The Best Cooking Oils for Your Health

I have heard of blended whiskeys. But this was the first time I was hearing of blended oils.The packet claimed that it’s an olive oil and then when I looked closely, it read blended oil. In another case, the photo on the oil bottle shows peanuts and it says peanut oil, and then in a small font in a corner it says that it has sunflower oil too. It’s all becoming utterly confusing and with newer oils slipping onto grocery shelves, how on earth does one decide what to pick up.

In India, since time immemorial, the oil you use in your kitchen is largely dependent on where you come from. In Kerala, it’s coconut oil, in Andhra and Rajasthan, it’s sesame oil, in the east and north they use mustard oil and in central India and Gujarat groundnut oil is used. Different cultures eat differently and the type of oil fits beautifully into the food landscape of that region.

But all that changed in the 80’s with the scare ofcholesterol and heart disease. Overnight ghee got a bad name and we were told that we should avoid trans-fats and sunflower oil became popular. That was in the 90’s.But today it’s an altogether different story. You have new types of oil spilling across the grocery shelves from around the world and each new bottle label brings with it a new health hope.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is – that oil behaves differently when heated, it changes texture, color, taste as well as it’s nutritional properties. When the oil reaches its smoking point, a lot of the nutrients are destroyed and it can sometimes potentially form harmful compounds. Also, different oils have varying amounts of fats – Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated and Saturated fats.

When I asked India’s leading nutritionist, Dr. Shikha Sharma how much oil should we consume, she said that the total quantity of oil consumption should not cross 2 teaspoons per person per day. That’s as far as quantity goes, but what about the quality. Here’s a look at various oils and why they are not created equal.

Sunflower Oil

The oil extracted from the seeds of sunflowers is known as sunflower oil. It has a high quantity of vitamin E, which makes it excellent for being used in and cosmetic products. Sunflower oil is a mixture of monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids. It has a high smoking point, which means that sunflower oil holds onto its nutritional content at higher temperatures, which is probably why this oil is widely used in deep frying chips, samosas and vegetables.

People with diabetes may need to be careful about sunflower oil as it may lead to the possibility of increasing sugar levels.


Coconut oil


This oil is full of saturated fat. Studies suggest that diets high in coconut oil do raise total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Coconut oil also seems to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and it has the advantage that it behaves very well at high temperatures.

Groundnut Oil

Groundnut oil or peanut oil is got a good combination of fats, and has the good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and is low in bad saturated fats. It’s a good all-purpose oil for cooking and I think it works particularly well for Asian foods that are prepared in the wok.

Mustard Oil

Has a near ideal fat composition but not very good as it contains high amounts of erucic acid ranging from 35 to 48%. It is recommended that you don’t use mustard oil as the sole cooking medium. It has a high smoking point so it’s very good for deep frying.

Canola Oil

A recent entrant into the Indian market, Canola is flying off the shelves. Canola oil, which is made from the crushed seeds of the canola plant, is said to be amongst the healthiest of cooking oils. It has the lowest saturated fat content of any oil. It’s seen as a healthy alternative as its rich in monounsaturated fats and is high in Omega 3. It has a medium smoking point and is an oil that works well for fries, baking, sautéing etc. I use it liberally in Indian food, which it seems to embrace quite well.