Rice bran oil is full of the good stuff you need … just make sure your snacks are fried in it before you indulge your taste buds.Shashi Mathur

Taste has been guiding snacking choices in India for a long time now. Health considerations, more often than not, play second fiddle. Snacking is not only desirable but also necessary. It helps keep energy levels up between meals and ensures there is no energy slump during the day. Snacking also helps avoid binge eating. Remember, these factors together account for most cases of obesity and overweight.

What concerns the health-conscious people is that these snacks are mostly fried in oil rich in saturated fat and transfat. These fats tend to increase cholesterol levels in blood, the number one risk factor for heart disease. If you are in the 20 to 30 age group, working in a stressful environment and have a predilection for snacks prepared with unhealthy oil, watch out. Your heart might be suffering silently.

Snack smart

It is important to make sure that you snack smart and this is where Rice Bran Oil, extracted from the germ and inner husk of rice, plays a part. So, what makes this oil a healthier alternative? First, it is naturally abundant in antioxidants such as tocopherol, oryzanol and tocotrienol. Extensive research has proved that Oryzanol reduces harmful cholesterol without reducing good cholesterol. Tocotrienol, on the other hand, is a powerful vitamin E existing in nature and is said to have an anti-cancer effect. It also contains Phytosterols, which are believed to lower the absorption of cholesterol.

A 2005 study by Marlene M. Most, Richard Tulley et al. published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that rice bran oil lowers cholesterol in healthy adults. Total cholesterol was significantly lower in those whose diet contained rice bran oil than in the control group. Moreover, in the first group, harmful LDL (bad) cholesterol decreased by seven per cent, whereas HDL (good) cholesterol was unchanged.

Following is a comparison of the fatty-acid composition of Rice Bran Oil with that of other oils. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the ratio of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids to be 1:1.5:1. From the following table it is evident that Rice Bran Oil meets the WHO recommendation better than any other oil.

Rice Bran Oil is known as the Indian Olive Oil (healthy oil with no transfat). It contains almost all the essential fatty acids and its non-fatty acid components too have beneficial health effects.

Other health benefits include its ability to counter ageing by fighting free radicals or chemicals responsible for ageing. The presence of powerful antioxidants also gives this oil a higher oxidative stability compared to other oils. This makes it an ideal option to make snacks for long-term consumption, as they tend to retain their nutritional value for a longer duration. You can open a pack today and still eat the contents after two days without much change in its taste or nutritional value.

Unique advantages

In addition to health benefits, rice bran oil offers some unique advantages. It gives snacks a nutty aroma unlike peanut oil, which has an earthy flavour. It has a high smoking point compared to other edible oils making it an ideal choice for high temperature cooking such as stir frying and deep frying. It also gives fried foods an ideal colour even after deep-frying and a non-sticky texture.

The use of rice bran oil for frying is not new. It has been in use as cooking oil for centuries in Asian countries such as Japan and China. However, the science behind its benefits has been explored only recently.

So, the next time you feel the urge to put away potato chips, forget your worries and just enjoy the munch. Make sure that it has been made in rice bran oil.

The writer is Principal Dietician, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi.