Vegetable oils such as mustard seed oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil have traditionally been part of our everyday diet across cultures. Be it for sauteing, frying or coating, vegetable oils are one of the most common cooking oils used in our kitchens. We often underestimate the benefits associated with such locally produced oils. A Harvard University-backed EAT Lancet report released earlier this year identified a 'Planetary Health Diet', which stated that total consumption of oils & fats should be restricted to about 10 teaspoons/day, which includes visible fat from home cooked food and invisible fat from local eateries and packaged food. As per the report, more than half of fat/oil, needs to be sourced from variety of unsaturated fats/oils provided by vegetable sources.
While the report focuses on balanced and wholesome diet concept which includes whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses), some meat, dairy, fruit, and vegetables - favouring traditional Indian diet, but emphasis on plant-based fats is notable. It highlights that a diet rich in plant-based foods with fewer foods from animal sources, confers improved health as well as environmental benefits.
(Also read: The Best Cooking Oils for Your Health)
Rich in good fats, most vegetable oils are a heart-healthy bet. Plant-based vegetable oils provide the right nutrients to maintain optimum body's functioning at cellular level. Replacing saturated fats with an unsaturated option has extraordinary health benefits.
For example, replacing butter (saturated fat) with sunflower oil (unsaturated fat) reduces bad cholesterol levels in the blood and minimises the risk of heart disease and stroke. Moreover, majority of the vegetable oils in India are fortified with vitamins, including vitamin A & D, which are essential for enhancing overall health and well-being.
(Also read: 6 Healthiest Cooking Oils for Your Heart)
Why Vegetable Oil Is Good For Health?
Trans-fatty acids (TFA) are one of the most harmful kinds of fat that are a primary cause of heart disease and strokes globally. TFA is typically derived from 2 sources - Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Industrial TFA) and from animal sources. Evidence shows that both industrial and animal derived TFA adversely affect the blood cholesterol profile and hence, increase the risk of heart problems.
Vegetable oils have definite health benefits over Vanaspati, which has trans-fats. The serious impact of trans-fat on heart health has been taken into cognizance by the FSSAI in India that recently launched a campaign to make consumers aware of the pitfalls of consumer foods with high levels of trans-fat. While working with the stakeholders to eliminate industrially generated TFA from the Indian food system by 2022, a year ahead of the World Health Organization's target for the world is to be TFA-free.
In fact, this aligns well with the attitude of the world today. Globally, plant-based diets are being adopted for reasons much beyond nutrition - plant-based diets are kinder on the planet. Health authorities, including those in the USA, the Netherlands, and Nordic countries, explicitly recommend a largely plant-based diet over an animal-based diet. Plant-based diets can help reduce the carbon footprint of our food as more than 50% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions come from animal products. This emphasis on 'planet health' is what makes a plant-based diet a truly holistic one.
As conscious consumers, switching to a healthier alternative is easy. Take a minute from your hurried shopping routines to glance at the ingredients of the products you purchase. Prioritise products that are healthier for your heart. Replace products with trans-fat & high-saturated fat with vegetable oil-based foods, which have good quality fat. Choose foods such as salad dressings made with recommended oils (soybean, rapeseed, mustard, groundnut/peanut, rice-bran, olive, coconut, corn, safflower and sunflower oils); oil-based cookies & biscuits; non-dairy fat-based ice-cream/frozen desserts and chocolates; roasted snacks & bakery items that are not fried or cooked in Vanaspati. These simple yet significant dietary changes may not only impact one's health positively, but may also contribute in reducing the stress on the environment.
Abouth Author: Dr. Anuja Agarwal is a Senior Dietician (Pediatrics) at AIIMS, New Delhi.
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