By Naini Setalvad
The key to having a healthy relationship with fats is to cultivate moderation. in small quantities, fats have a beneficial impact on our bodies
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with fats. We love what it does to our food, but hate what it does to our body. Worse still are the many health scares centered around it that has us wincing each time we pick up a samosa or bhajia. Little wonder then that many of us are swinging the other way, and spurning it altogether. However, that’s not wise, either. Fat is a necessary element of the human diet. Whether in the form of solids or liquid oils, it lubricates the intestines and joints. It is the source of long-term energy. Vitamins E, D and K are absorbed with the aid of fat. Healthy fat is derived from plant fats – olives, groundnut, sesame, coconut, mustard, sunflower, avocadoes, flax seeds, walnuts, almonds and other nuts and seeds. Some excellent choices for dietary fat:
Fruits: avocado, durian, olives, stone-crushed olive oil
Nuts: raw nuts of all kinds and raw nut butters
Seeds: pumpkin seed, sesame seed or raw black tahini, sunflower seed, hemp seed, flax seed, seed oils (cold pressed), young coconuts, and coconut oil.
Each region, each country produces nuts and seeds that are highly beneficial for health. India is greatly blessed in the variety of oils available. And this is wonderful because using a combination of oils is most beneficial. It is not advisable to use only one kind.
The best kinds of oils are organically grown and then cold pressed. This process retains more sensitive elements and delicate flavors than heat pressed oils. There is a dramatic difference between raw fat oils and cooked oils. Raw oils strengthen cell membranes and restore fat soluble nutrients to the tissues. However, the quantity of oil consumed should be within limits, as excess tends to do more harm to the body than good.
Sesame Oil: Soothes and Heals
Sesame seeds originated in Asia or East Africa. Their use for food and oil dates back to 3000 BC in China. Sesame seeds are widely used in Asia, Africa, and throughout the Middle East, and are cultivated throughout Asia, India, and Africa.
Sesame oil is of two varieties – refined and unrefined. Organic sesame oil in its unrefined state, adds an amazing flavor to the food.
Sesame oil is one of the good vegetable oils. Most nutritionists like it as it is rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated acids (PUFAs) – the good kind of fat that cuts cholesterol –and is low in saturated fats, which is the kind of fat that’s bad for you.
Sesame oil contains two unique chemicals called sesamol and sesamin which are very powerful antioxidants. It is also considered good for lowering LDL cholesterol levels. White seeds produce the most oil. In India it is believed that the best oil for healing is extracted from black sesame seeds.
Sesame oil helps people prone to anxiety, nerve and bone disorders, poor circulation, lowered immunity, and bowel problems such as wind, constipation and irritable bowel. Used regularly, sesame oil is wonderful for reducing stress and tension, nourishing the nervous system, preventing nervous disorders, relieving fatigue, insomnia, and promoting strength and vitality.
Sesame also has anti-cancer properties, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of malignant melanoma. Sesame or til, as it is known in India, strengthens the memory and acts as an antitoxin. It also helps against burning sensations, and promotes lactation in nursing mothers, being a rich source of calcium. It is excellent for joint pains and arthritis. The practice of gargling your mouth with organic raw sesame oil and then throwing it out is a time-tested Ayurvedic tradition. This has extraordinary healing properties and is also slowly gaining momentum in the West.
Groundnut Oil: Heart-protector
India leads the world in groundnut production. No wonder Indians have had good health for millennia! Groundnut oil has a ratio of SFA, MUFA and PUFA closest to WHO recommendations. Kris-Etherton found that diets high in groundnut butter or oil are as effective as olive oil in protecting against heart disease.
Groundnut oil contains natural antioxidants. But mainly, phytosterols in groundnut oil were first recognized in the 1970s for their ability to absorb dietary cholesterol in the blood, protecting against cardiovascular disease. It contains heart-friendly MUFA that lower the levels of bad cholesterol in our body without lowering the levels of good cholesterol.
In addition to bioactive fatty acids, groundnut oil contains lipid-soluble compounds which have a number of health benefits for humans. Phytosterols are found in high concentrations in peanut oil. These benefit us in the following ways: they inhibit cancer growth; protect against heart disease by lowering high cholesterol levels caused by dietary habits or because of genetic factors, and even protect from colon, breast and prostate cancer.
In fact, research showed that diets high in groundnut products offered more heart disease protective benefits than even very low fat diets.
Coconut oil: a life saver Coconuts are one of the greatest gifts on this planet. No matter where you are, what you have done, or how much you have mistreated your body, fresh young coconuts and coconut oil can save your life. Coconut oil has been used as a food and medicine since the dawn of history. The coconut palm is one of the most useful and health-friendly plants in the world. However, tropical oils like coconut and palm have a bad reputation for increasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Processing them is the cause for this, therefore have it in natural form.
