Oils and fats can be good or bad for you depending on what – and how much – of it you consume.
The question is how one unlocks the benefits of antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids from oil and not allow it to clog our arteries.
Oils and fats come loaded with vitamins and essential fatty acids, which our body can’t make on its own. When used sparingly and teamed with the right amount of heating, they can be beneficial.
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According to Soumita Biswas, Chief Nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru, “Plant-based monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (found in olive oil, safflower, sesame and groundnut oil) contain omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which help reduce heart disease risks, while foods containing trans-fats and saturated fats are the ones not good for health.”
According to an article published in the journal Circulation, omega 3 fatty acids lower triglyceride levels and increase high-density lipoprotein (i.e. good cholesterol) levels. They may also decrease platelet aggregation, which can prevent the coronary arteries from occluding (occlusion prevents or decreases blood flow to the heart). Omega 3 fatty acids may decrease the chance of the heart having an abnormal rhythm and may also increase compliance of arteries, decrease atherosclerosis (caused due to the deposition of fats in the inner walls of arteries) through their effects on metabolism, and reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
Know your oils
While cold-pressed and plant-based oils are known to be healthier than their refined counterparts, it is the intake quantity that could potentially make or break your health.
“You must know your oil and its temperament. Overheating the oil is a no-no, since that would oxidise the oil and prompt it to lose its nutritional value,” says Dr Vanita Arora, Senior Consultant, Cardiac Electrophysiologist & Interventional Cardiologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.
“For instance, mustard oil is good for cooking, but you can’t go overboard by frying and cooking everything in it and then also adding more oil to the preparations via tempered seasonings. That’s how you end up consuming more oil and fat than required. And if you are not physically active, then excess consumption of oil makes it worse,” she says.
On the contrary, if the oil in question is virgin olive oil, it should ideally be used as a dressing by pouring it on the salad instead of using it as a cooking medium as heating it destroys the nutrients.
Apart from learning quantity control, knowing some good sources of oils also helps the heart.
Nutritionist Megha Jaina, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, recommends beneficial dietary fats from fish oils, vegetable oils and full fat dairy products that supply fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are vital in small amounts for nourishments of the body.
“While the body can make its own saturated fats from carbohydrates and protein, polyunsaturated fats (omega 6 and omega 3) must be supplied by oils and foods that contain them,” explains Jaina.
“It is vegetable oils like sunflower oil, corn oil, rice bran oil, mustard oil which have omega 6 fatty acids, while omega 3 fatty acids can be found in soybean, walnuts, leafy vegetables, tuna and salmon fish oils as well,” she says.
According to Bengaluru-based dietician Nidhi Nigam, while including different types of oils in your foods is beneficial, it is best to stay away from heavily refined oils because they undergo a lot of chemical processes and lose all the important nutrients on the way.
Right quantity for the heart
Nigam explains for a person with heart condition, about 2 to 3 teaspoons of oil (i.e., 10 to 15 ml) per day is sufficient.
She further explains, if a healthy person consumes 1,500 calories per day, then about 18 to 20 per cent of that could come from the fat they consume.
According to Jaina, for a good heart health a person can also get the benefits of omega fatty acids from a mix of natural ingredients like seeds as well, if not pressed oils.
An adult requires about 4 gm of omega 6 fatty acids, which is about 2 teaspoon of sunflower seeds, 10 almonds plus 2 walnuts, but she insists that you also include omega 3 in your diet.
“Omega 3 requirement of the body is about 1-2 gm and can be taken from half a bowl of cooked soybean salad, walnuts, 1 or 2 gm of ghee (clarified butter) in dals (lentils),” she explains.
“However, a very high intake of omega 6 may be harmful because it increases the production of free radicals, causing a large chain of chemical reactions in the body,” adds Jaina. So, a balance between omega 6 and 3 is desirable – be it your diet or the oil you consume.
Potpourri of oils
Dr Arora suggests how you use different oils makes all the difference to your heart health. “The recommendation is to have a potpourri of oils,” she says. So, if one day you are using desi ghee for cooking, opt for mustard or sesame oil the next day and some other oil the day after.
“That’s because different oils have different nutritional properties in them, and by changing your oils, you are unlocking the benefits of a variety of oils,” she explains.
“Few oils are high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and some in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), while a few are rich in omega 3; so, if you blend them the way your dietician recommends, you end up getting most of the nutrients,” says dietician Deepalekha Banerjee of 360 Degree Nutricare.
Dr Arora suggests some practical solutions for those who occasionally crave fried snacks.
She says a smart way to get crispy fries is by using an air fryer, which facilitates minimal oil usage or no-oil cooking and yet satisfies your taste buds.
“If you must have something fried, then use an air fryer by simply marinating the ingredients in spices,” she suggests.
Apart from cautious cooking, exercising and keeping yourself active is always a good way to boost your hearts health, she reminds.
Nigam’s tips for reaping benefits from oil:
- It is advisable to keep your kitchen stocked with at least two or more kinds of oils to use alternately to maximise their health benefits.
- Don’t buy oil in bulk because if it gets rancid, it will lose it nutritional value.
- Never reheat the oil for cooking because it becomes carcinogenic, saturates more, and thickens, which is harmful for the arteries.
- When frying, use optimum quantity of oil so that you don’t keep on saving and reusing it