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The Truth About Oils

All you need to know to make healthier choices

by Ishi Khosla  

Oil, specifically, the fat in oil often gets a bad rap. However, oils---with the accompanying fats---aren't always bad for us. The trick is to have more good fats than bad ones. What is important is to be mindful of how the fat has been extracted---is it high-heat solvent, refined or cold-pressed at room temperature. This can mean the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats.

All natural oils are a combination of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and saturated fatty acids (SFAs).
MUFAs and PUFAs are good, healthy fats. These unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, can improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Ordinarily, 15 per cent of your daily calories (1,800 kcals on an average) should come from MUFAs, 8-10 per cent from PUFAs and less than 7 per cent from SFAs. For maximum benefit from your cooking oils, rotate them as often as possible, but don't forget that striking the right balance between MUFAs, PUFAs and SFAs is important. A Penn State study found that you need to combine both MUFAs and PUFAs for a healthy heart.

THE GOOD FATS

For the right balance, ensure that you get enough good fats. Olive, mustard, sesame, rice bran and peanut oils have plenty of MUFAs. Olive oil is one of the best sources of good fats that help you lose weight and keep your heart healthy. In addition to having MUFAs, mustard oil is a good option for n-3 PUFAs---also called omega-3 fats---and reduces the risk of heart diseases and hypertension. It is the type of PUFA that is important. For instance, excess PUFA n-6 content can result in the formation of harmful fatty deposits in the arteries and increase the risk of  diabetes. It is best that you keep the ratio of n-6 to n-3 PUFAs 1:5, in your diet. Avoid smoking it before use, as this can cause harmful chemical changes. For saturated fats, opt for cream, desi ghee, palm and virgin coconut oil. Natural saturated fats are stable and many provide special health benefits.

THE BAD FATS
The real villains are trans fats or hydrogenated, industry-produced saturated fats. A review of studies on trans fats published in the New England Journal of Medicine establishes a strong link between trans fat consumption and coronary heart disease. In a 1993 Harvard study on 85,000 American nurses, those with the highest intake of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils had 70 per cent greater incidence of heart attacks. These fats are also inflammatory and can adversely affect the body's immune function. Avoid high-heat refined oils, such as refined olive oil, as well.

 

MIXING OILS
Rotating oils is always a good idea. However, it is equally important to retain the flavour of the oil for best cooking results. So carefully choose your cooking oils to get the maximum nutrition possible. Other options: corn and sunflower oils, but they are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and can increase inflammation if consumed in excess. It is ideal to use them in combination with MUFA-rich canola or mustard oil.


GOOD COMBINATIONS

Mustard and sesame oils for vegetables.

Rice bran and mustard oils for neutral flavour and frying.

Extra virgin olive oil for salads, stir-frying and sautéing.

Desi ghee or virgin coconut oil for dal or on roti, or a tiny pat of butter on your bread.        

(Ishi Khosla is a clinical nutritionist, founder of theweightmonitor.com, The Celiac Society of India and Whole Foods India; author of The Diet Doctor and Is Wheat Killing You)

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