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Every brand and variety touts itself as ‘the’ healthy cooking oil. We bust some myths about oils to help you choose the right one!
Oils and fats are essential ingredients in our daily diet but there exists a lot of confusion regarding healthy cooking oils in India. Every year, a new type of cooking oil seems to enter the fray and the market is flooded with a gamut of oils, each claiming to be vital for our health and nutrition. But in reality, how true are these claims? Let’s find out!
The human body needs dietary fats for proper health and nutrition. Fats are the biggest source of energy and are important for our body processes, more so for children. They are required for better absorption of many nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamin A), hormone functions, for glowing skin and brain health.
When thinking about diet plans, the first thing we want to eliminate from our menu is oil and butter. But the truth is we do need a moderate amount of oil and fat for proper functioning of our body and brain. Along with oils, butter and ghee, other animal products, fruits like avocado and nuts are natural sources of fats.
Just like anything else, we can categorise fats broadly into 3 types –
Worst fats: Trans-fats from hydrogenated plant oils are very harmful for your health and nutrition. When we ingest liquid vegetable oils, which have been converted into solid fats, they directly raise artery clogging bad cholesterol (LDL – Low Density Lipoprotein) and lower good cholesterol (HDL- High Density Lipoprotein) in the body. These are usually found in processed food and takeaways.
Bad fats: or saturated fats are those that turn solid at room temperature. For example, butter, ghee.
Helpful fats: or poly unsaturated and mono unsaturated fatty acids remain liquid at room temperature, like sunflower oil, peanut oil, sesame oil, olive oil, rice-bran oil.
Remember, some amount of cholesterol is also used by the body for building our cells and producing certain hormones.
This is not true in all cases. Extra virgin olive oil does contain higher polyphenols (antioxidants) than just refined olive oil; but that also depends on the freshness of the oil. Olive oil is not good for deep-frying because of its low smoking point – it can break down into toxic components. Also, in a country like India, olive oil is imported in large quantities from Mediterranean countries. This means increased food miles thereby increasing its costs and adding to greenhouse effects. Olive oil also imparts a strong flavour/odour and does not blend well with traditional Indian cooking. Just like any other oil or fat, olive oil should not exceed the daily dietary requirement.
Instead of using only one kind of oil for everything (as each brand would like you to do!), it is beneficial to use 2-3 different kinds of healthy cooking oils for different purposes thus balancing the benefits and risks of different types.
Extra virgin olive oil or pumpkin seed oil can be used for salad dressings. A little ghee can be used on hot rotis and chapatis. Sunflower, safflower or corn oil can be used for making curries and mustard or coconut oil for other traditional cooking. The secret is to keep a measure of the total amount of oil used for the entire cooking of the day for a family and then correlate that with the age group and requirements of family members. Also, a rotation of sunflower oil to peanut oil or rice bran oil and vice versa can be helpful.
Deep-frying is no longer a popular method of cooking. Not only does this process increase the fat content of the food item that is being fried but since the oil reaches very high temperatures (smoking point) while deep frying, it tends to break down into toxic components. Certain oils (e.g., olive oil) also acquire a bad odour and taste at this point.
It is best to avoid reusing cooking oils specially after frying non-vegetarian items, which can add their own fat to the frying medium. For occasional re-use of oil, store it after filtering to remove any leftover solid particles from the oil. Before reusing the oil check for its smell, colour and thickness.
Margarine usually scores against butter as it is synthesised from plants while butter contains animal fat. But margarine can contain trans-fat and poses more danger for the heart if not chosen wisely. In general, the more solid the margarine is, the more trans-fat it may contain. It is advisable to read the labels for saturated and trans-fat content while buying margarine and stick to the margarine spreads rather than the solid ones.
Butter on the other hand has been consumed by humans for centuries now and is well tested. It enhances the flavour of any food and contains Vitamin A. So a little butter really goes a long way for your health and nutrition.
Although we regularly check the expiry date of dairy products, we tend to ignore the same for oils. Fats and oil do degrade with time. On exposure to light and oxygen, butter can turn mouldy. Oil can turn rancid – which is evident from the smell and flavour of the oil – if kept for long term, so it is better to not store oil for long, especially after it reaches the expiry date stated on the label. Always store oils in a cool, dry, and dark place.
What healthy cooking oil do you use? Do share your tips with us!
*Photo credit: Pixabay