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Traditional Fats

Rohini Diniz

Traditional Indian texts like Ayurveda have prized ghee, coconut oil, mustard oil and sesame oil for their health-promoting and healing properties. However, with the fear of cholesterol and saturated fat these days many of these traditional fats have been replaced by other cooking oils such as vanaspati and refined vegetable oils. Are traditional cooking oils really bad for health? Should we banish them from our diets and do they really contribute to heart disease? This article examines the truth.

Ghee: A solid fat widely used in traditional Indian cuisine, ayurvedic medicines and religious rites. Ghee is prepared from milk cream, by heating buttertill the water evaporates leaving behind a clear yellow liquid when hot and fat which has a granular texture when cooled. Ghee especially when prepared from cow milk is regarded as a food with high medicinal value. Since ghee is derived from milk, it is essentially an animal product and contains a certain amount of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Though saturated fats are known to have a cholesterol raising effect, not all of them have the same effect. In ghee only 65 per cent of the fatty acids are saturated consisting ofshort chain fatty acids (SCFA) butyric acid and as much as 32 per cent fat is mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA),the heart healthy fatty acid that olive oil is rich in. Ghee is also rich in thefatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), vitamins A, D and B2 as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Studies have shown that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) promotes weight loss, is protective against carcinogens, development of fatty blocks in the blood vessels and diabetes. The butyric acid present in ghee reduces inflammation in the intestines and functions as a prebiotic nourishing the cells of the small intestine.

Since ghee has a high fat content, it is high in caloriesand excessive consumption is undesirable as it can lead to weight gain especially if one leads a sedentary lifestyle.

Ghee has a very high smoke point and does not burn at high temperatures The SCFAs present in ghee are stable at high temperatures and do not form free radicals. Hence ghee can be used as a medium for deep frying.

Condemning desi ghee as a culprit for the increase in heart disease and replacing it with hydrogenated vegetable oils such as vanaspati has been a fatal dietary mistake that we have made. Keeping the health benefits of ghee in mind, one can include small amounts of it in the daily diet along with other MUFA and PUFA oils. So, go ahead and enjoy your dal or khichdi or roti with ghee.

Sesame oil or til oil: Extracted from sesame or til seeds, it is another oil that has been used traditionally in Indian cuisine and also in ayurvedic medicines.

Nutritionally sesame seeds contain fat, protein and are loaded with B complex vitamins, vitamin E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. Sesame oil is one of the three oils that contain the right balance of SFA: MUFA: PUFA as recommended by the WHO and American Heart Association. However, it does not contain the omega -3 fatty acid alphalinolenic acid. Though some of the vitamins and minerals present in sesame seeds are lost during the process of extraction of oil, the oil still retains most of its beneficial properties. Sesame oil contains zinc and copper. Zinc helps in the production of red blood cells, blood circulation and metabolism while copper has anti – inflammatory properties and helps reduce arthritis pain, swelling of joints and strengthens the bones. It is also rich in the phytochemical lignans and contains two unique chemicals called sesamol and sesamin which have antioxidant properties and help lower blood pressure.

In Ayurveda, sesame oil is valued for its medicinal properties and is used as carrier oil for different cosmetics. It has the ability to penetrate deep into the skin, moisturising it. It promotes regeneration of the skin cells and has anti-ageing properties. Sesame oil also has antimicrobial, anti- inflammatory and warming properties and is used extensively as massage oil.


To be continued . . .


(The writer is a consultant nutritionist with 19 years of experience, practising at Panaji and can be contacted on


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