To add or not to add? That is a question often at the back of our mind when it comes to using oils in our daily cooking. Supermarkets are stocked with a variety of oils but how do you make the right choice while selecting one that could be beneficial for your health?
Dr Anuja Agarwala, senior dietitian (pediatrics), Department of Pediatrics, AIIMS, New Delhi, gives us a few insights.
She points out that when it comes to Indian cooking, we always prefer vegetable oils over vanaspati (hydrogenated refined oil which contains trans fat). “However, we have often underestimated the benefits associated with locally produced oils like mustard seed oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil,” says Agarwala.
Vegetable oils are rich in good fats which makes them a healthy choice. “These plant-based oils provide right nutrients to maintain optimum body’s functioning, so replacing saturated fats like butter with unsaturated fats like sunflower can help in reducing bad cholesterol levels in the blood and minimise the risk of heart diseases,” says the dietician.
Talking about the techniques in which oils are made, Agarwala says that refined oils are made through technical processes in factories in which chemicals may be used. However, the newest addition are the cold-pressed oils wherein the seeds of the plant are pressed without using chemicals and oil is derived from them.
Agarwala also adds that most of the vegetable oils are rich in vitamin A and D that are essential in enhancing overall health of a person. However, switching just your oil is not going to be beneficial, she says and adds that people need to understand that for a healthy body, they need to make healthy choices. “A wholesome and well balanced diet is important as well as focusing on how much oil is being consumed on a daily basis,” she points out.
Oil should be restricted to about 10 tsp per day which includes both visible and invisible fats, Agarwala informs. While visible fats are the ones that are in the form of butter, cooking oils, ghee, margarine etc, invisible fat is the hidden fat that is present in the food in varying amounts. She says that as per a Harvard University-backed EAT Lancet report released earlier this year, more than half of fat/oil, needs to be sourced from a variety of unsaturated fats/oils provided by vegetable sources.
Trans-fatty acids (TFA) is one of the most harmful fats that is a primary cause of heart disease and strokes globally. TFA is typically derived from 2 sources — Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (industrial TFA) and from animal sources. Evidence shows that both these adversely affect the blood cholesterol profile.
These are some of the reasons why Agarwala insists on switching to healthier alternatives. She says that the first step in doing this is simply slowing down and finding out what are the ingredients of the oils. She suggests replacing products with tans-fat and high saturated fat by vegetable oil-based foods.
Choose foods such as salad dressings made with recommended oils (soybean, rapeseed, mustard, groundnut/peanut, rice-bran, olive, coconut, corn, safflower and sunflower oils); oil-based cookies and biscuits; non-dairy fat-based ice-cream/frozen desserts and chocolates; roasted snacks and bakery items that are not fried or cooked in vanaspati. These simple yet significant dietary changes not only impact one’s health positively, but also contribute to reducing the stress on the environment.
However, a caution to follow while consuming these vegetable oils is that even though the body needs fatty acids because it cannot produce them on its own, it is extremely important to limit the intake of oils. Oils cannot be consumed in larger quantities. “Even if you are having good oils, if you are going to deep-fry food in them, the purpose is completely lost here. Oil has to be used in less quantities, a drizzle of plant-based vegetable oils is something that should be focused on. Anything in excessive quantities is bad for health and can create complications,” she concludes.