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Is low oil better than no fat?

Master chef Sanjeev Kapoor takes you through the whys of eating oil and ghee and their role in healthy eating.
None | By Sanjeev Kapoor, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAY 31, 2008 07:17 PM IST

For just this week I am going to tread on some slippery ground. I am going to take you through the whys of eating oil and ghee and you have to decide whether they need to play a role in your healthy eating plan.

Fact is deep fried foods are fiendish. They have loads of fat and calories. So what should we do? Forget deep-frying of foods and switch to shallow frying. The guilt decreases a wee bit. To feel better try sautéing and stir-frying. And to feel top of the world get those non-stick pots and pans home.

One step ahead would be to try no-oil cooking. I have written a book No Oil Cooking. Even I was not sure whether cooking without oil would work! It did and with excellent results.

I took extreme care and used non-stick pans. People tell me that they don't miss oil in main course preparations like gravies. But I had to stick to the basic rules of healthy eating and put a disclaimer in the book saying that staying away from fats/oils can be detrimental to health.

Fat to fit
Weight loss and no fat do go together. But a long term no fat diet is undesirable as it can lead to some serious problems like dry, itchy and scaling skin, dry, dull and dandruff-ridden hair, poor wound healing, neurological complications, arteriosclerosis, skin diseases and conditions such as cataract, arthritis and cancer.

Oil removes the unpalatability of the dish, it adds the needed softness as also flavour and nutrients.

The evolution is natural. I got busy with the International Olive Oil Council to write Indian recipes made with olive oil. I made besan ke laddoo with olive oil and presented to my guests and no one could make out the absence of ghee.

Making everything else with olive oil was easy. So no cuisine is oil specific. You can try out the same dish using different oils and no one will know (except for the strong mustard and coconut oils.) The underlying fact is that all fats give nine calories per gram. So to choose your oil study the ratio of unsaturated fat and saturated fat in its composition.

Why do we need the oil-laden kadai then? Think about Indian food without the batata wadas of Mumbai, the samosas of Punjab, the kachoris of Rajasthan, the luchis of Bengal, the medu vadas of the South? Unthinkable.. right?

There is no substitute for the cooking technique. The famous chana puri as a roadside treat sells because of the taste of that the final tempering with vanaspati. Oil's well If you change the medium the taste just isn't the same. Tandoori foods also need a basting of fat to maintain the tenderness inside and crispiness outside. Oil in salads or oil for tempering a daal, it certainly adds to the palatability .

Oil is a good preserver too. The pickles will vouch for this and so will any housewife who stores the year's supply of wheat after applying a thick coating of castor oil on the grains. Before the advent of refrigerators, oil was our protection against food spoilage.

Oil even exists in books besides recipe books. Remember the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. The robbers were killed by pouring boiling oil on them.

The temperature of boiling oil is higher than that of boiling water. Gone are the days that allowed a breakfast of one or two hot flaky ghee-dripping parathas. But then parathas made with oil are also history .

I thought about it while popping in a deep-fried salted cashew nut. you can't stop at one. Till my friend enlightensed me by taking a raw cashewnut and holding a flame to it. Nut like this The cashew lit up like a candle because it contains natural oils. This is not to say power failures need cashewnuts and not candles now.

All seeds and nuts that are a part of your daily diet contribute to the total fat content. Remember this especially if you skimp on oil in your daily food.

I think as Indians who love the oily massage of hair and body oils , are never going to lose their market. As it is we are self sufficient in production of edible oils and exporting it too.

Yes, we might be conscious about which one goes into our food but for me nothing like a warm coconut oil ki champi after a tiring day!

(The author is a master chef, author and television host. Reach him on send a mail at

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