Your Guide to Oils & Fats for Babies Day 3: Your Guide to Oils & Fats for Babies

Your Guide to Oils & Fats for Babies

Fats and oils play a pivotal role in our culinary traditions; they influence the taste, texture, and nutritional value of our dishes. Oil and ghee are good sources of healthy fats and antioxidants. But, not all fats and oils are good for your baby’s health.

Why Fats and Oils Are Important for Babies?

Brain development: The first 3 years of a baby's life are critical for brain development. During this period, fat, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids, plays a pivotal role in nurturing your baby's cognitive growth.

A dense source of energy: Fats provide a concentrated source of energy, ensuring that your baby has the fuel they need for their rapid growth and boundless activities. The American Academy of Pediatrics and various health organizations recommend not restricting fat intake for children under the age of 2.

Nutrient absorption: Fat is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

First, let’s explore ghee, known as an Ayurvedic superfood, and later the various types of oils you can choose to cook with.

Ghee: A Traditional Favorite

In Indian households, there's a special place for ghee – that golden, buttery delight that's now becoming popular in other countries due to its nutrient-rich profile.

Ghee has been a staple in Indian kitchens for generations, and it’s particularly preferred while making a baby’s food. Its rich, distinct flavor complements Indian cuisine well. 

Let's see why ghee is an excellent choice for your little one and the rest of your family.

Health benefits: Ghee has plenty of saturated fats, which is also the main fat type found in breast milk. It’s a natural source of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamin A and E), which help boost your baby's vision, immune system, and overall health. Ghee also has favorable Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, crucial for brain development and overall growth.

High smoke point: Ghee has a high smoke point and can be used for all kinds of cooking methods (frying, sautéing, slow cooking). It’s versatile enough to be used for both everyday cooking and special occasions.

How to use ghee for your baby: Use ghee while cooking your family’s meals or your baby’s food. Alternatively, a small dollop of ghee can be added on top of cooked food just before serving your baby (on top of khichdi or porridge). This not only enhances the flavor but also provides a nutritional boost.

Refined Oil v/s Cold-Pressed Oil

Indian cuisine is so diverse that even the oils and fats used differ from region to region. Since different oils have distinct flavor and nutritional profiles, they can enhance a variety of Indian dishes. Choose your oil based on the recipe and cooking method you’re using.

Refined oils

Cold pressed oils (kacchi ghani)

Examples

Sunflower, safflower, soybean, rice bran, coconut, groundnut, mustard oil

Coconut, groundnut, sesame, mustard, olive oil

Process

They undergo a thorough processing, which includes heating, filtration, and chemical treatment. Due to extensive processing, they lose a significant portion of their original nutrients.

They go through the least amount of processing, without additional heat or chemicals. The gentle extraction method helps retain the natural flavors, colors, and nutritional properties.

Shelf life

Due to higher amounts of processing, they have a longer shelf life (compared to cold-pressed oil).

Because of minimal processing, they have a shorter shelf life (typically around 3-4 months). Store cold-pressed oils in a cool, dark place away from heat, sunlight, and moisture.

Use in cooking

They can withstand high to very high temperatures. 


Suitable for frying, baking, cooking on high flame, or slow cooking (common in Indian style cooking). 

Then tend to  burn at very high temperatures. 


Suitable for  everyday cooking (at lower, medium temperatures and flame) or sauteing/stir frying. Not suitable for high-temperature or longer duration cooking/baking/deep frying).

  

Which Oil Should You Use?

We recommend you opt for a combination of oils. Switch between refined and cold-pressed oils depending on the recipe or style of cooking you’re doing. For example, for recipes that require high-temperature cooking, frying, slow-cooking, or baking, opt for refined oils. When you’re cooking or baking at lower temperatures, sauteing, or stir-frying, go for cold-pressed oils. You can also try different types of oils traditionally used in India (discussed in the next section) for different dishes. For example, if you’re cooking a South Indian recipe, use coconut oil if the recipe calls for it.

