How to choose a healthy cooking oil

An understanding of fats and oils in our daily life is important to maintain a good general health. Just as choosing the right kind of carbohydrates and proteins to eat, we need to keep a big check on the medium of fats we use for cooking.

From the nutrition aspect, fats may be segregated as healthy and unhealthy fats. We have monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) which are the healthy fats and which we should use more of daily. Of these two, we should consume more of MUFA.

Of the unhealthy fats, which are of two kinds, trans fats and saturated fatty acids (SFA), trans are the worst kind and that which should be totally avoided. We may totally avoid or restrict saturated fats as we choose.

The ratio of SFA, MUFA and PUFA should ideally be 1:1.5:1. No oil is fully saturated or unsaturated. All oils contain a certain amount of all fatty acids. Thus olive oil though predominantly MUFA, will have small amounts of SFA. And sunflower though more of PUFA, will contain MUFA also. This is why we need to use different oils – at least 2 kinds – in our cooking. And as the ratio suggests, use more of oils with MUFA.

Oils high in MUFA are olive, canola, peanut, mustard, rice bran. Perhaps our equivalent to olive oil is peanut oil. Rice bran oil is something new but possibly one of the best oils to use. MUFAs are known to improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce risk of heart attacks, and possibly improve glycaemic control in type 2 diabetes. They are also found to improve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s. MUFA is also found in seeds, nuts, avocadoes, flaxseeds.

Oils high in PUFA are safflower, soyabean, sunflower, corn and sesame. These should be used in combination with oils high in MUFA to get the healthy ratio right.

SFA is found in animal fats, butter, ghee, vanaspati, cheese, milk, curds, coconut oil and palm oil. Coconut oil contains saturated fats different and less unhealthy than animal fats. But since coconut oil is over 90% saturated, limit its use to a minimum, in combination with MUFA and PUFA. Ghee and butter should be used very sparingly. Keeping away from sweets or snacks made in these will help reduce SFA intake.

Now, a word about oil found in fish. Fish is the best animal food to consume. Although chicken, fish and meat contain almost the same amounts of cholesterol, the predominantly omega 3 fatty acids in fish makes it a very healthy non- vegetarian food to have.

Trans fatty acids are found in partially hydrogenated fats – usually found in commercial snacks, foods. Even foods labelled free from trans fats may contain small amounts of TFA. The medical community advices that no trans fats be
consumed, and that even small amounts eaten regularly will risk cardiovascular illness.

Parvathy R Krishnan

The author is a trained Nutrition & Dietetics expert with over 20 years’ of experience in hospitals like Vijaya Hospital in Chennai and the Armed Forces Hospital and New Mowasat Hospitals in Kuwait. She is presently a member of the Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India. Parvathy blogs at

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