There always has been lot of speculation on which oil is good for health, or whether one should use ghee, butter or coconut oil after certain researches has shown health benefits of later. I remember listening to a renowned heart Doctor on radio and when he was asked which oil is good for heart, he answered “no oil is good for heart”. So think next time when you go to a supermarket to buy oil which claims that they protect your heart.
Not going too much into chemistry of fats, oils mainly consist of three fatty acids- Saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. All these are essential fatty acids as our body does not make them and hence we need to get them from the food we eat. The main question is which one in how much quantity. Lipid hypothesis, a theory which assured that there is direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in diet leads to coronary heart diseases. This was proposed by researcher Ancel keys in the 1950’s. However subsequent studies have questioned his conclusion. Unfortunately Key’s article received lot of publicity and worked big time for Vegetable oil and food processing industries. They started promoting and funding further researches to disregard traditional foods like butter, ghee etc and built billion dollar industry of vegetable oils.
Saturated fats are highly stable and does not oxidizes fast when heated for cooking purpose, our body makes saturated fatty acid from carbohydrates that are found in animal fats and tropical oils. Monounsaturated fatty acids are also relatively stable and our body makes them from saturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats contain two types of fatty acids omega 6 and omega 3. Public has been fed with great deal of misinformation about consumption of these two fatty acids through vegetable oils. The best evidence indicates that our intake of polyunsaturates should not be much greater than 4% of the caloric total, in approximate proportions of 2 % omega-3 and 2 % omega-6 acids. However most of these commercialized vegetable oils contains very high amount of omega 6 and very less quantity of omega 3. This causes very harmful imbalance in the body that leads to increased risk of cancer and heart disease; immune system dysfunction; damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs; digestive disorders; depressed learning ability; impaired growth; and weight gain.
The main problem with these oils is that it oxygenates very quickly. They putrefy when exposed to heat and air. Normally seeds and nuts are protected by their shell from oxidation. However when oil is extracted and exposed to heat for processing and refining it starts to deteriorate. These commercialized refined oils are exposed to heat as high as 315 degree celsius, whereas technically oil becomes synthetic after 160 degree celsius and that is when fatty acids changes to dangerous trans-fat.
In Ayurveda, oils are considered essential for strengthening body and tissues; it provides lubrication in the body and maintains regular bowel movements. Women need oil and fats for regular functioning of hormones. Fats and oils lubricate tissues and provide the basic building blocks for all hormone production in the body. Ayurveda also states that oils that are produced from nuts and seeds contain large amount of nutrients. Oh now the big question is that I just wrote a page criticizing vegetable oils. So the answer is it is not about the type of oil but the way it is processed and extracted is the problem. The process through which the oil gets heated and oxidizes to become refined oil is the cause of all harm. We should all consume our humble ghee and coconut oil though they are high on saturated fats. Also we should consume oils made of seeds and nuts but those which are extracted by not using heat. These are normally called ‘Cold Pressed Oils’. Though this process is costlier but it is going to help in saving lot of money in the long run. Also how much oil or fat do we actually need on daily basis? A person needs anything between 20-35 % fat of total calorie in a day and per gram of oil contain 9 calories. Along with oils there are other food items that we consume which contains fat- egg, milk, curd, cheese, paneer, chicken, fish and other animal products. Hence do we really need to use the amount of oil we are using to cook food? If we learn to use the right amount, cold pressed oils can be used economically.
I am putting Biochemical classification of different oils which I have found in a book. Though according to Ayurveda, one should consume varieties of oils as per their body type, which I will cover in my next article. In the meantime I hope this article helps you in breaking the challenging puzzle of which oil is good and what should I use.