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Refined oils – Ayurvedic perspective

 

 

refined -oils-ayurveda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is held in Ayurveda that  our  body is rich in fats – ‘snehasaroyam purusa‘ . No biochemical reaction or any  cell function would ever occur in the body in the absence of fats.

 

No food represents such a full spectrum of molecules – from healthy to distorted and extremely toxic as fat. Good fats are some of the best foods you can eat and on the opposite end of the spectrum distorted refined fats are right at the top of worst foods list.

 

Refined oil comes disguised in many names like vegetable oil, edible oil, edible vegetable oil, vanaspati, vanaspati  ghee  etc. Some of the examples of refined oils are: sunflower oil (sundrop), soy oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil , palm olein, safflower oil (saffola), canola oil, corn oil and non butter spreads etc. They don’t contain any vegetables.

 

While it is true that the seeds these oils are made from, contain healthy PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and antioxidants. The PUFA oils have a tendency to change their shape in response to heat. This is useful for germination of the seed in the spring. According to Ayurveda this is the ‘agni mahabhuta’ or the fire element helping in germination.

 

The antioxidants prevent any damage that heat in the environment might inflict upon these oils.

 

When we take these seeds in their natural form we get all the benefits of the PUFA’S as well as antioxidants. Our brains are rich in PUFA’s. The extremely fluid and flexible nature of these fats make them indispensible for brain. They are a part of the vesicles (baloons) which store neurotransmitters. The antioxidants prevent oxidation or biological rusting in our bodies.

 

Unfortunately, however, refining these oils destroys both healthy PUFAs and their complementary antioxidants. Converting them into distorted, unhealthy molecules that are very similar to trans-unsaturated fatty acids (Trans fat). This oxidation is increased by heat, seen with processing and cooking.  If these oxidized fats are consumed they  lead  to oxidation of nerve cells and causes many diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple sclerosis, ALS etc.

 

These oils are also known to cause autoimmune diseases, Migraines , Autism etc.

 

So in their natural state these oils are in panchabhautic  state (rich in all 5 elements) but when they are refined, bleached, deodorized (RBD)   they become colorless, odorless, and tasteless or in other words they are robbed of their 5 elemental state.

 

According to Ayurveda, a fat must have the qualities of snigdha (unctuousness), manda (slow), mrdu(soft), sukshma( subtle), sita(cool).

 

Refined oil per se is not an oil according to Ayurveda as it does not cause oiliness or softness  but rather crunchiness, crispiness  or dryness in the tissues(especially arteries). It’s not subtle but quick acting and causes inflammation. Dryness is not an attribute of fat but of wind or Vata. So consumption of these oils can lead to oxidation or Vata aggravation. This aggravated Vata will lead to among other things- signs of aging like wrinkles , stiffness, presbyopia ( loss of near vision due to stiffness of lens), cataract (stiff lens due to dehydration).

 

Traditionally these oils were extracted at low temperatures in wedge presses known as ‘ghani ’ in India. They were packed in dark colored bottles as they were very volatile on exposure to sunlight. But nowadays even cold pressed oils are heated multiple times to staggering temperatures, rendering most oils rancid.

 

Cooking in vegetable oils renders no flavor or taste as these oils have been deodorized, hence foods processed in these oils have to be loaded with taste enhancers etc.

 

While you might be thinking that you don’t cook in these oils anymore but the next time you go to the grocery store, you will be surprised that there are hardly any foods that don’t contain these oils.

 

These oils can be found in almost all ready-made foods:

  • Breakfast cereals like oats, muesli etc; a coating of vegetable oil acts like a varnish to help these cereals maintain their shape and crunchiness.
  • Soft breads, buns, muffins
  • Crackers, biscuits and chips
  • Salad dressings
  • Nuts cooked in oil
  • Rice milk
  • Soya milk
  • Granola

 

Even the products of so called Ayurvedic companies will have these oils.

 

Each time you eat out even at the best of restaurants, you are being served dishes (even healthy ones) cooked in these vegetable oils as no restaurant can afford cooking in butter or ghee. Ghee or butter renders everything soft and the much popular crunchy texture can only be derived by cooking in refined oils.

 

So even if one is not cooking in these oils at home still they are a big part of our diet.

 

History of vegetable oils:

These oils were not discovered as nature does not produce refined oils. They were rather invented. In late 1800s Emperor Napolean 3 was looking for a cheap option which would look like butter but was much cheaper and would not rot on long sea voyages that his armies would undertake. So Margarine was born, made out of waste animal fat. But soon this would be replaced by a material very near the bottom of food chain – cotton seeds. There were tons and tons of these seeds lying around without much use. And so cotton seed oil was born.

Ancel Keys, an American scientist appeared on national television in 1958 and announced that saturated fat was bad for us as it caused heart attacks. This was widely accepted by the American heart association and gave a big boost to the refined oil industry. But what was not revealed at that time was that Keys used to feed his experimental animals not butter but Margarine which is full of bad trans fats.

 

How vegetable oils hurt the body:

All the fats that we eat (good and bad)  are absorbed in the intestine and are transported within  a casing of protein. This combination of fats inside a casing of protein is known as ‘lipoprotein’. The protein on the outside serve to transport the fat as well as act as a navigational system. They pick up signals from hungry tissues and direct the fats towards them. But if the fats that we ate were refined, heated they will  oxidize the navigational proteins and the lipoprotein complex then behaves like a wanderer as it lost its navigation. No tissue is ready to pick it up and ultimately it ends up discharging its contents within the blood vessel and the fats start sticking to the inner lining of blood vessels. The inner lining is then oxidized by these fats as well so much so that some heart surgeons have noted during bypass surgeries that the oxidized inner lining of blood vessels looks like fried chicken skin.

 

This frying can be correlated to an aggravation of Pitta dosha in the blood vessels. Ultimately the blood vessel will burst open and a clot will be formed blocking the artery and causing a heart attack.

 

In short, eating vegetable oils will likely oxidize and inflame your body including your arteries and brain. The older you are, the more inflammatory these PUFAs can be.

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