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Fats and oils – the more you know the better for you and your family!


oil pic for blog

I had written an article on fats in the Nutrition and Wellness section of ParentEdge in March 2013. This was the first article I wrote for the magazine, and I chose fat as the topic as it is discussed often in nutrition circles and otherwise.  I am continuously bombarded by friends, relatives and patients about oils and fats – What oil should I use? Should I change my oil? Should I avoid fat to lose weight? Is eating ghee ok? Is butter good for growing children? Since then, I also realized that many people seem to know only the brand of oil they buy and not the oil type! Most people still think all fats are bad .…..so I thought it will be good to summarize key messages in a blog for wider consumption!

First some facts before we get to tips -

  • Remember Good, Bad and the Ugly? Fats too can be classified along such lines– based on how these fats affect our cholesterol levels. Many of us may be aware that we have good and bad cholesterol in our body, but unaware that this is linked to good and bad fats in the diet! Did you know that the good fat in our diet decreases bad cholesterol, bad fat increases the bad cholesterol and the ugly not only increases the bad cholesterol but also decreases the good one?
  • The good fats are called PUFA and MUFA, you may have heard these names – they stand for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats respectively. The bad fat is saturated fat (SAFA) and the ugly one is called trans fat (TFA).
  • All fats and oil have some amount of PUFA, MUFA and SAFA — there is no “magic oil” that exists which has no bad fat – but we can definitely choose oils which are higher in good fats and lower in bad fat.
  • Fat should not be avoided, as some fats needed by the body come only from the food we eat. Rightly called essential fats, they are commonly known as omegas and are receiving the much needed attention these days!
  • All of us need fat – 25-30% of the energy from foods should come from fat. For example, in a 2000 kcal diet per day 600 calories can come from fat    (1 gram of fat = 9 kcal). Of this, at least 2/3rds should be from good fats (400 calories).
  • To complicate things further – we have something called visible and invisible fat! Fat can be ‘visible’ (oils, butter, cream in milk), or ‘invisible’ as present in cereals, nuts, fruits and vegetables.  So, even if you do not add any fat/oil in your cooking, your family will still get some fat but not enough!

Tips to increase good fats and decrease bad fats-

  • Include ground nut, sesame and rice bran oil in your grocery list as they are good sources of MUFA. Rice bran oil is good for frying as it offers better heat stability. But strangely in our country olive oil hogs the limelight as a source of this good fat compared to locally available oils! It is not the olive oil which does the trick but the Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is one component! The complete diet includes olive oil along with lots of legumes, fruits, vegetables, fish and wine!
  • PUFA is the source of omegas (3 and 6) for the body – the most widely used source of PUFA is sunflower oil thanks to all the advertising the past few decades – but there are better choices in this group – mustard, soya bean and canola (which is mustard oil without the pungency) as they offer both the omegas vs. sunflower which gives only omega 6.
  • Foods rich in omega 3 are walnuts, flax seeds (now available easily as seeds or powder) oily fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines and fresh tuna. Oily fish like Mackerel are cheaper and healthier than the more popular ones like seer or pomfret!
  • Full fat milk, butter, cheese, ghee, paneer, red meats (mutton, beef, pork), coconut oil are high in saturated fat. To reduce SAFA consumption, switch to double-toned/low fat milk or skim the fat in regular milk before use. A small spoon of ghee will do no harm but using ghee liberally even for a child is not advisable. Butter, cheese and paneer are hot favourites among children but cheese can be seen as a lesser evil as it delivers protein and calcium.  Cook more lean meat -chicken, fish to satisfy the meat palate!
  • Trans fat is present in products which use partially hydrogenated fats – products from local bakeries –biscuits, buns, cakes, street food, fried snacks and fast foods usually have trans fat. So indulge in these treats occasionally!
  • Use a combination of oils, for example groundnut with canola, rice bran or sesame with soya bean.
  • Switch butter with peanut butter on toast, cashewnuts with walnuts in cereals/cakes and  add groundnuts liberally to salads, bhel, to increase good fats!
  • My favourite tip in my articles and blogs –read nutrition labels and ingredient lists of packaged foods you buy to understand the type of fat used and the amount of fat per serving.

Trust this short piece will help you understand fats and oil beyond brands names and make you thirsty for more details. Check out the full article at http://parentedge.in/lifestyletips-for-a-healthy-lifestylefacts-on-fat/

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Meera Srinivasan is on the ParentEdge Editorial Panel. She has a background in Nutrition and Food Technology and comes with more than 15 years of experience in the food industry. As an involved parent of a 12-year old girl, she is passionate about increasing awareness on nutrition and health among children and parents.

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