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Blended oils are better for health
Tuesday, 13 September, 2022, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr Smita Lele
Cooking oil forms an integral part of every Indian household’s grocery list and how to make the right choice of edible oil is a big challenge for most of us, particularly, women. Excess information and globalisation has given us easy access to purchase commodities from across the globe. Further, poor habits like stress, over eating, sedentary lifestyle and so on have given rise to several health issues including cardiac diseases. Controlling the quality and quantity of cooking oil has never been more important in today’s day and age to maintain good health.

Vegetable oils are generally from single plant source (mostly seeds) or blended oils. The latter, also known as multi-source edible oil, is the most preferred and recommended as it combines two oils in a ratio to give you the benefit of two oils in one. Single source oils like olive and palm are imported whereas oils like Rice Bran (RBO), Sunflower, Soy, Mustard, Sesame, Groundnut, Coconut are indigenous oils. RBO is obtained from bran and not from any oil seed or nut, making it a unique ‘Make in India’ product, which has low absorption properties and contains antioxidant Oryzanol.

The method of cooking and choice of cooking oil is different across India. While groundnut oil is used mostly in Western states, mustard oil is used in North and East whereas coconut oil is popular in South India. However, with awareness of health benefits, changing lifestyles and food habits as well as fusion of cuisines, we end up using a variety of cooking oils. The one thing common among Indians is using oils for tadka and deep or shallow frying snacks.

Our cooking methods involve heating oil at very high temperatures. The best oil for frying is one which has high smoking point so that the oil does not degrade during heat exposure. Degraded oil is harmful to health due to free fatty acids (rancidity) and formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which have been reported as carcinogens e.g. polyacrylamide. Low absorb blended oil technology offers a good option for frying food.

Many “health- and weight-conscious” persons, especially the younger generation, perceive oil or fat in food as a culprit to omit or minimise from their diet. This is a wrong notion. Oils and fats play several essential roles in the human body and have to be part of your daily diet. In addition, they make the food more palatable and flavourful. Fat also helps absorption of the oil-soluble vitamins such vitamin A, improves digestion, acts as a lubricant for outjoints and transports micronutrients to various tissues.

Almost all oils contain mixture of Mono Unsaturated Fats (MUFA), Poly Unsaturated Fats (PUFA) and Saturated Fats (SFA). Several decades of research have shown that an ideal edible oil should have this ratio of relative proportion of SFA:MUFA:PUFA equal to 1:1.5:1 (World Health Organization recommendation).

Unfortunately, none of the natural vegetable oils have this ideal ratio – some have too much of PUFA, some are rich in MUFA. When vegetable oil is hydrogenated the product is Vanaspati Ghee and is 100% SFA because in this process all the unsaturated bonds (MUFA, PUFA) are completely saturated. Pure or desi ghee, a dairy product has all three components SFA, MUFA, PUFA like vegetable oils, however desi ghee is an animal derived product. Interestingly, it is observed that many vegetable seed oils are rich in omega 6 and animal origin fats are rich in omega 3. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are Poly Unsaturated Fats, and as an exception only few vegetable oils (mustard, flax seed) have large quantity of omega 3 and many have no omega 3 at all. The Ideal ratio of Omega 3 to 6 is reported as 1:4, but no vegetable oil has this desired proportion.

The best solution for ensuring the ‘ideal’ oil with the right ratio of both MUFA and PUFA which can make food healthy and tasty is blending of oils. In Western countries many oils are sold as a blend of 2 or more oils and in India the FSSAI regulation allows use of 3 oils and the minor component has to be at least 20%.

Human studies of consumption of mixture of oils have shown positive synergy which means that benefits of a single oil are enhanced when it is used in combination with another oil. Appropriate blending of edible oils such as rice bran and safflower oil/ sunflower oil; coconut and sesame oil; canola and flaxseed oil are good options. Blended oils have improved heat stability, provide better nutrition and have anti-inflammatory properties. There was statistically significant decrease in plasma lipids, inflammation and, hence lower risk of coronary heart disease. Due to proven benefits of blended oils, National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has also recommended use of blended oil for good nutrition.

(The author is a food engineering and technology expert.
She can be reached at Dr.smita.lele@gmail.com)
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