‘Cholesterol’ and ‘obesity’ are household terms now. People have new worries these days – am I eating the right food? Is it healthy enough? It is a new era where the health conscious dominate and anything with a hint of oil in it is considered taboo. Mumbai based dietician and nutritionist Preethi Rahul tells us how to stay in the running without having to sacrifice some of your essentials!
Indian cooking, in general, involves the use of more oil than we realize. In today’s world of computers, desk jobs and weight problems, it is important to cook and eat healthy. Though ‘oily food’ is considered fatty and unhealthy, there are ways to make some of your favourite dishes without clogging your arteries at the same time. Ensuring that you use healthy cooking oil is one of easiest ways to cut down on the fatty foods you eat. Here is our pick of the top healthy cooking oils:
Olive Oil: The beneficial properties of olive oil have become almost legendary. It is healthy for the skin and the hair and has been scientifically proven to be a deterrent of heart disease and other illnesses. But moderation is the mantra; it is not the cure for heart disease by any means and excessive oil intake – whether it is olive oil or ghee – is still rich in calories.
Olive oil is mono-unsaturated oil and is helpful in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol in the body, without losing the good cholesterol. There are different varieties of olive oil on the market. These variants are based on the stages of processing that the oil has undergone.
Influenced by its good attributes, most people unfortunately use it for everything, which is insensible. It is an expensive oil and because it is good for the heart does not mean you can use it left, right and centre. It is impractical as regular cooking oil as it cannot bear heat. Extra virgin olive oil can be used as a topping once the meal has already been cooked. Olive oil is essentially a western adaptation and is more suited to that kind of cooking. Western dishes are different and the heat required to cook them is less than in Indian cooking.
Groundnut Oil: Made from groundnuts or peanuts the oil contains mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are used to lower the amount of bad cholesterol in the body. This is a very versatile oil and can be used in all forms of cooking – from grilling to seasoning.
Groundnut oil is generally available in two forms – refined and filtered. For a more nutritious option, you should select the filtered oil. However, if not filtered properly, the oil can contain toxic compounds. So go for branded oil.
Rice Bran Oil: This kind of oil has a lot of mono-unsaturated fatty acids. When consumed, these lead to the lowering of cholesterol in the body as it contains a component known as Oryzanol. Rice bran oil is rich in natural vitamin E, which is an antioxidant and is excellent for your skin. This kind of oil is excellent for cooking as it can withstand high temperatures, making it the perfect oil to deep fry your dishes in. One of the chief selling points of rice bran oil is that food cooked in this oil absorbs 12 to 25 percent less oil than food cooked in groundnut oil.
Any kind of bran oil is good. It contains a lot of minerals and nutrients, especially Vitamin E. It is also rich in antioxidants.
Sunflower Oil: This type of oil is the one that is most commonly found in Indian households. Rich in poly-unsaturated fatty acids, it is well known for its cholesterol reducing properties – for both good and bad cholesterol.
People are ideally supposed to have only five servings of fats and oils per day. That is, a maximum of around 5 teaspoons of oil each day per person. Naturally this does not happen, especially in Indian cooking, but that is the ideal amount. Sunflower oil is very commonly used as it is suitable for Indian cooking.
Coconut Oil: A favourite in south India, especially in Kerala, coconut oil is often slated as ‘unhealthy’ because it contains saturated fats. However, there are some plus points to using coconut oil. It does not contain any cholesterol and is therefore, an ideal oil to use in cooking blends.
Coconut oil is an instant source of energy, despite its saturated fat content. It should be used sparingly, about once or twice a week. This is because it is rapidly absorbed by the body.
Dispelling Three Cooking Myths
1. Ghee is unhealthy: No. It contains vitamin A, which is very beneficial for children. However, it is also a saturated source of fat and is therefore unsuitable for middle aged and older people. As you get older, ghee becomes less healthy for you but it is great for kids – in moderation, of course.
2. Blends dilute your oil: No. Blends do not ‘dilute’ your cooing oil. Dieticians recommend blends as you can mix and match and create the kind of oil that is right for your needs. This is especially true of those who suffer from heart diseases. One such recommended blend is: cornflower oil, soya oil, groundnut oil and rice bran oil.
Oils and Fats are necessary in cooking: No. You can survive without using obvious fats in your cooking because there are plenty of invisible sources of fat in your food. Most food contains some kind of fat so purposely adding fat to your diet is not required for a balanced meal.