Slight tweaks in how we prepare meals may go far in improving health. Cooking with a mixture of sesame and rice-bran oils led to big blood-pressure dips and improved cholesterol levels found new research presented at American Heart Association’s recent scientific sessions. What’s more, using the oil blend was nearly as blood-pressure-lowering as taking a commonly prescribed medication (at lower cost, with fewer side effects).

New Finding

When 300 adults (average age 57) with high blood pressure took the blood-pressure-lowering calcium-channel blocker nifedipine, used about an ounce of the oil blend in meals, or did both daily for two months, the oil-only group had average blood-pressure drops of 14 points systolic (top number) and 11 diastolic (bottom number) while the medication-only group had average drops of 16 points systolic and 12 diastolic.

The medication-oil combo group had whopping average bp drops of 36 points systolic, 24 diastolic.

Cholesterol benefits were found in the oil-blend groups but not the medication group. On average, the oil-only group dropped LDL (bad cholesterol) by 26 percent and boosted HDL (good cholesterol) by nearly 10 percent.

The combo group dropped LDL levels by 27 percent, on average, and boosted HDL by nearly 11 percent.

How It Works

The oils are “low in saturated fat and appear to improve patients’ cholesterol profiles,” said study author Devarajan Sankar, MD, PhD.

“Because antioxidant deficiency could be a factor in development of hypertension,” said Sankar, “antioxidant-rich sesame and rice-bran oils may enhance the antioxidant mechanism, thereby helping to control hypertension.”

The blend—80 percent refined rice-bran oil, 20 percent unrefined sesame oil—is not available for purchase but sesame and rice-bran oils are sold separately.

Sesame oil is rich in antioxidants including Vitamin E and lignans (sesamin, sesamol, sesamolin) while rice-bran oil contains the antioxidant oryzanol. The blend was also more than 80 percent unsaturated fatty acids (so-called good fat). Past studies have tied these compounds to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Generally, unsaturated vegetable oils (olive, soy, sunflower, and corn) are healthier choices over oils high in saturated fats (coconut and palm). Still, “because of the array of antioxidants offered by sesame and rice-bran oils, the blend is considered superior to olive and canola oils,” said Sankar.

Take-Home

If you have high blood pressure, consider trying sesame and rice-bran oils in salad dressings, when frying or baking, or in recipes calling for oil. If you take a blood-pressure-lowering medication, do not stop taking this without consulting your doctor. Findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary.