The abundance of cooking oil options these days can cause confusion as to which oil may be the healthiest. With so many cooking oils out there, it can be difficult to make sense of the latest health guidelines about dietary fat in general. Many consumers are confused about which types of dietary fat experts encourage or discourage in order to promote heart health. All cooking oils are composed of three different types of fatty acids – monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. Each oil is categorised based on the type of fatty acid most prominent in it. For example, olive and canola oils are considered mostly monounsaturated fat, while corn and soybean oils contain mainly polyunsaturated fat. Coconut oil is predominantly saturated fat.
Have you ever paid attention to how many times you reheat the oil that is used for deep frying or pan frying, whether at home or in restaurants? Reusing cooking oil is a common kitchen practice that helps you save on time and even money, but it may be the reason for high levels of inflammation in your body. Reheating or reusing cooking oil can be the reason you are getting more acidity or why your cholesterol levels are rising. Repeated use of edible oil leads to the formation of TPC (Total Polar Compound) which renders it unfit for human consumption. Due to reheating, the nutritional and physicochemical properties of cooking oils are affected drastically. The health hazards triggered by the use of reheated cooking oil are raising major concerns in the medical sphere.
Oil is a major ingredient in most Indian cooking traditions. A number of studies tell us that reheating cooking oil can release harmful toxins, increase the percentage of trans-fats in it, give rise to free radicals and to some very harmful reactions. Not overheating the oil for a lot of time, not adding salt to foods before deep-frying, and minimising food contamination by avoiding the accumulation of food particles in the oil are all suggested as measures to reduce the harmful effects of reheating oil.
In India, the total vegetable oil consumption is about 22.5 Million MT per year. It has been discovered that adulteration of vegetable oils with used cooking oil (UCO) is a major health hazard. During frying, oil undergoes degradation due to exposure to elevated temperatures – physicochemical, nutritional and sensory properties of the oil (Total Polar compounds) are affected. The toxicity of TPC is associated with several diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, liver diseases, high levels of bad cholesterol, etc. The National Biofuels Policy 2018 focuses on laying down stringent norms for avoiding the entry of UCO in food stream and developing a suitable collection mechanism for conversion into Biodiesel. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has notified the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) First Amendment Regulation, 2017, w.r.t quality of vegetable oil for repeated frying in the official gazette of India, stating that vegetable oil having developed TPC more 25% shall not be used. The FSSAI under the Ministry of Health & Family welfare, Government of India, has launched RUCO, which stands for Repurpose Used Cooking oil for conversion to Biodiesel. The Indian Biodiesel Association has been asked by the FSSAI to create a nationwide eco-system to collect used cooking oil to convert it into bio-diesel. Food Business Operators (FBOs) in the country have been asked to strictly monitor the quality of oil used for frying in order to ascertain if it meets the approved regulations. The Food Authority has now created protocols for testing TPC.
The Triple E strategy
The three ‘E’s in the strategy stand for Education, Empowerment and Eco-system. These ideas can be implemented by educating businesses and consumers about the health consequences of using spoiled cooking oil, and developing an eco-system to collect used cooking oil and producing bio-diesel from it. Cooking oil is majorly consumed by restaurants and food products manufacturers. As per the existing practice noticed among these businesses, cooking oil is not discarded in an environmentally friendly way. In many cases, the used cooking oil is bought from these businesses by smaller restaurants, street vendors, and dhabas.
Since the laws governing the use of edible oil have taken effect already, FSSAI has asked the State Food Safety Commissioners to provide education programs and carry out surveillance and enforcement activities for the new set of regulations. In one year, Indians consume about 23 million tons of cooking oil. There is a potential to recover about 3 million tons of edible oil for producing bio-diesel.
1. Carcinogenic Effect: Anything that is carcinogenic has the possibility of causing cancer. More and more research is showing how aldehydes – toxic elements –are produced when you reheat oil. Cooking food by reusing cooking oil can also increase free radicals in the body, which can cause inflammation, the root cause of most diseases including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. High inflammation in the body can also reduce immunity and make you prone to infections.
2. Increased LDL Cholesterol: Food cooked in black, smoked oil which has been used and reheated throughout the day can increase level of LDL or bad cholesterol in the body. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase risks of heart disease, stroke and chest pain. Avoid reusing cooking oil to avoid cholesterol-related problems.
3. Hyperacidity: If that burning sensation in your stomach and throat has become more frequent than ever, then reheated cooking oil may be the culprit behind it. Avoid eating roadside junk and deep-fried food if you experience more acidity than usual. If it helps reducing acidity, then you have your answer about its causative factor – reused cooking oil.
Measures to reduce usage of reheated cooking oil
Home-cooked food is the most fresh and healthiest variety of food you can eat. Cooking food at home empowers you to decide what ingredients go in your food. From cooking oil to carbs, protein, fats and fibre, home-cooked food can provide you the perfect balanced diet you need for good health and weight loss. Make sure that you don’t use already used cooking oil.
Cook food in small quantities as per your requirement. It can be an effective way to reduce excess cooking oil. Calculate the amount of food you need for a particular meal to avoid food wastage. Cook fresh food as frequently as possible. Cooking food in small quantities can also help you practice portion control – which is a key practice if you want to lose weight.
RUCO-Biodiesel for Public Welfare
An exemplary work has been done in Dehradun with an aim to collect used cooking oil and convert it into biofuel, for which a RUCO van was flagged off recently with a joint initiative of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), FSSAI, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and GATI Foundation. The RUCO van collects used cooking oil from residents, bakers, restaurants, and sweet shop owners of the city. The collected oil is then sent to IIP for conversion of the same into bio-fuel. IIP purchases the used cooking oil at Rs 20 per kilogram and is the only organisation in the world that converts cooking oil into biofuel at room temperature. Biofuels are important from the point of view of science as well as alternative energy sources. Biofuels can be produced from crops, garbage left-overs, and crop-residue. The production of biofuels can transform the quality of people’s lives both in the rural and urban regions. Increasing the use of biofuels can help increase the income of the farmers, create new avenues for employment, protect the nation’s wealth and also contribute to a greener environment. It is estimated that since the inception of the project it has not only helped farmers but also saved about Rs 4000 crore in foreign exchange.
—The writer is Advisor to Government of Madhya Pradesh, Public Food Systems and Consumers Affairs, AIGGPA, Bhopal.