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.
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!