When it comes to oils and health, you will hear hundreds of different opinions, doubts, and reasons for why not to consume certain oil. All Fats and Oils are made up of a basic unit called a Triglyceride (TG). Triglycerides are made of 1 Glycerol backbone and 3 Fatty Acid chains. Now there are 3 main types of Fatty Acids, 

  • Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA)
  • Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)
  • Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA).

Saturated Fatty Acids (SFAs) are stable & solid at room temperature & have a longer shelf life. e.g. Coconut Oil, Butter, Ghee, 

Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) are less stable & viscous liquids at normal room temperature. They are considered heart healthy as they reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol without lowering the HDL (good) cholesterol. Examples of oils rich in MUFA are Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil & Mustard Oil.

Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) are the most unstable & hence liquids at all temperatures. PUFA lowers both LDL (bad)cholesterol & HDL (good) cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart diseases. PUFA are made up of mixture of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) called Omega-3 & Omega-6. Excessive consumption of Omega-6 is associated with increasing inflammation and causes several diseases. (We consume far more Omega-6 on daily basis). This is the reason, why it is very important that we try and consume both these EFAs in balance. 

The ideal dietary ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 should be 1:1 but currently we consume anything between 10:1 to 100:1. It will be realistic to set a desirable goal of 2:1 to 3:1 for the same. 

To achieve a healthy Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio we should try the following:
  • Chose oils rich in MUFA like olive oil.
  • Eat foods rich in Omega-3 like coldwater sea fish, fish oil, Flex seeds, Almonds, Walnuts, Rapeseeds etc.
  • Avoid Oils rich in Omega 6 like Corn,Soy bean, Sunflower, Groundnut, Cotton seed etc.

No single oil is 100% MUFA / PUFA or Saturated Fatty Acids ! They are all mixtures of all 3 of these, in various proportions. 

Problem with Vegetable Oils:

One problem with Unsaturated Oils (especially PUFA) is that they get oxidized while heating, producing several toxic oxidation products especially ALDEHYDES, which interfere with the DNA & RNA and lead to rapid cell death. Not only this, Vegetable oils are mostly hydrogenated to make them more ‘stable’ and increase their ‘shelf life’. This leads to the production of Trans Fatty Acids, which have disastrous effects on your health. Since vegetable oils are generally cheaper that saturated fats, most commercial establishments use them. Moreover they do not change them frequently & keep on reusing them. Hence eating (especially fried food) outside food is very unhealthy as it contains high amounts of Trans fatty Acids & toxic oxidation products like Aldehydes.

So we come back to our original question. Which are the best Oils for cooking?

Some final points to consider while deciding which oil are the best are factors like:

  1. Percentages of SFA, MUFA & PUFA
  2. Omega 3 content
  3. Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio
  4. Micro-nutrients in the oil
  5. Smoke Point of the oil
  6. Stability/Shelf Life

The Verdict:

Based on these findings Mustard Oil, Olive Oil & Coconut Oil are the best oils to use for cooking in addition to Ghee & Butter.

Also remember:
  • Saturated Fat is not as bad, as we have been made to believe in the past.  
  • We should avoid eating Fried Food from outside (e.g. Samosa, French Fries, KFC etc)
  • Reheating or reuse of Vegetable Oils should be avoided.