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Ghee, coconut, mustard oils healthier than refined, olive oils: Experts

New Delhi: An editorial in the current edition of Indian Heart Journal, written by Dr S C Manchanda, senior consultant, department of cardiology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Santosh Jain Passi, public health nutrition consultant, former director, Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi, has found that in Indian cooking conditions, which mostly involves deep frying, the traditional cooking oils like ghee, coconut and mustard oils score better than modern refined and other oils in health benefits.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of mortality all over the world. Its incidence is rising rapidly, especially in developing countries, including India. Dietary factors, particularly the edible oils, play an important role in the causation, treatment, management and prevention of CHD. Cooking oils form an integral part of Indian diets. However, one is often confronted with an array of commonly marketed edible oils asserting a host of health claims.

Dr S C Manchanda, senior consultant cardiologist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, and author of the editorial, said, “Right selection of edible oil is extremely important, especially in the Indian context, where cooking methods are different than in the West. Numerous clinical trials and observational/metabolic studies among diverse populations indicate a consistent association between quality/quantity of fat intake and the CHD risk. The effect of dietary fats on plasma lipids constitutes a key link in the causal pathway that connects diet to CVD (cardiovascular disease).”

In the global context, Indian cooking conditions differ greatly, since the oils are often subjected to rather high temperatures, as stir-frying is a routine process in every curry or other similar preparations. As a result, exposure to high temperatures not only destroys antioxidants like vitamin E and b-carotene but also produces toxic compounds.

Santosh Jain Passi, public health nutrition consultant and former director, Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi, and co-author of the editorial, said, “It is advisable to avoid refined oils since during the refining process oils are heated to high temperatures resulting in their degradation and generation of toxic substances. Refined oils, particularly high in PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), degrade easily and therefore should be avoided for frying. On the contrary, oils high in saturated fats — like ghee, coconut oil — can be used for Indian cooking, as they are comparatively stable during frying.”

“Earlier, oils high in SFA (saturated fatty acid) were considered harmful since they increase LDL-C (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) but recent studies indicate that oils high in short/medium-chain SFA (like coconut oil) have not demonstrated adverse health effects,” added Passi.

Dr Manchanda further said, “Mustard and rapeseed oils – due to their favourable (LA/ALA (linoleic acid / alpha-linolenic acid) ratio, low SFA and high MUFA) content along with their relative stability during cooking – can be a preferred choice, particularly mustard oil in its non-refined (cold-pressed) form, popularly known as ‘Kachhi Ghani Ka Sarson Ka Tel’. In fact, epidemiologic studies among Indians do suggest that mustard oil consumption can reduce the risk of CHD.”

Speaking to India Medical Times, Dr Manchanda said, “The reason why we said mustard oil is better than refined oil is it has highest Omega-3, which is protective for heart. It also has low saturated fat. Refined oil is bad because refining spoils the oil, as refining involves heating it at the temperature of 300 degrees or more so the oil gets spoiled. That’s why we have suggested that refined oil should not be used.”

Dr Manchanda said, “A study conducted in India by researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and Santhiram Medical College & Hospital, Bangalore showed that people who use mustard oil for either cooking or frying have 75% less heart attacks. Also, mustard oil is stable during frying and refined oils are unstable, so it’s better to use unrefined oil or Kachchi Ghani (cold compressed mustard oil).”

“Second oil that we have suggested is coconut oil. Third is ghee, which can be used specially for frying. Fourth is a combination of oils. In any case, don’t reheat the oil again and again as reheating spoils it and produces toxic. And don’t use trans fats like Vanaspati or hydrogenated oil,” he said.

He further said, “Some saturated fats are also very stable during frying, so ghee and coconut oil which were not considered very good earlier have been found to be very good. Now, there is a lot of evidence, which shows that saturated fats are not harmful, not even for heart patients with few guidelines.”

According to Dr Manchanda, olive oil is good but it’s not as good as mustard oil.

“We are not talking anything new; it’s what the researches show and are already available in various published articles. All the scientific reasons, and data have shown that whatever our granny told us was true,” added Dr Manchanda.

by Pooja Pandey

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