NEW DELHI: Don’t get alarmed. The good news is refined vegetable oils, used by virtually all middle class Indian families for cooking, have
negligible trans fat and are, therefore, safe. Laboratory tests conducted by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on 21 different brands of refined vegetable oils — soybean, sunflower, groundnut, mustard, coconut, olive, sesame and palm — have found that almost all of them have trans fat levels well within limits permitted in the US and Denmark. These limits say trans fat in oil should not exceed 2% of the total oil. In the survey of popular Indian oils used for cooking, only two brands have been found to exceed that limit. They are Shalimar classic basmati rice bran oil with trans fat content of 3.3% and Safola gold blended oil with 2.4% trans fat. The rest of the popular Indian oils — Sundrop sunflower oil (0.3%), Dharma refined mustard oil (0.6%), Parachute coconut oil (0.3%), Figaro olive oil (0.9%), Ruchi Gold palm oil (1%) and Fortune soya oil (1.5%) — are absolutely safe for cooking. Speaking to TOI, chairman and chief cardiologist of Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre Dr Ashok Seth said all oils aren’t bad. “In fact, oil is needed by our body for absorption of food. Vanaspati is bad but vegetable refined oils are good. Trans fat is found in abundance in preserved and shelved food like cakes and are harmful.” “Products with trans fat must advertise its quantity, much like what cigarette packets do with a health warning. Restaurants in India, like that in New York and Canada, must also start advertising how much trans fat exits in their food.” Dr Anoop Misra, director of diabetes and metabolic diseases department at Fortis hospitals added “Amongst all Indian cooking oils, olive oil, rice bran, soya and canola are best for health. They have a very good mixture of fatty acid and minimal levels of trans fatty acids. However, the quantity of oil consumed by a person per day should be restricted to 3-4 tea spoons.” The study, which had also looked at the safety levels of seven vanaspati brands, sold in Indian markets, as reported by TOI on Wednesday, found high levels of trans fat five to 12 times higher than the worlds recommended standards. Experts say the dangers of trans fat are real. Dr P Prabhakaran from Centre for Chronic Diseases Control said that there isn’t anything like a healthy limit for trans fat. Trans fats are artificially hydrogenated oils used primarily to extend shelf life of food. Extra hydrogen is pumped into polyunsaturated vegetable oils to retain flavour stability of eatables. “Even very small amounts appear to be harmful,” Dr Seth said. It is known to increase bad LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin levels and reduces beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also trigger cancer, diabetes, immune dysfunction, obesity and reproductive problems. Meanwhile, even as experts promote the use of vegetable oil, they have issued a strong warning on a common Indian habit — re-heating and re-cooking vegetable oils. Dr Prabhakaran said that even though polyunsaturated oils have been touted as the healthy choice, you have to treat them carefully.