Clearly a lot about food is to do with mouth-watering aromas and lip-smacking flavours. Bland and boiled foods, cooked without oils or fats, are unpalatable and boring. It is the butter, the ghee and the full-fat cheeses that generate irresistible aromas, making even a resolute dieter give in to the lure of piping hot pizzas and pakoras.
It is important to remember that all fats and oils are not bad. There is a lot that fats do to heal and help you stay healthy. Some fats store the important cancer-fighting vitamins A,D, E and K. Some types of fats make up about 60% of brain structure. Fats are an integral part of every one of our 300 trillion cells. Omega-3 fats keep us slimmer by converting storage fat to metabolically active fat, the type that animals and infants have. These omega fats and oils found in nuts, seeds and fish also help regulate blood pressure, clear cholesterol deposits and cushion body organs, and are necessary for a good memory.
Best of oil: Choose your cooking medium with care.
Refined oils are extracted from seeds. Seeds are rich sources of healthy oils, essential minerals, vitamins and health-promoting minor nutrients. The first extract or the first press that makes virgin or cold-pressed oils removes most of these nutrients, but still keeps the healthy fats and is therefore healthy to consume. Subsequent extracts and further processing are necessary to make refined cooking oil. These processes remove even these healthy fats, and therefore require synthetic preservatives and antioxidants to prevent the damage that can be caused by exposure to light and air, to improve shelf life, and to artificially boost smoking points. Deep frying requires high smoking points (the temperature at which oils start breaking down into glycerol and fatty acids), and potentially makes oils carcinogenic.
With cooking oils, it’s not just about consuming the acceptable standard of 3-5 teaspoons per person per day; it’s about how much heat is applied to the oil, whether the temperatures you cook at reach its smoking point or not, and whether you reuse cooking oil. Blackened saucepans and frying pans suggest that you may be reaching the oils’ smoking points while cooking. Tell-tale signs of using too much oil even when you are not deep frying is having oil float generously over curries and other foods.
If you want to improve the way you consume oils and fats, keep these pointers in mind while cooking:
If you have to use refined oils, use oils made from olive or groundnut for everyday cooking. These naturally have very high smoking points.
Consume no more than half a litre of cooking oil per adult per month.
Try to incorporate cold-pressed oils such as virgin olive oil, sunflower and sesame seed oil in your cooking. Do not use these for deep-frying, though. Use the steam-frying method (heat just a few tablespoons of oil; when hot, add the items and sauté them for a few minutes; when they start to sizzle, add a splash of liquid such as water or broth; cover with a tight-fitting lid so the steam gets trapped, and cook till done.
Avoid heating the oil through before tempering. Collect all the ingredients required for the tempering—say, mustard, cumin, fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves—place them in cold oil and then heat through. This way you will reduce the cooking time of the oil.
Ensure that you have one helping—about a tablespoon of nuts such as almonds or 2 tablespoons of seeds such as pumpkin, sesame or sunflower and dry ground flaxseeds—to ensure a daily source of the essential healing omega fats which spoil easily during processing.
Totally avoid or restrict refined sugar and maida (refined flour), foods made from refined flour such as biscuits, and mithai (sweetmeats) that contains saturated fats such as butter, or trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated fats, such as Dalda).
Avoid reusing cooking oil. Once heated, oil is rancid and has reached its smoking point and more.
If you must deep fry or cook using high temperatures, increase the smoking point of any oil by adding a teaspoon of ghee because it has a high smoking point.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com