The most common edible oils of India are: 1. coconuts, 2. sesame (til),
3. mustard, 4. ground-nut, and 5. linseed.
In this article I shall briefly discuss the food values of these oils in
comparison with those of animal fats, as well as their comparative food
Animal Fats and Vegetable Oils
Both these classes of substances can be put under the common name fat.
Fats are fuel foods, and in this respect vegetable oils are as good as
animal fats; that is, weight for weight vegetable fats supply the same
amount of energy as animal fats (e.g. ghee).
As for digestibility, the vegetable fats are well assimilated in the human
But animal fats are superior to vegetable fats in one important respect,
that is, with regard to their vitamin contents. Vegetable oils contain
very little or no fat soluble vitamin (A or D), whereas butter contains
a fair quantity of those vitamins. Fish liver oils like halibut oil and
cod-liver oil are very good sources of those vitamins. It must be
mentioned here that ghee cannot be placed in the same category with
butter. Ghee in this respect is inferior to butter and contains little
or no vitamin depending on its method of preparation. The very inferior
vitamin content of vegetable oils is more than counterbalanced by its
cheapness. Very few people in India can afford to take butter. But no
one need worry about it. There are cheaper sources of these vitamins.
In a sunny country like India vitamin D is easily available. Human skin
contains ergosterol which on exposure to sunlight is converted into
vitamin D. Vegetable oils on irradiation or exposure to sunlight also
give rise to vitamin D as they contain ergosterol.* So rubbing the body
with vegetable oils and subsequent exposure to sunlight is the cheapest
and best way of getting vitamin D. It is an ancient custom in Bengal to
rub the whole body of infants with mustard oil and then expose them to
sunlight in the morning for some time, which is highly beneficial.
It is doubtful whether there is vitamin A at all in the vegetable world.
But they contain carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the
human as well as other animal systems. Raw carrots and spinach are
excellent sources of carotene. Raw cabbage, yellow corn, peas and
tomatoes are good sources. Sweet pumpkin, which is produced in large
quantities in Bengal and which the poor villagers of Bengal take in fair
amount, contains carotene. Other good sources are ripe mangoes and
papayas. Poor people need not, therefore, rush to butter for vitamin A.
So considering the comparative prices of butter and ghee and vegetable oils
I have no hesitation to say that for poor men vegetable oils are a fair
Comparative Food Values
The fat contents of cocoanut, sesame, ground-nut, mustard and linseed oils
are practically the same. 98-99 per cent of them is fat. And all these
fats supply the same amount of energy to the body. I have already said
that all these oils are well assimilated in the human system, so the
question of digestibility is not of much importance. Habit is a great
factor in this. A Bengali would not like the smell of linseed oil at
all. He would rather go without any oil than take linseed oil. Whereas
those who are not accustomed to mustard oil would find it rather
irritating to the stomach on account of its sulphur-containing
substance. But when one can accustom himself to any of these oils there
is no difficulty of digestion, and fat values of all of them are
But there is one point to be considered, i.e., the non-fatty portion of
these oils. They have not been thoroughly investigated from the
nutritive point of view. Modern researches on vitamins have shown the
importance of minute traces of substance in our diet. So it would be no
surprise if one day scientists discover something in any one of those
oils to declare its superiority over others. I am only hinting at the
unknown possibilities which have up-till now not been brought to light.
Minute traces of metallic compounds of manganese, nickel, cobalt and
other rarer metals may have great biological values which are still
unknown to us. Ash of the linseed oil contains .0006 per cent manganese.
In the present state of our knowledge we can only say that all these oils
are more or less equally good and ore may take any one of them he finds
cheap and suitable to his taste.
In conclusion I should like to say one word about the hydrogenated oils
like cocogem, etc. They are known as vegetable ghee. These hydrogenated
oils are inferior to the natural oils in point of digestibility. And
whatever little vitamin they may contain is also lost during
hydrogenation. I am, therefore, definitely of opinion that hydrogenated
oils should never be taken specially as they are constlier than common
vegetable oils. It would amount to buying inferior stuff at greater
should be given in shallow flat dishes to have maximum surface exposed
to sunlight ensuring maximum conversion to vitamin. But this best be
done if the body is rubbed with oil and exposed to sunlight.