Alternating between oils will add variety not just in flavor but also in terms of nutritional profile to the food cooked in your home. Also, whenever possible, choose locally available oils that differ from region to region.

Traditional Indian Oils You Can Choose From

Let’s look at the traditionally used and commonly available oils in India. We recommend using these oils thanks to their richer nutritional profile and easy availability. The following oils are found in both refined and cold-pressed versions.

Mustard Oil

  • Contains Omega-3 fatty acids, excellent for baby's brain development.
  • The only oil in cold-pressed form that has a higher smoke point (250 degrees Celsius), making it suitable for high-heat cooking.
  • Rich in mono and unsaturated fatty acids; has anti-bacterial and digestive properties.
  • Only drawback: Pungent smell and taste may not be suitable for all recipes.

Coconut Oil

  • Widely used in South Indian food preparations.
  • Contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are beneficial fats, as well as good amounts of saturated fats.
  • Has antibacterial properties, thus supporting your baby’s immune health.
  • Cold-pressed coconut oil has a low smoke point; hence, it’s not advisable for high-temperature cooking.
  • Refined coconut oil is suitable for high-heat cooking.

Groundnut (Peanut) Oil

  • Common in the western and central parts of India.
  • Has an excellent fatty acid profile.
  • Good source of Vitamin E and B3.
  • Contains resveratrol, beneficial for heart health.
  • Cold-pressed groundnut oil has a low smoke point (170 degrees Celsius), not suitable for high-temperature cooking.
  • Avoid using cold-pressed groundnut oil if any family member has a peanut allergy, as the cold-pressed version may contain some plant matter too.

Sesame (Til) Oil

  • Common in Rajasthan and southern parts of India.   
  • The oldest oil used in India.
  • Great for heart health.
  • Cold pressed version has a lower smoke point, compared to the refined version

Olive Oil

  • Rich in mono and saturated fatty acids and Vitamin E, which helps support immune and neurological development in babies.   
  • Because olive oil is not traditionally used in Indian cooking, its flavor may not suit all recipes.
  • Tends to be more expensive than other oils due to production outside India.

There are various varieties of olive oil available: extra virgin (similar to cold-pressed), virgin, light, etc.

  • Extra virgin olive oil: low smoke point makes it suitable for drizzling on prepared foods like porridge, khichdi, noodles, pasta, or hummus.
  • Virgin olive oil: moderate smoke point (200 degrees Celsius) makes it suitable for light cooking and baking but not high-temperature cooking.

Vanaspati: Always Avoid This!

Vanaspati (a common brand in India is Dalda) is a hydrogenated vegetable cooking oil that has traditionally found its way into Indian households as a cheaper alternative to ghee. But its harmful effects on our health are well established.

Vanaspati is created by hydrogenating vegetable oil, and this process creates trans fats. These trans fats are extremely harmful for babies and adults.

Storage Tips for Oil

Properly storing your cooking oils is important to maintain their quality and ensure a longer shelf life. 

  1. Keep away from sunlight, moisture, and heat: Avoid the temptation of keeping oil on the kitchen countertop next to the stove or on an open shelf. Sunlight, warm temperatures, air, and moisture can break down the fats in oils, particularly cold-pressed varieties, leading to a decline in oil quality. Store your oils in a dark, dry location away from direct sunlight. This storage tip is most applicable for all cold-pressed oils due to their shorter shelf life.
  2. Choose tinted containers: When purchasing oils, opt for products in dark, tinted containers. These containers act as a barrier, preventing direct light from reaching the oil and thereby enhancing its shelf life and maintaining its quality.
  3. Say no to plastic: Avoid using plastic containers for oil storage. Chemicals from plastic can leach into the oil, potentially affecting its purity and safety. Instead, consider switching to glass or stainless steel jars or bottles.

Glass is non-reactive, ensuring your oil remains fresh for an extended period. Stainless steel offers a durable, eco-friendly, and budget-friendly alternative, with the added advantage of being less prone to breakage.

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