Saturday, February 4, 2012

Good ghee?

I was on a domestic flight the other day. You can picture the scene, the aircraft has been flying to different cities thru the day and it has finally arrived to take you to your destination. You are bored, sitting in your seat, flight still on the ground, the hordes are entering the aircraft waddling, yes, literally waddling down the aisle bumping every passenger while making their sweaty way to their seat. Some cleaning crew in some city has placed a newspaper in the `seat pocket in front of you’. These phrases I now know by rote, having heard them so often. Normally these newspapers are such obscure rags that they take all of thirty seconds to read them. I picked up the paper called Daily Mail, from my `seat pocket’ and lo and behold, a headline screamed at me, a “Ghee Cuts its fat but don’t binge yet”!!! This seemed too good to be true.

We all know how bad cholesterol is. I am not going down the route that the body needs and makes its own cholesterol and so on and so forth. Neither am I getting into the good cholesterol HDL and bad cholesterol LDL distinction. Let’s just believe that it’s a killer as you have been told.  What many people do not know is that cholesterol only, repeat only, exists in animal produce.

So meat, eggs, milk, cheese, ghee, paneer, dahi [dairy products] do have cholesterol. Olive oil, groundnut oil, rapeseed oil, mustard oil don’t have cholesterol either. Neither do nuts. These are not animal products so they do not have cholesterol. By the same token, water, soft drinks, juices, bread also do not have cholesterol, even though packaging seems to suggest that they are cholesterol free consequent to some manufacturing process. So being vegetarian has got nothing to do with ingesting cholesterol as most vegetarians, especially in India, have large quantities of dairy all of which has cholesterol. If you are a vegan you are probably not ingesting cholesterol.

I read the article, complete with beautiful photographs of a delicious layered flaky paratha. The article states that the National Dairy Research Institute has developed a low cholesterol ghee. Ghee being an animal product has loads of cholesterol so this creation of low cholesterol ghee seemed like really brilliant alchemy. It turns out that the researchers have added a chemical called beta-cyclodextrin to reduce the cholesterol. I am not a chemist, but my understanding is that cyclodextrin is used in weight loss products as well as an additive to foods. It seems that fats stick to cyclodextrin which then means that the fats cannot be absorbed by the body. The cyclodextrin with the fat attached is excreted from the body. Assuming my understanding is broadly correct, you would be visiting the bathroom very often if you do eat cyclodextrin. Not very pleasant if you ask me.

My point is that cholesterol is bad, eating too much ghee is bad, no argument on that. If you are sensible, do you really need to eat that much ghee? Secondly, how much sense does it make to replace bad cholesterol in ghee with another chemical that is none too pleasant anyway? Why do we have to be so undisciplined? Why not just eat ghee a little more judiciously and not get into adding more chemicals into our bodies.

In case you really cannot stay away from the ghee, the low cholesterol version is available. Have a look at this site.

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