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On a nippy October morning, a group of people has gathered at the Mehrauli Archaeological Park in India’s capital, New Delhi, for a guided walk through the 16th-century ruins. After two hours of walking, they stop at a sweet-and-snack shop for their fill of quintessential north Indian breakfast of onion kachori and chole bhature. 

Most Indians are fond of such deep-fried snacks—so much so that they seldom care about the type of oil used to make them and the associated health risks. 

One needs to keep a check on their intake of fried food. But people don’t eat by counting calories, proteins, or fats. Quality of oils used in particular hydrogenated variants and the number of times it is reused for frying matters, too,” says Arun Gupta, a Delhi-based senior paediatrician and convenor of think-tank Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest. 

The cook at the shop tells The Ken that on any given Sunday morning, he deep-fries at least 250 frisbee-sized bhaturas. And to cook them, he uses Patanjali Foods Ltd’s (formerly known as Ruchi Soya Industries Ltd) Mahakosh Future Fit-Refined Soyabean Oil. 

Refined oils are widely used in Indian homes, eateries, and restaurants for cooking and are generally considered ‘healthy’—a belief reinforced by years of media campaigns by oil makers. For instance, with consumers becoming health-conscious, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies such as Marico Ltd and Adani Wilmar Ltd have introduced the word “healthy” in the branding, TV advertisements, and front-of-the-pack labels of their Saffola and Fortune range of oils, respectively. 

But the reality is that all refined oils go through multiple ‘purification’ processes that use harmful chemicals like Hexane. Also, reusing refined oil—a fairly common practice at restaurants of all sizes—produces toxic elements that may cause cancer. 

The health risks increase further when oils are turned into solid fats, like shortening shortening Shortening Shortening is any fat that is a solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry and other food products. It is used to give desired texture to the bakery items or margarine, called partially hydrogenated oils. They are mostly used in ultra-processed foods like chips, namkeens, and baked items like cookies and cakes, which are increasingly contributing to the growing waistlines of Indians.

Sales of ultra-processed foods in India rose from 2kg per capita in 2005 to 6kg in 2019, and it is expected expected The Ken Seeing stars: FSSAI’s food labelling decision opens a can of worms Read more to reach 8kg by 2024, according to data from market-research company Euromonitor.


Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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