Is Rice Bran Oil Healthy? 5 Other Substitutes You Can Consider

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shutterstock_486242281 Lower cholesterol, healthy heart, better immunity, cancer prevention, weight loss, flawless skin, stress-free menopause - the list of rice bran oil’s health benefits seems rather exhaustive. But is it really the ‘world’s healthiest cooking oil’? For those who came in late (and missed all the marketing hullabaloo), rice bran oil is extracted from the brown outer layer of rice and is popularly used in Asian cooking, particularly in China and Japan. However, over the last couple of years, the oil has been making its presence felt on supermarket shelves and kitchens across the globe. The good news First, let’s start by stating what makes rice bran oil a worthy contender for the healthiest cooking oil title:
  • Rice bran oil is high in oryzanol and tocotrienols, compounds that are rarely found in other oils. Oryzanol blocks the absorption of cholesterol into the body, while tocotrienols are fat-soluble compounds that convert into vitamin E, an antioxidant for the heart. In other words, rice bran oil helps control cholesterol levels and is good for cardiovascular health.
  • The National Institute of Nutrition and the Indian Council of Medical Research recommends an equal proportion of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA), in the diet. With 37 percent PUFA and 45 per cent MUFA, rice bran oil has got an ideal balance of almost 1:1 ratio.
  • Rice bran oil has a high smoke point (temperature at which it produces bluish smoke and harmful free radicals) of 254 degree Celsius, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. This means that despite deep frying or stir frying, the oil doesn’t lose its nutritive value.
shutterstock_533348038 The not-so-good news Rice bran oil marketers would have us believe that there’s only one side to this story. However, the fact remains that there are quite a few contentious issues that need to be taken into account before jumping on to the rice bran oil bandwagon.
  • The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is considered a sound indicator of one’s long-term health status. Studies have shown that low levels of omega-3 and high levels of omega-6 heighten the risk for chronic illnesses such as cardiac ailments, neurological disorders, cancer, dementia, arthritis and asthma. In rice bran oil, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is very high at 20:1. Our ancestors are believed to have led fairly healthy lives with a ratio of 1:1. Today, given our lifestyle changes, experts recommend a ratio between 2.5: 1 and 5: 1 for optimal health.
  • According to the US-based Heart Foundation, a daily intake of two to three grams of plant sterols can lower cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent depending on factors like age and metabolism. However, given that the plant sterols present in rice bran oil is only about 0.5 to one per cent, its cholesterol-lowering effect can hardly be noteworthy.
  • The American Heart Association recommends that less than seven percent of one’s daily caloric intake should consist of saturated fat. At 22 per cent, the saturated fat content in rice bran oil is definitely on the higher side, calling for caution.
  • Rice bran oil’s high smoke point may offer a definite advantage in terms of cooking, but the reality is that there is a huge price paid. The refining and stabilising process brings a long shelf life but takes the ‘naturalness’ out of the oil. Unlike cold-pressed oils, rice bran oil is heavily processed. Some may be chemically extracted using solvents like petroleum-derived hexane. So, always make it a point to check the source before you buy the oil.
  • Typically, it’s considered a good thing that rice bran oil is less viscous; it does not get absorbed into the food and tends to feel less oily on the tongue. However, the biggest drawback is that one may actually be using a lot more of the oil than required!
5 healthy alternatives Choosing a healthy cooking oil from the plethora of options available today is no mean task. But the rule of the thumb is to always go in for an oil that has no trans fats, lower saturated fat (both are known to increase the LDL or “bad” cholesterol and risk for heart disease), and higher MUFA and PUFA (shown to reduce LDL and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol). Let us look at five healthy options worth considering: shutterstock_253044214 1. Olive oil A key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil makes for a prudent choice. Given that it’s low in saturated fat and high in MUFA, the oil is known as a heart-healthy fat that is rich in anti-oxidants. Studies suggest that the oil may help prevent diabetes and Alzheimer’s as well as reduce the risk of breast cancer. Not to forget, the promise of a slimmer waistline and glowing skin! Although olive oil has a high smoking point of 220 degrees Celsius, it is best used in low-heat cooking and for salad dressings. If you can afford it, go in for extra virgin olive oil as it’s cold-pressed. In other words, no heat is used to extract the oil, retaining its natural anti-oxidants and vitamins. 2. Flaxseed oil Made from crushed flaxseed, flaxseed oil is a rich source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Given the adverse health effects (most chronic ailments) of an imbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, one tablespoon of flaxseed oil (about seven grams of ALA) can work wonders for the body. However, due to its low smoking point of 107 degrees Celsius, the oil is not really suitable for traditional Indian cooking. However, it is perfect for use in salads and soups. Always remember to store the oil in the refrigerator as it can easily degrade even when exposed to warm room temperatures. 3. Canola oil Made from crushed canola seeds, canola oil consists mostly of MUFA (about 61 per cent) and PUFA (32 per cent) - both fats considered good for the body. Studies show that canola oil has the lowest saturated fat content among all edible oils. That apart, it also has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. As you would expect, canola oil can help reduce blood pressure and the risk of coronary heart disease, even as it keeps cholesterol and inflammation in check. The best part is that canola oil (often used as a healthy substitute for butter) has a high smoking point of 240 degrees Celsius, making it the perfect choice for just about everything - from stir frying to grilling. Given that it has a light flavour, the oil easily complements Indian foods. shutterstock_416253928 4. Sunflower oil Pressed from sunflower seeds, sunflower oil is low in saturated fats and high in anti-oxidant vitamin E. Studies show that the oil has the ability to cut down on the LDL or “bad” cholesterol as well as help deal with constipation. A high smoking point of 246 degrees Celsius makes it the ideal choice for frying. However, reusing the same oil for deep-frying more than a couple of times can cause the formation of harmful trans fats. Also, given that sunflower oil chiefly consists of omega-6 fatty acids, it is important to get adequate omega-3 fatty acids in your diet in order to maintain a healthy omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. 5. Coconut oil Extracted from the white, meaty part of dried coconuts, coconut oil has an unusually high amount of saturated fat, because of which it was considered to be unhealthy for a long time. However, recent studies have shown that coconut oil has medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are harder for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier to burn off as compared to long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) found in red meat or cheese. Also, coconut oil is rich in lauric acid that has antibacterial, antioxidant and antiviral properties. Although refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point (232 degrees Celsius as compared to virgin coconut oil’s 177 degrees Celsius), it has fewer health benefits. Studies show that virgin coconut oil can boost metabolism, aid weight loss, and enhance brain function in Alzheimer’s patients. As a country, we have been using coconut oil for generations, but much of the western world is waking up to its health benefits only now. To put it in a nutshell, rice bran oil is far from the healthiest edible oil available in the market. But it can be a healthy addition to your diet, provided you consume it in moderation. And that holds true for almost all cooking oils. The sensible thing to do would be to use the right oils for the right purpose – say olive oil for salad dressings, sunflower oil for frying. Because no two oils are the same. Download the Grow Fit app on Google Play or App Store today for a free consultation with our specialists.

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  • Ella

    Canola oil caused me a lot of problems. I would not recommend it to anyone.

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