Q. After years of eating oil-rich food, I’m trying to shift towards a healthy diet. I want to start by eliminating cooking oil from my meals. I am used to cooking my delicious Goan curries with generous amounts of oil and coconut milk. How can I make the ‘bagar’ of onions/tomatoes (needed for curries) without oil? I would also like to know some alternatives to making fried rice, fried fish and fried eggs without oil.
A. Let me begin by elucidating upon the benefits of oils and fats! For everybody who thinks that “fats & oils” are the bad boys of the kitchen, you ought to recognise the importance of this essential nutrient in the human body. Besides being a much-needed storage form of energy (for all those times when we fats or starve), fats are required for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. You could eat as much carrot as you want on a daily basis and yet suffer from all the deficiency symptoms of vitamin A such as dry skin, acne, infertility, and increased infections – all because your diet lacks the fat necessary to enable the absorption of the vital vitamin A! Fat is the structural component of cellular membranes; they are required for hormone synthesis, body temperature regulation, soft organ protection and insulation. Hence, although fats have been tainted due to their link with cardiovascular disease and obesity, one should not go to the extreme of dunking it out of your cooking. Being mindful of the quantity and quality of fat you use in cooking should be the lesson for you.
Unsaturated fats – cooking oils – should be preferred over saturated fats – ghee, butter, margarine – as the former are known to have a cardioprotective effect. The maximum suggested amount of visible fat per adult per day is 15 g (1 tablespoon), allowing for an additional 15-20 g to come from the fat naturally present in foods. However, if you have made up your mind to stay off the oil as much as possible, my suggestion would be to allow yourself at least 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of oil through the day, and try doing the following:
- Cook all foods in non-stick cookware; they necessitate the use of extremely small amounts of oil (and even no oil at times)
- Use a spoon for pouring out the oil into your pan (instead of pouring it straight from the oil can into the vessel)
- Invest in oil sprays
- Add water (instead of oil) to the vessel to keep it moist when cooking
- Begin cooking processes with tomatoes and then add the onions – that way the onions can cook in the moisture provided by the tomatoes!
- Poached eggs taste just as good as fried eggs – if not better! You can also enjoy fried eggs by frying them (2 eggs max per frying session) in a drop of oil on a non-stick pan.
- Avoid coating fish with breadcrumbs or semolina prior to frying; it is this that causes maximum oil absorption during frying. Instead, add a drop of oil to your frying pan, place the fish on it, and cover – allowing it to steam in its own delicious juices!
- Begin the frying process with ½ teaspoon oil, and continuously sauté your vegetables on a high flame when making fried rice. Do not leave the pan unattended for too long. Add taste to the fried rice by mixing in scrambled eggs (scrambled on a heated pan with no oil added).
- Discover healthier methods of cooking such as baking (baked fish or chicken or vegetables), steaming (Goan vegetables), poaching (eggs and even fish and thin slices of chicken), roasting (chicken and meats), toasting (bread – instead of adding butter or jam to make it palatable), and grilling.
- And finally, do not make the mistake of frying in olive oil; it is an oil that cannot (and should not) be heated. Use rice bran or groundnut or soybean oil instead. And carefully measure out the amounts you need to use per day.
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & COURSE COORDINATOR/ASST. PROFESSOR (M.Sc. FOOD TECHNOLOGY – CARMEL COLLEGE)