Cooking Oils, Part I

Posted to Subscribers on 13 October 2018


Dear Subscribers,

Lately, almost no one is "reacting" tangibly to my posts which sometimes leaves me feeling the dreaded symptom of "holy madness" as well as missing the catalysts that are often the invisible muse behind posts. That said, there were inquiries on many other topics so I will add a bit to what I began discussing in the post on food. In Western nutrition, we have various food groups, always a bit controversial, as well as categorizations of food as carbohydrates, proteins, and oils. I have never invested time or energy into looking at the origins of these concepts nor even paid much attention to the chemical analyses of food that supposedly help us to understand our nutritional needs. I am not dismissing anything as unimportant but I would like to correlate the three main groups to the doshas of Ayurveda. It is fair to say that most diets worldwide are based on carbohydrates because they are nourishing, but they can congest and they stimulate kapha. Proteins are also important but can aggravate vata, and oils are also a rich source of calories and fuel but they can also congest or aggravate pitta. These are basic statements and there are many nuances as well as further details about the specific properties of each food using both the Ayurvedic and modern nutritional systems as frames of reference.

My focus today is on oils, and most is a repetition, but not all. The one-liner that I have used for years is that many people can anticipate a 30% improvement in health simply by changing the types of oil they use. Why? We get about 15-30% of our calories from oil, but what kind of oil? I remember the first time I saw "canola" on a label. I had no idea what it was, but once it got onto my radar, I began reading more and more labels and realized there had to be mega amounts of money behind this or it would only have been found at a farmer's market or shop selling artisan products.

Oil from Seeds

Let's say I become fascinated by some seeds and decide to make my own oil. It is not really a bright idea because all oils are both heat and light sensitive. Now, let's try to connect a few dots. Sorry if this is tiresome, but it is actually helpful to draw the lines where they are needed. Pitta is usually described in Ayurveda as mainly fiery with some water. It is fair to say that the amount of water determines viscosity but fire is obviously the element associated with heat and transformation. It is like the sun and is therefore also related to light and color. So, here are some dots: digestion, warmth and circulation, vision, and understanding. Fire is the agent of transformation and we cannot convert gross materials into refined matter without the assistance of fire.

Here is a little story. My housemate asked me to bring a stone grinder back from Europe after one of my jaunts. I learned a very important lesson in two revolutions of the wheel. We were using sesame seeds and a hand crank but I burned my hand after just two turns, i.e., long before any oil emerged.

The seeds were perhaps a little crushed, but that is all. This vivified the words "cold pressed" and I completely understood after this that we should not consider using any oils that are not cold pressed. The second issue, light, is like a contaminant because light promotes chemical changes that lead to rancidity and other undesirable consequences.

I don't want to mention names or belabor anything but there was a breast cancer patient in Europe whose red blood cells were fuzzy on the surface. I just took a risk and asked if there was any possibility that her cooking oils were rancid. She said it was impossible because she only uses the best Italian olive oil. Sometimes, I just have a look on my face, like I am still thinking. She read the look correctly and went through her pantry and indeed found the oil was rancid. So, what does this mean and how could it have been avoided.

First, the oil should be produced from organically grown seeds or nuts. Second, it should be cold pressed, meaning the oil is not exposed to heat during the extraction process. This equipment used to be very expensive and was only used by a small number of companies. Now, there are table top models that are quite affordable, not in the toaster oven range but within the budget for small producers. Third, the oil should not be exposed to light during processing nor after bottling. This means that nearly every product using transparent containers, whether plastic or glass, is an accident waiting to happen.

Once, I went to a clinic where they prescribed special diets for patients and they had a grocery store. All the oil was on a shelf facing the morning sun and was totally unsafe to use. There are traditional ways to store oil in ceramic jugs, but for commercial purposes, the two main options are some kind of metal or plastic. There are two plastics that have been tested for chemical stability. One is black and the other is brown. Both are Danish and neither permit any light to penetrate. To make this very clear, we are not talking about amber glass but very dense plastic that is supposedly stable.

There is another option but you rarely find it. This is the violet glass that I use for essential oils. Though a tiny bit of light can penetrate the glass, the color filters out the damaging light and tests suggest that anything stored in this type of glass has a very long shelf life, virtually indefinite. So, what did we just discover? Light causes changes to occur but filtering light can control some of the changes.

My understanding of this actually goes back to my days in Hawaii. My mother was very curious and she was also a voracious reader. I got half my genes from her. I am curious, but truth be told, I don't like reading. I like watching and listening, but I really never enjoyed reading. Anyway, she was building a house and was fed up with termites so she did a lot of research and found that there was a company, again in Denmark, that produced plastic studs that were impervious to termites. As she read more, she found that the studs also did not deteriorate in the sun which was important to know since many building materials used in Hawaii in those days were made of fiberglass. After all her research, she also decided that for catchment water storage, as she was off the grid, she would buy ceramic-lined soy sauce vats, i.e., no rubber or plastic.

