Admit it. In a nutritionally confusing world, with pagan (paleo+vegan) diets and climatarianism (climate-specific consumption) dictating our food choices, you are left wondering about the best oils to consume. Says Preety Tyagi, health coach, nutritionist, founder of MY22BMI: “Use different oils for different dishes since all of them are rich in different micronutrients. The best way to use oil: reduce the quantity, avoid burning. Overheating beyond the smoking point of oils robs the nutrients.”
Coconut oil is a tropical climate kitchen favourite, especially for Indian curries down south. Cold-pressed versions retain the nutrient value better. “Coconut oil carries HDL (good cholesterol), which decreases LDL (bad cholesterol). Highly thermic, it burns calories when consumed. One tbsp coconut oil has 80 calories as opposed to one tbsp of most other oils that carry 120 calories,” explains Shikha Mahajan, holistic nutritionist, founder of Diet Podium, Delhi. “A word of caution: Consume in moderation as it consists saturated fats,” she adds.
Virgin coconut oil is a good choice for low-heat cooking owing to its lower smoke point than that of refined coconut oil. “This oil has high medium-chain fatty acids, a fat molecule that burns almost immediately, going directly from the digestive tract to the liver, producing energy faster,” says dietitian and nutritionist Vidhi Chawla, founder of Fisico Diet Clinic, Delhi.
Coconut oil also brings with it lauric acid with antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. “As it has a higher smoke point and a longer shelf life, it can be used in baking, greasing the baking pan, frying, and also as a replacement for butter or vegetable oil in recipes,” says Rajat Jain, wellness educator, and dietitian, Health Wealth Diet Clinic, Jaipur. The other great oil is pumpkin seed oil. It is light and nutty, and is a natural anti-inflammatory, especially when you overdo it at the gym, according to Jain. “A pricy pick, it is best to have in salads.” What’s more?
Pumpkin seed oil is high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. “You can consume it in capsules too, but avoid it if you are hypoglycemic or hypotensive because it has blood pressure and sugar-lowering properties. It is an excellent finishing oil for both savouries and sweets, and its dark colour brings in an appealing contrast to dishes,” adds Mahajan.
A favoured pan-Asian pick, sesame oil brings in plenty of Vitamin E (hello, younger skin!), an earthy flavour to preparations, together with magnesium, copper, calcium and iron. Says Mahajan, “High in antioxidants, it reverses ageing and offers UV protection.” Chawla puts in a word here. “Regular sesame oil should be used in low-heat cooking, while dark sesame oil is great for finishing dishes, or in salad dressing. It functions as an antidepressant and reduces the risk of cancer.”
A brilliant pick, walnut oil is another oil you should consider. “This delicate, aromatic oil is highly priced and is best used in sauces and as a finishing oil. It is rich in antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) that improves memory and concentration,” says Jain.
Consuming a variety of oils is a good way to get all oil-soluble nutrients. But remember, oils are a way of easing the cooking process or adding richness to a dish, hence, use sparingly. No more than three tbsp of oil in a day.