can discuss the real reasons all these important when choosing oils.
A saturated fat is a fat in which the fatty acids all have single bonds i.e., no double bonds at all. A majority of saturated fats come from animal sources like milk, butter, and eggs. Until recently, it was believed that saturated fats were largely responsible for increase in cholesterol. The link however was very weak, and not at all supported by experimental data. But it however has become an accepted and oft-repeated truism among both the medical and lay communities. To reiterate, there was never any real proof of danger when this idea was first presented to the public. Now we have enough experimental data to say with accuracy that saturated fats are not responsible for rising cholesterol and the attendant coronary problems. So saturated fats are not bad for you. Butter, friends, is finally vindicated!
Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and lean meats like salmon and trout. They are beneficial for you, and increase the level of the good cholesterol (LDL) in your body, protecting your heart and preventing coronary diseases. So it’s definitely a good fat.
This is the only major “bad” or even the “worst” kind of fat. While some of it occurs naturally in some foods like meat and dairy in small quantities, most of trans fats are made from oils through a process called partial hydrogenation. By this process hydrogen is added artificially into the oil, increasing the shelf life of the oil. These partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and this can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
So what should you be eating?
Now we have established the ground rules. All kinds of fats other than the transfats are fine and healthy. Best oils to eat are naturally occurring ones, not artificially processed ones like dalda which is a partially hydrogenated (meaning very, very bad) vegetable oil of an indeterminate source. Processed cheese too is bad for this very same reason.
- Butter: Yes, butter. Like we discussed, this is a healthy, saturated fat. It will actually improve your lipid profile.
- Soybean Oil: Soybean oil is chiefly a poly-unsaturated fats rich vegetable oil. Linoleic acid (omega-6) is the major poly-unsaturated fatty acid found in it. Omega-6 is a great fatty acid to be adding to your diet. Along with it, soybean oil also contains loads of vitamin E.
- Sunflower Oil: A very similar profile to soybean oil. Also rich in linoleic acid, when processed in the right way.
- Canola Oil: One of the the healthiest of plant-derived oils, having a relatively low amount of saturated fat and a high content of polyunsaturated fats. It has a combination of both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which is a kickass feature.
- Olive Oil: Olive oil is more and more in vogue these days because of faulty science. It is very low in saturated fats, and was pushed as the best oil in the market. Even though it is over-hyped, olive oil is a great oil. It has a great lipid profile, and unlike many oils, goes well with raw salads. So splash some olive oil in your vinaigrette without any qualms.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many, many natural oils that are great for you. But now you can just look up the lipid profile of any oil, and tell for yourself if it is good for you or not. Doctors recommend switching your oil every few months to add more variety to your lipid profile. Now, with this handy guide, you can do that easily.