Heart indeed is a super machine that works tirelessly day in and day out pumping vital oxygen to the rest of the body and ensuring blood circulation. Its only fair that we put in as much effort to maintain our heart, as that goes into maintaining our cars, if not more! Oiling it well, and enhancing its mileage is our primary duty!
When it comes to oiling the heart well, the question most expert nutritionists and doctors are asked is, which oil should we use or which oil is good for heart. The answer, almost all vegetable oils are good in one way or the other. The secret to ensuring you get all possible benefits from all oils, is to keep changing the type of oil (not the brand) you use every month or fortnight. Or, keep three different oils at home and use a different oil for each meal, for example, use rice bran for breakfast, mustard or groundnut oil for lunch, and canola for dinner!
Basically, there are two types of oils, saturated and unsaturated. All oils that are liquids at room temperature are unsaturated, while those which are solids, such as butter, ghee, dalda or vanaspati are saturated. Saturated fats have been directly associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, since they contribute towards raising the level of LDL, the bad cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats themselves are of two main types, polyunsaturated (PUFA) and monounsaturated (MUFA) fatty acids. These names relate to their structures. Both are important for ensuring overall health. Polyunsaturated fats are further split into omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. There was once a boom of sunflower oils, the labels and ads of which claimed were zero cholesterol and therefore are heart healthy. But later research revealed a disturbing fact; excessive omega 6 is actually bad for us, because they have a high tendency to get oxidized in the body. Oxidation of omega 6, means that they get broken down to something called as free radicals, which disturb normal cells in the body.
The stress, therefore, is now on both monounsaturated fats, and omega 3 fats. Both of these have been extensively studied. Both have proven heart health benefits. Omega 3 has been proven to be beneficial in reducing LDL, while increasing HDL, the good cholesterol. Omega 3 is also helpful in lowering blood pressure, boosting brain health, preventing alzhiemers and so on. A diet rich in monounsaturated fats , popularly known as the Mediterranean diet, that were basically rich in fresh olives, fish, fruits and vegetables is known to be protective for the heart.
Now coming to oryzanol, it is an antioxidant present in huge amounts especially in rice bran (the outer husk of rice) and therefore in rice bran oil. A study in animals showed that there was a 42 % decrease in total cholesterol and 62 % reduction in LDL cholesterol following administration of rice bran oil.
The recommendations from health bodies, such as World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) are that a balanced ratio of polyunsaturated (with at least 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats), monounsaturated, and saturated fats should be obtained through natural foods. Omega 6 is present in many oils, including sunflower and safflower (60 % PUFA), soyabean (53 % PUFA), corn oil (55 % PUFA). Omega 3 fats are found in trace amounts in most oils. The richest source of omega 3 is mustard oil (10 % omega 3), sesame oil (10 % omega 3) and soyabean (5 % omega 3). Rice bran is a fair source with 1.5 % omega 3.
Oils which predominantly contain monounsaturated fats, include olive oil (76% MUFA), groundnut (50% MUFA), sesame oil (42% MUFA), and rice bran (41% MUFA). Other oils predominantly contain polyunsaturated fats.
So, it is clear that not one oil contains all that is required to achieve the recommended balance of types of fats. Although, Canola oil comes close to being the perfect oil with 63% MUFA, 11% omega 3 and 21 % omega 6. Otherwise, for Indian cooking, groundnut, sesame, mustard rice bran and soyabean oils are all healthier than sunflower oil. Use a combination of these to get all the goodies required for your heart!