Unlike the high-caloric, cholesterol-soaked long-chained saturated animal fats found in meat and dairy products, coconut oil is a raw saturated fat consisting mostly of medium chained fatty acids (MCFAs) which the body can metabolize efficiently. It has fewer calories than any other fat source. It can be emulsified during digestion without burdening the liver or gall bladder. Anyone who suffers from poor digestion would benefit from eating coconut oil. Those who suffer from Candida also benefit from it. It contains no cholesterol and actually helps to lower cholesterol. It is believed to help prevent cancer, senility, aging and degeneration.
It is the precursor to many hormones including progesterone. For people with low progesterone levels, coconut is highly beneficial. It seems to lower the body’s need for anti-oxidant omega 3 fatty acid and vitamin E. Those who use the oil consistently can go without eating for several hours without developing symptoms of hypoglycemia and erratic blood sugar levels, as the hunger need is lower. Therefore, consuming coconut oil increases energy, normalizes blood sugar, restores thyroid function, and increases metabolic rate.
Coconut oil is one of the main dietary oils, and is also the main ingredient in skin care products. Its ability to nourish and heal the skin has been known in the tropics for hundreds of years, due to its high content of vitamin E, excellent for skin, hair and also possessing anti-aging properties. It gives the face a lift, and restores sagging skin.
Indian mythology credits the creation of the coconut palm to the sage Vishwamitra, to prop up his friend king Trishanku when the latter had been thrown out of heaven by Indra for his misdeeds. Botanists place its origin in Papua New Guinea in some very distant past.
As a functional food, coconut has fatty acids that provide both energy (nutrients) and raw material for antimicrobial fatty acids and monoglycerides (functional components) when it is eaten.
Recently published research has shown that natural coconut fat in the diet leads to a normalization of body lipids, protects against alcohol damage to the liver, and improves the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response. Further research has proved that populations that consume coconut oil have lower rates of heart disease and cholesterol. This is because of its anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.
Nature’s First Law – Coconut Oil.
Mustard Oil: Anti-bacterial
Mustard has been used in food as spice and oil for thousands of years, in many countries. It has even been mentioned in ancient Sanskrit writings dating back about 5,000 years ago. Its benefits are amazing. It is known for its sharp, nutty flavor. It consists of both the essential fatty acids which are required for important metabolic functions in the body. It contains high levels of mono-saturated fatty acids. It contains 30 per cent protein, calcium and natural anti-oxidants. It inhibits growth of yeast, moulds and bacteria and is therefore a natural preservative. It is anti-carcinogenic and popular in North and Eastern India. The pungent principle in mustard has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Olive Oil: All-round Benefactor
The olive fruit is high in protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and E, has many anti-oxidant and body-building properties, and is alkaline. It lowers heart diseases.
Olive oil has an exquisite flavor and a high reputation as healthy oil. It is predominantly used in Italian, Spanish and Greek recipes. Seed contains chlorophyll, vitamin E, magnesium, carotene, reduces cholesterol and delays aging. According to a Spanish study, because of its very high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins A and E, it neutralizes cancer-causing free radicals. When used with fresh lemon juice, it flushes out toxins from the liver.
Olive oil contains a group of related natural products with potent antioxidant properties which give extra-virgin unprocessed olive oil its bitter and pungent taste, and which are esters (a class of chemical compounds) of tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol, including oleocanthal and oleuropein.
It has been suggested that long-term consumption of small quantities of this compound from olive oil may be responsible in part for the low incidence of heart disease associated with a Mediterranean diet.
Generally, olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. Olive oil comes in different varieties, depending on the amount of processing involved. The purest and best form is obtained from the first pressing. This is called extra virgin olive oil and is also the most expensive as consequent pressings lower the quality of the oil.
Olive oil is great for the heart, keeps blood pressure down, helps you lose weight as small amounts will make you feel full, relieves headaches, and is also an excellent aphrodisiac!
One single olive contains: calcium and iron, vitamins A, C and monounsaturated fatty acids in high levels – natural anti-oxidants.
Ghee: The King of Fats
Ghee, or clarified butter, is the purest form of fat. To make ghee, full cream milk is converted to curds or yoghurt. Organic ghee imparts benefits of best essential fatty acids without problems of oxidized cholesterol, transfatty acids or hydrogenated fats. Resistant to free radical damage, it is salt- and lactose-free. In Ayurveda, only ghee is a cooking medium for most medicines.
The ghee was commonly known as ghritam in the Vedic period. In the past, people used ghee liberally to add flavor to food, as a cooking medium, and also therapeutically. Unfortunately, today people fear consuming it. Maharshi Charak says ghee balances vata and pitta doshas, reduces poison in the body, increases memory and intelligence. Ghee is considered the best among all fat substances and thousands of formulas for medicated ghee are described in Charak Samhita for the treatment of various illnesses. It energizes the liver, increases semen, and is most useful for eyes. It cures vata, pitta disease. It is also good for the heart, throat and is strengthening.
Ayurveda calls ghee ‘rasayana’. This basically means a healing food that balances body and mind. It is a powerful antioxidant and contains beta carotene. Ghee helps longevity. Since it does not contain milk solids, it can be preserved for a long time.
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