Okay, so the pressing and packaging issues of oil are now clear and we can go on to the molecular structures and digestibility of oils. Many people are phobic because they think oils are fattening or they lead to hardening of the arteries or, or, or, but this is not the whole story. Obviously some oils and fats are very hard to digest, but we also take some oils in supplement form because they are good for us, oils that are high in essential fatty acids . . . with the emphasis on "essential" because we must have those oils to be healthy.

This post can go on and on or we can rush to the bottom line which is that way back in my Santa Fe days, I began carrying cold pressed oils, and I have nearly always had sunflower and sesame oil in stock, but to tell you the truth, I use mostly pumpkin oil because I like the taste and aroma . . . as well as the chemical structure. I have never been crazy about olive oil and some oils are just too awful to mention. Pumpkin seed oil varies in color from green to red. The latest shipment I got is really, really red so it just has to be high in carotenoids. There is quite a bit of research on pumpkin seed oil. It supposedly reduces the risk of both prostate and breast cancer. It is anti-inflammatory, and it contains tryptophan which the body cannot produce. This improves memory and sleep. Interestingly — and synchronistically — it contains zinc which retards hair loss. It is also probably one of the better oil choices for those prone to high blood sugar. Pumpkin seed oil is also my preferred oil for oil pulling because the taste is less gagging, and the texture is better than either coconut oil or ghee.

Another product I have carried for decades but only last night realized why no one ordered it is Pumpkin Seed Butter, an alternative to peanut butter that, at least in my mouth, tastes much better than peanut butter and has a far lower risk of aflatoxins. So, there you have it.

Oil is obviously very much a cultural matter. Europeans use mainly butter and olive oil but these used to be quite rare in China and Japan. In India, most people usey ghee, sesame, and mustard oil, but there are actually many options and one of the better oils is made from poppy seeds. I have sometimes found it in Canada and Austria and keep seeing promises that it will be available elsewhere.

All oils are also sensitive to air so bottles should not be left open. Some require refrigeration; some do not. There are herbs that can be added to fresh oil to retard rancidity but they obviously affect the flavor of the oil. The most obnoxious such herb is chaparral, but to be honest, I think some people with cancer or a high predisposition to cancer might like to get on friendly terms with chaparral. Turmeric is another herb that can be added to oil, especially if you plan to make some curry dishes that call for oil. One source mentioned slippery elm. I have never tried it, but I like the idea because it is bland and very smooth.

If you really want to understand oils, you should probably read a few books. My main oil education began with the late Dr. Johanna Brandt and the controversies that arose when margarine was first introduced as a butter alternative. Industry will have its way unless consumers refuse to listen to the advertisements and boycott the products being promoted. Because of her cutting edge work, many cancer protocols in Europe rely heavily on flax seed oil and/or quark, a sort of cross between yoghurt and cottage cheese. The other oil guru is Udo Erasmus and most of us need to pay more attention to what we ingest.

It is said that a proper diet should derive about 15-30% of its calories from oil, but, obviously, not just any oil. I have not covered the gamut here, but I have given some tips and perhaps biases. There are oils that are aggressively marketed or sneaked into the food supply about which we do not have sufficient information. We could say the jury is out or we could err on the side of caution and avoid certain oils such as cottonseed, soy, and perhaps even peanut oil. That said, I would be remiss if I failed to mention how people cook. I happen to be very partial to Thai food. It is often served as elegantly as Japanese food, but more spices are used, especially one of my favorites: galangal. However, if you watch how people cook, there are styles where the food is stir-fried with the temperature turned way up and peanut oil is often used because it can tolerate this high heat. For someone who has not only traveled a lot but actually lived in several foreign countries, I find it interesting to compare the quick preparation of most Chinese and Thai food with the longer cook time of Indian food. The idea in Indian cuisine is that the food assimilates the spices, and the spices aid digestion. Okay, the enzymes may not survive, but the food is digestible unless a microwave is used to rush preparation.

To make my case, I might mention that I have served Indian food to people who say they cannot digest anything and chronic problems such as constipation disappear as does much of the nausea of chemotherapy.

I am not going to try to make a case for or against any traditional cuisine because we who are alive today are here because our ancestors figured out how to survive. Even when we compare bread produced in an oven with flat bread, we have to see the whole such as how our bodies react to yeast and what else is in the traditional diet that perhaps is critical to that diet. Good examples are probably to be found in Dutch and German food. They depended heavily on pork which is, of course, forbidden by both Judaism and Islam, but the question is why it was forbidden. A German sausage would probably be impossible to digest without a heap of sauerkraut so if the two are separated, what happens?

My mother never believed I could survive as a vegetarian. She and her doctor ganged up on me and told me I would become schizophrenic due to B12 deficiencies. I had to be very calm and remind myself of the many highly cultured and educated men and women I met in India who never in their lives had so much as one bite of meat. So, a theory is just a theory until you study it in the context of actuality. Can we get all the protein we need from plants? I think so. Can we be healthy? I think so but probably only if some time and attention is devoted to discovering the laws of health.





Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2018










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