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How to Choose Heart Healthy Oils

Updated on December 20, 2014

It is rightly said, ‘the way to the heart is through the stomach’! What we eat ultimately decides what our ‘heart health’ will be like. No food tastes good if it is not prepared well with spices and oil. India is a country of many festivals and food habits. Our traditions mandate that we treat our guests lavishly with dishes prepared with ghee or oils. This rich tradition and our food habits have definitely translated to the fact that India leads the world in incidence of heart attacks!!

healthy oil
healthy oil

What Is Wrong With The Indian Diet?

The following technical aspects make the Indian diet unhealthy for the heart:

  • High total fat (30- 50 percent of our energy source) content
  • High n6 (8-20percent)
  • Low n3
  • n6:n3 = 15-50 or more
  • Near deficiency of EPA + DHA (found in fish oils and deficient in vegetarians)

Recommendations and Reality

World Health Organization recommends that an ideal diet should be prepared with vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). PUFA contains high amount of essential fatty acids, which are not synthesized in our body and are the ancestors of the body’s natural oxidative compounds. The use of vegetable oils was recommended to reduce the incidences of heart attacks. However, in practice, wide spread use of seed oils could not bring down the epidemic of non-communicable diseases like Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), Diabetes Mellitus (DM) and Hypertension (HTN).

PUFA are of 2 types: n6 & n3. Healthy cooking oils should have a particular n6:n3 ratio. PUFA n6 increases while n3 reduces the body’s triglyceride levels. High levels of PUFA n6 impairs insulin action, hence, induces insulin resistance while n3 PUFA corrects impaired insulin action. Oils having high n6:n3 ratio accelerates deposition in arteries. High levels of n6 PUFA are shown to increase tumour growth in colon and breast cancers.

Currently, none of the available oils fulfills the exact criteria suggested by WHO and American Heart Association.

Sunflower oil and Safflower oils are the ones mostly used in Indian homes because there has been a lot of hype regarding the fact that they do not cause heart disease. But, in fact, these two oils cause maximum heart diseases, as they are very atherogenic. India saw an epidemic of heart diseases after these two oils were introduced into the Indian market. Yet, many homes continue using these dangerous oils, which instead of giving protection cause more heart diseases – especially when used to make fast food/fried food.

Research has proven that mustard oil has good PUFA content and groundnut oil has ideal MUFA while cottonseed oil has ideal SFA content. Recent studies have shown that rice brain oil is very near to the ideal composition. Oil that is good for the heart is olive oil. Olive oil is mostly oleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid. It is extremely cadioprotective and also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Intake of olive oil regularly has proven to control blood pressure as well.

n6:n3 Of Commonly Available Oils

Ideal n6:n3 = 5 Higher the ratio greater the chances of fat deposition.


Modifying Diet for Better Heart Health

The typical lacto-vegetarian diet of Indians provide full physiological requirement of n6 PUFA. Any further addition of omega n6 rich cooking oils will make the diet a health hazard, thus, extra dietary fat should be furnished through oils like rice bran oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil and fish oil. A mixture of different oils or use of oils in rotation (like mustard, groundnut and cotton seed oil) can be used. Rice bran oil can be considered as one of the safest alternative and 3tsp/day/person is more than sufficient.

Ideally, using rice bran oil along with mustard, groundnut or cottonseed oil in a 50-50 ratio is recommended to satisfy the palate and keep Indians heart healthy!

(Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are based on scientific facts and not on personal experience. This article has no commercial bias and there is no intention to downplay or promote any brand of cooking oil.)

What Is Ideal Cooking Oil?

All studies have led nutritionists and epidemiologists to formulate new recommendations in regards to healthy cooking oil. Ideal cooking oil should contain:

  • 33 percent SFA
  • 33 percent MUFA
  • 33 percent PUFA
  • n6:n3 ratio of 5 or 10
  • Maximum possible natural antioxidants

Low Fats Oils for Cooking Food

  1. Sunflower Oil
  2. Avocados
  3. Olives
  4. Olive Oil
  5. Safflower Oil
  6. Peanut Oil
  7. Cotton Seed Oil
  8. Soybeans Oil
  9. Sesame Oil


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