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Right cooking oil must for good food, better health

In a recent social media post, celebrity nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar wrote, “Oils are important to our cuisine and play an important role in our well-being. They add flavour and taste to our meals, and bear the heat of cooking while protecting micronutrients in our food. Without them the crispy bhajiya would be without flavour, as would the chutney or even the curry patta in our tadka. (sic)” There’s a reason why Bengalis don’t cook fish curry in olive oil and the Italians never use mustard oil to make pasta. Choosing the right oil is the foremost step for cooking good food and achieving good health.

Oil for a balanced diet

Apart from lending the right mix of flavours to our food, oils are also essential for providing our bodies with key nutrients. And at a time when good health is becoming the prime focus for more people than ever, it is all the more important to know which oils are best suited for a healthy and balanced diet. According to Vijaya Agrawal, chief dietician at a city hospital, our body can’t synthesise essential fatty acids and that is why we need vegetable oils in small quantities to maintain a balanced diet. “Plant-based oils like mustard oil, soya oil and rice bran oil contain phytosterol, which block cholesterol from being absorbed. Good for Indian cooking, these are rich in plant-based Omega-3 fatty acid or linolenic acid, which lowers risk of coronary heart diseases,” she shares.

Focus on the source
The type of fat each oil contains varies. One should go for oils rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and avoid oils with a high amount of saturated fat. Instead of stressing about which oil to use every time you cook, nutritionist Nupur Arya suggests you should instead focus on the source of oil. “All cold pressed, minimally processed oils are rich in good fats. Choose your oil on the basis of what you are cooking. Cold pressed sesame oil is great for Asian cooking, virgin olive oil goes best with salad dressings or low-flame cooking. For Indian cooking, which requires high flame and prolonged cooking, you need oils that can withstand a high temperature. Cold pressed mustard oil or ghee from grass-fed cows are good options for that,” she says.

Strike a balance

Unlike cold pressed oil, which retains most of its natural physiological and chemical properties and original taste, hot pressed oil retains little of its natural composition because of the difference in the process of extraction. Nutritionist Neha Patodia believes it’s important to strike a balance when using oils. “Most of the seed oils, like canola, safflower, sunflower or mustard, are rich in Omega-6, which can cause inflammation. Hence, consuming a good amount of Omega-3 flax oils and fish oil is really important for a healthy heart,” she suggests.

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Taking care of your oil

“When it comes to edible oils, there is a tendency to buy in bulk because it’s economical. But this is an unhealthy practice, as oils have a tendency to oxidise, which hampers its basic properties,” says Vijaya. Here are a few steps she recommends:

Always purchase fresh oil: Make sure to go for packs with a recent manufacturing date

Buy in small quantities: If you need 1.5 litres of oil in a month, buy that much only

Never keep oil in open containers: Oil should not come in direct contact with air. Store it in airtight containers only and keep them in cool, dark places

Avoid overheating: When an oil is over-heated during cooking, it produces unwanted chemicals. Choose your oil based on its smoking point, which is the point at which the oil starts burning and smoking, signalling that damage to the oil has started

Do not reuse/reheat oil: Instead of deep fry, try to sauté or pan-fry your food. This way you will end up

consuming a much lesser amount of oil. One should ideally discard the leftover oil after cooking

‘Many ready-to-eat food companies use palm oil because it’s cheaper and helps increase the shelf life of products. However, it tends to get hydrogenated easily and is very bad for health’

– Vijaya Agrawal, chief dietician at a Kolkata hospital

Things to look out for when buying oil

Type of fat it contains

Smoke point

Degree of saturation

Process of extraction

Taste/flavour

Oils for a happy heart

Olive oil

Peanut oil

Canola oil

Sesame oil

Sunflower oil