GOOD FAT BAD FAT
In a diet crazy world, the go-to mantra seems to be 'fat free' – but little can be more dangerous. Fats are essential to our well-being and we must be wise in distinguishing the good fat from the bad fat while planning our diet
We have all studied at some stage in our school curriculum about the constituents of a balanced diet – Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins and Minerals. Despite contributing towards this balance, fats have always remained the villain for most. We jumped on the low fat, no fat bandwagon when the markets were flooded with products that assured lower fat content in comparison to their counterparts. Products like skim milk, dieter's cheese, low-fat yogurt, fat-free butter gave us hope but caused cognitive attenuation. We lost common sense while assessing these unnatural products. The outcome? We only got fatter during the fat-free boom.
The low fat, no fat ideology was devised to attend to the drawn linkages between fat, dietary cholesterol and Coronary Heart Disease. Many clinical trials have been conducted since then but a majority have failed to directly correlate dietary fat and cholesterol in the body. In 2015, USDA reversed their stand of 30 years on cholesterol by saying that cholesterol as a nutrient isn't a concern for over consumption. Fat is essential for our body, for instance:
It helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, K.
It forms a protective sheath covering nerves and helps in nerve stimulus transmissions.
It makes up much of your brain (60 per cent is composed of fat).
It is essential for lubrication of joints; it insulates, protects and supports our internal organs.
As it serves so many crucial life functions, putting a blanket ban on fats is bound to be fatal. This act has unparallelly ruined our health in the last two decades. We are now faced with an epidemic of Diabesity – a condition where obesity and Diabetes feed each other. The other side of this over consumption is malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D leading to Vitamin D deficiency, in turn causing bone and joint issues. Hormonal imbalance, infertility, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's are all concerns, to name a few.
There are many kinds of fats. Now, this is where it all gets confusing. For a layman, it is difficult to distinguish the nuances of Saturated, Unsaturated, PUFA, MUFA, Trans, Hydrogenated fat. And, then, there are advertisement claims that further confuse. But if we understand simple facts, we can easily keep the good fat on our plates and the bad ones off it.
I would attempt to resolve this confusion under three headings.
Source of oil: Natural Origin
Method of processing for obtaining oil
What do you intend to use it for?
Source of Oil
Where does the fat that you consume come from? Fat obtained from natural sources like nuts, seeds, fruits, egg yellow is good fat. If you are a non-vegetarian and your meat is fed on grass, it is naturally bred – that is good fat too, unlike the meat which is grain fed. Grain fed meat is raised on corn and soy, two of the most popular GMO foods in the world. So, the source of not just what you eat but what your food eats too is important here.
Oil sourced from sesame, mustard, flax seeds, peanuts, coconut, olives are good oils for cooking. They have been inherent in cultural and regional cuisines across different parts of India. While mustard oil is popular in northern India and the eastern belt, peanut oil is traditionally used in western India. South India uses coconut oil and sesame oil is used in western and northeastern India too. These oils are native to these geographies and hence, staple to the traditional recipes here.
Method of Processing
The method of extracting oil from a seed product can be can be done popularly in one of the following two methods: cold pressed or heat pressed
Cold pressing is a mechanical process in which the oil is extracted and separated from the seeds or nuts without chemical intervention or addition of any substances, at a temperature that does not exceed 35°C.
Oil extracted in this way is known to be the healthiest for cooking food which contains adequate amounts of nutrients that can be easily absorbed by your body. These oils are super packed with nutrients and vitamins that go straight to your bloodstream for that immediate jolt of feel-goodness in the form of energy. This is because at low temperatures, the fatty acid bonds in the seeds don't get destroyed, keeping its heart-protecting abilities intact, along with vitamins and minerals. This, however, makes oil extraction a little expensive as you don't get too much oil out of each seed while maintaining its quality.
Though originally we always relied on cold pressed oils which are popularly known as kacchi ghani oils, more recently, we have shifted to refined oils with misleading claims of being heart healthy. In fact, the converse is true; refined oils are inflammatory in nature and are associated with inflammatory disorders like Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, Asthma, Auto Immune Diseases, to name a few.
Refined oils are extracted through expellers in which heat and pressure is passed. This method is deployed in large refineries with expellers which are pulling out oils at very great temperatures in large quantities. Almost all oils from the seeds are pushed out through this process. The chemical stage of the oil is altered by this method and hence there is less opportunity that the quality of the oil will stay intact naturally as it would have been when extracted through cold pressed methods.
Normally, in the heat pressed method, 2300C is used to extract the oils, in which the final product oxidises easily. This oxidisation process causes inflammation that is at the root of many modern day lifestyle disorders. High temperature crushing is also linked to being carcinogenic. Though these oils are cheaper, they are sold at a higher price, thanks to advertising
Intent of Use
Your choice of oil should be based on what you are cooking and how you are intending to use it.
For all Indian styles of cooking, tadka, stir frying or deep frying, cold pressed traditional Indian oils are the best. Not only do they blend well with traditional recipes, they also enhance the flavour of local ingredients.
In addition, they have a higher smoking point which is an essential prerequisite for sputtering (tadka/baghaar) spices for Indian recipes. The high smoking point ensures that the fat does not oxidise and become harmful for the body. However, once used, these should not be reused for deep frying.
Low smoking point is the characteristic that makes olive oil unfavorable for Indian cooking. Advertisements claim of Pomace variety being especially marketed for Indian consumers, but the smoking point of Pomace olive oil too comes nowhere close to Indian regional oils.
Use olive oil for all recipes that require it to be used cold, without being put on flame. Add to salads, dips, pasta, drizzle on breads and vegetables and enjoy.
Ghee is a very special kind of fat and the world is waking up to acknowledging its health benefits. It has the highest smoking point and thus, is best suited for all deep frying and high temperature cooking methods. It is lactose free and an ideal option for those who are lactose intolerant or vegan by choice. Ghee blends well with Indian delicacies and cooking.
Add seeds and nuts directly to your meals and snacks as a source of good fat. This will help regularise your blood sugar level and also keep your energy levels consistent through the day. These also add texture and crunch to your meals.
So, elimination of fat from your diet is not a solution. Elimination of bad fat is. If all the technical information out there overwhelms you, you are not alone. Just remember to keep it simple. Use fat that is naturally sourced and at lower temperatures. Look for words like – cold pressed, kacchchi ghani – filtered on the oil food labels. Use the oil that goes best with the recipe you are cooking in an amount that enhances the flavour of the dish without overpowering it. In this way, you will remain healthy at heart without compromising on your taste buds.