Vegetable Oils: Types, Benefits & Nutritional Value
Derived from seeds of vegetables and fruits that have oil content, these oils have become a rather important part of the diet for most. Whether you use it as a cooking medium such as frying, as a shortening agent for baking, or a salad dressing; they are a good source of healthy fat. Overall, vegetable oils provide a plethora of benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, better metabolism and digestion, lowers chances of breast cancer, and provides omega-3 fatty acids to the body.
Let’s look into the nutritional composition and health benefits of vegetable and fruit oils to understand this and break away certain popular myths.
Nutritional Value of Vegetable Oils
Various oils have different nutritional components that help us but there are common elements such as vitamin E (Tocopherol), omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat and saturated fats.
Health Benefits of Vegetable Oils
After the nutritional components, let’s understand how they benefit our health and why we should include vegetable and fruit oils in our daily diet.
Cell Growth and Protection: Oils like safflower, cottonseed, sunflower, almond and wheat germ are all rich in vitamin E which is required in the body for cell protection and development. This vitamin has a long list of benefits for our body. From improving the immune system to stimulating the digestive system it is vital. It protects body tissues such as skin, eyes, breasts, testes, and liver.
Prevent Heart Conditions: Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the most frequently found forms of fat in vegetable oils. Polyunsaturated fats help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Further, the presence of vitamin E in the oils helps in preventing heart diseases and eliminating blood clots which are the cause of heart ailments.
Growth and Development: The body requires fatty acids to carry out various functioning and vegetable oils provide these in abundance. There are two types of fatty acids, namely, omega-3 and omega-6. The body doesn’t produce these naturally; hence, acquiring it from food is essential. Alpha-linolenic, a type of omega-3 fatty acids, are found in soybean, canola and flaxseed oil which are very similar to the fatty acids in fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids are widely known to be anti-inflammatory which is why they are highly recommended for people suffering from chronic heart, skin and digestive concerns. On the other hand, omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, which is also required but long term use beyond advised quantities can cause more harm than help. A ratio of 1:1 is ideal to maintain health and avoid complications. However, the western diet consumes an unhealthy ratio of 16:1, an unbalanced number of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which has been correlated to autoimmune diseases, chronic heart ailments, inflammation issues and cancer.
List of Vegetable Oils
Coconut Oil – Popular tropical oil has a plethora of health benefits. The oil can be extracted from the coconut palm meat or from the kernel. Coconut oil helps to prevent hair loss, premature aging and boosts immunity. It is used for cooking, for massaging and as a carrier oil. The various types of coconut oil are virgin, pure, refined, fractionated, and organic.
Safflower Oil – Extracted from its seeds, this oil contains omega-6 fatty acids, oleic acid, and linoleic acid which help fight obesity, manage diabetes, prevent symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome, boost immunity, and more.
Sunflower Oil – A non-volatile oil, it is extracted from sunflowers fairly easily. A good amount of fatty acids and vitamin E in this oil make it a healthy option. It helps in boosting energy, improving the health of skin and hair, preventing heart diseases, reducing the severity of arthritis and asthma, and promoting skin cell regeneration.
Soybean Oil – This oil is extracted from soybeans, and is rich in fatty acids. High mineral and vitamin content and the antioxidant properties make this oil a very healthy choice. Some of its health benefits are better immunity, healthier eyes and skin, and reduced risk of heart complications. It also aids in reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Olive Oil – Almost a fad for healthy oil to substitute other vegetable oils, olive oil is fruit oil extracted from the fruit itself. Most non-vegetarians can get their omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil, but vegetarians and vegans can receive it from olive oil. It is used for cooking, medicinal purposes, soaps and cosmetic products, for pharmaceutical supplements and sometimes as fuel. Different types can be purchased such as virgin, extra virgin (cold pressed), pure and lampante.
Peanut Oil – This popular cooking oil is extracted from peanuts. With a good balance of fatty acids, it is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds. It aids in maintaining cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and overall heart health. It also delays the symptoms of aging such as wrinkles.
Sesame Oil – One of the less popular oils, it is obtained from the seeds and is a healthy alternative for certain unhealthy vegetable oils. It is rich in minerals such as zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium; a wide range of polyunsaturated fats, and tyrosine (amino acid). It helps reduce inflammation, boosts dental health and metabolism, and reduces age spots.
Other types are corn oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, flaxseed oil.
Word of Caution: Despite various views on the health benefits and risks of consuming vegetable oils, they are important in our diet. However, understanding the composition of the oil and its effects on your health and body is a must.
While coconut oil and olive oil remain at the top for healthy vegetable oils because they can be extracted naturally and do not necessarily require synthesized processing, some believe other oils are likely to be detrimental to our well-being. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are included in Trans fats which are the worst for your health and should be avoided.