Read This Before You Buy Your Cooking Oil

Lots of jargon—some nutritionally sound and others marketing gimmicks—read on to know the difference

Joyoti Mahanta

Buying oil is no mean task. If you had to believe the ads, it’s the only way to secure the heart health of your loved ones, or be the perfect host, or fry the best jalebis for your kids, or earn the affection of your in-laws. Basically, a lot rests on the oil you buy. Fast forward to the supermarket shelf, and you’re flooded with options—there’s olive, coconut, mustard, canola, safflower, sunflower, sesame, rice bran, and vegetable oil. Some are promising added oxygen, others call out with the promise to lower cholesterol. Should you buy cold-pressed, or organically grown? Will it impact the taste of the oil, or the nutrient value?

Also read: Going nuts about coconut oil

We did the research so you know exactly what you’re buying.

  1. Cold-pressed: Cooking oils are extracted from seeds, fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Using heat to extract the oil produces more of it, but can degrade the oil’s flavour and nutritional quality. Extracting oil through cold-pressing produces higher quality oil, albeit in lesser quantities. In this case, the seeds are crushed in a cylinder with a rotating screw that grinds, crushes and extracts the oil without any damage to its flavour, aroma and nutritional content. Here, the temperature should not to exceed 80.6°F,” explains Sonali Dey, a nutritionist from Kolkata.


    “Cold-pressed formulas always have higher amounts of antioxidants,” says Dey. Olive, sesame, sunflower, canola and coconut oil can all be extracted using cold-pressed methods and used for flavour in marinades, salad dressings and baked goods. “These oils don’t react well to heat and are hence extracted via cold-pressed methods and can be tricky to cook with, and is likely to degrade when heated. It is better if you drizzle them over the finished product. Cold-pressed flaxseed oil is a dietary supplement,” adds Dey.

  2. Extra virgin:

    “This is a marketing gimmick,” says Kolkata-based nutritionist Pratyasha Agrawal of Nutrico Clinic, “extra virgin oil is compulsorily cold-pressed. Extra virgin is the first extract. This is of the highest-quality, and the most-pure oil you can buy. It contains most natural vitamins and minerals, and is not treated with chemicals or altered by temperature.” An oil must pass several tests before it can be labelled as “Extra Virgin”.


    Extra virgin oils have the highest amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids—this lowers your LDL cholesterol and is therefore good for the heart, besides being high on the antioxidants chart.

    Also read: How to keep spaghetti from sticking 

  3. Virgin:

    “Virgin oils are usually heat-treated to a point, resulting in a neutral-flavoured oil,” Agrawal clarifies. “This reduces the amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids as well. These oils tend to have a higher smoking point and can be used for baking and deep-frying.


    Virgin oils still have the same healthy benefits (as far as being a “good fat”) as extra virgin oil, although not the antioxidant benefits.
  4. Refined: This oil has been treated, sometimes with heat, but most commonly with chemicals (acids or alkali) and bleach “to remove all its impurities. The more you refine, the more nutrients will be lost,” says Agrawal. Refined oils can also be neutralised, deodorised or filtered.
    Red flag: In the process of refining oil, the polyunsaturated fatty acids may get oxidised and turn into trans fats.

  5. Cholesterol-free: “This is the biggest marketing gimmick of a health claim in recent times. The logic is simple: All oils are plant-based, extracted from seeds, fruits, vegetables and nuts, so they don’t have cholesterol in the first place. Cholesterol comes from animal-based food,” elucidates Agrawal. If you’re concerned about heart health, use cold-pressed oils and stay off deep-fried items.

    Also read: Make your salads super delicious with these innovative dressings 

  6. Heart-healthy or diabetes-friendly: No oil can cure or prevent diabetes or heart disease. How much oil you consume matters. Moderate amounts of extra-virgin oil is good for your heart. “For an oil to be heart-healthy, it should contain monounsaturated (Omega-3) and polyunsaturated (omega-6) fats, which are deemed beneficial because they prevent arteries from clogging. The oil should not have too much monosaturated and polysaturated fats,” says Agrawal. Dey sums it up, “Monounsaturated fat is the primary type found in olive, canola, and sesame oils, as well as in avocados and avocado oil, and in nuts and their oils. Polyunsaturated fat is prevalent in corn, cottonseed, and safflower oils; sunflower seeds and sunflower oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil; soybeans and soybean oil.”

    Also read: Almonds - The heart-healthy snack 

Images courtesy: Shutterstock


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