Tuesday, October 19, 2010

‘Oil’ is well!!!

One of the most important and life-altering decisions, apart from the regular ones (about career, relationships and shelter!) is deciding on the right kind of oil to use for cooking!

Oil is an important ingredient in almost all items cooked in our country, with sources and amounts varying depending on the location.
Oils belong to the category of fats and the ones used for cooking, are usually obtained from plant sources. Oils from animal sources are also used for some purposes, apart from cooking.
As per the structure of fats, oils contain fatty acids, which are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It increases the palatability and satiety value of food and hence is widely used for cooking.

As per the fatty acid composition, the sources of oils are classified as mostly containing – Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA), Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA), Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA), and the popular Trans- Fatty Acids (TFA). Plant sources usually contain little or no cholesterol. All oils contain SFAs, PUFAs and MUFAs, however one of them is usually in the highest quantity as compared to others. Fats from animal sources contain high levels of SFAs, whereas from plant sources are usually high in PUFAs and MUFAs.
Though fats perform an important role in the body, excessive amount of fats, especially as SFAs or cholesterols increase the risk for lifestyle disorders.

Oils containing high levels of SFAs are usually semi-solid at room temperature (e.g. butter, ghee, etc.). Hence, it tends to get deposited in the same way along the arteries in the body, increasing chances of lifestyle disorders like atherosclerosis and more. The lower the level of SFAs in the oil, the better it is.
SFAs have a direct effect on the level of LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) or the ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body, and hence increase the risk to lifestyle disorders like diabetes, heart problems, obesity etc. Hence it is usually recommended to limit the use of SFA rich foods like butter, ghee etc.

So many different kinds of oils flood the market these days with really interesting advertisements claiming different things like cholesterol free or Vitamin E enriched, to attract the consumers.
Picking it up from last week, oils are classified as per the nature of their basic components – fatty acids. Thus there are the SFAs, PUFAs, MUFAs and terms like TFA that need to be understood.

Mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are found in oils from plant origins like olive oil etc. They are liquid at room temperature and are chemically the more stable which also increases their shelf life.
MUFAs are extremely beneficial to the body since their structure causes them to prevent oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL), which if oxidized get stuck on the walls of arteries and obstruct blood flow. It is also known to improve insulin sensitivity which is usually a risk factor for the onset of lifestyle disorders like diabetes etc. and also reduce inflammation in the body.
Some examples of oils with comparatively high MUFA content would be sesame seed oil, canola oil, groundnut oil. Olive oil contains the highest percentage of MUFAs and is a common recommendation by dieticians and nutritionists these days to the weight-watchers.

Poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are again found in oils of plant origin like sunflower, safflower oil etc. They are chemically less stable and hence prone to oxidation and also may turn rancid faster, have lower melting points and are liquid at room temperature. PUFAs also include the extremely beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (as found in fish, walnuts etc.) which have many health benefits. PUFAs, like some MUFAs, are a safe option for daily cooking in high volumes. However, the health benefits are not as good as the MUFAs.

PUFAs and MUFAs are only relatively beneficial than SFAs (Saturated Fatty Acids), and must also be used in moderation. Too much oil consumption is precursor for many lifestyle disorders like obesity, diabetes and also other problems like atherosclerosis, pre-mature aging and the like.
Moderation is the key word!

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