By Dr Harold Gunatillake Health Writer
In Sri Lanka, over 10 varieties of cooking oils are on the shelves of most super-markets today, but years back, no choice other than coconut oil.
Most of you would remember visiting the corner boutique and pouring a measured volume of fruity smelling, unprocessed, thick, amber coconut oil into your bottle. Life was simple then. The Mediterranean, the Spanish, Italians and Greeks, were boastful of their olive oil and they quite proudly considered it as the best oil.
They even use olive oil in their toast. But olive oil can do much more. A recent Spanish study published in the journal PLoS One shows that a diet rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats (including olive oil) may ward off depression.
Saudi Arabian researchers have discovered olive oil protects the liver against oxidative stress. While a study published in the Journal of Women's Health says olive oil helped 80 percent of breast cancer survivors lose weight — preventing recurrence of the deadly disease.
Right through the history olive oil has been considered the healthiest, heart-friendly oil, well-advertised and marketed. Coconut oil, on the other hand has been condemned as cooking oil, and had negative feedback, the oil being considered saturated and unhealthy. 'Olive oil has a low smoking point and is used more for salad dressings, and stir frying at low temperatures. Coconut oil has a very high smoking point and has many advantages and even used for baking at very high temperatures.
Today, coconut is still considered an unhealthy oil, condemned by researchers who have never seen a coconut tree during there lives, and neither they have tasted cuisines prepared using coconut meat and oil.
Good fats and bad fats exist even among saturated fats and oils. Lard obtained from the pig fat was popular one time. It is a saturated fat like butter. Lard was commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter.
Its use in contemporary cuisine has diminished; however, many contemporary cooks and bakers favour it over other fats for select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat is taken and how the lard is processed.
By the late 20th century, people began to consider that lard was unhealthier than vegetable oils (such as olive and sunflower oil) because of its high saturated fatty acid and cholesterol content. However, despite its reputation, lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. Unlike many margarines and vegetable shortenings, lard contains no trans-fat. It has also been regarded as a "poverty food".
A new disease called 'Heart disease' was declared by Ansell Keys in the 50's. Lard and Tallow were very popular in the early 20th century and heart disease was unknown then.
The saturated fats in most oils are triglycerides that are found in our blood. High triglycerides prevent HDL cholesterol by carrying back the LDL bad cholesterol from the blood. They increase cholesterol level in the blood and it is a risk factor for heart disease.
The saturated fat in coconut is mostly lauric acid, also found in breast milk. It is a mono-glyceride and not a triglyceride. It causes no harm in the body as triglycerides. Coconut meat or oil extract has no cholesterol, unlike other saturated oils.
So, that we should avoid using coconut products is a misconception inculcated into the brains of our housewives and chefs.
Most of our housewives prefer using vegetable trans-fats, like corn and oils from vegetable seeds. The fatty acids in them are omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid) and they cause harm to our body and even depress the immune system.
Rice bran oil
This oil is gaining popularity in Japan and China, and in the Western world for its benefits. Compared with other oils, rice bran oil has a lower amount of mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats. Rice bran oil's levels of fat mirror the American Heart Association's recommendations.
Canola has a high smoking point and suitable for Asian cuisines and baking. The oil has about 2% of erucic acid supposedly causing no health problems.
It is also related to symptoms of emphysema, respiratory distress, anaemia, constipation and blindness in animals and humans. In England this oil has been discontinued as an animal feed.
Today, peanuts are widely cultivated as important oil seeds and a prime commercial crop in China, India, African nations, and the United States of America.
It is one of the cooking oils with a high smoke point; 450 °F. The property can be employed in setting oil temperatures while deep-frying food items.
Because it is a vegetable oil, it is a good source of plant sterols, especially β-sitosterol. The FDA has approved the following claim for phytosterols: "Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Phyto-sterols competitively inhibit cholesterol absorption in the gut and thereby can reduce cholesterol levels by 10% to 15%.
Peanut oil contains resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant, which has been found to have protective function against cancers, heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, Alzheimer's disease, and viral/fungal infections. In addition to being a vegetable source, peanut oil is also an ideal choice for deep-frying because it can be heated to a higher temperature (smoke point -450 °F). This results in lower oil retention in the fried foods
Are you still confused what the best oil for your type of cooking?
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