Drilling for the healthy, youth-enhancing power of oil

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Gone are the days when the choice of oils was between Mazola and a dubious looking tin marked Olive. Suddenly they are not just for cooking, but have life enhancing properties to boot. If you've ever wondered what all the fuss was about, and wondered what difference there was between different oils, here's our quick guide.

Gone are the days when the choice of oils was between Mazola and a dubious looking tin marked Olive. Suddenly they are not just for cooking, but have life enhancing properties to boot. If you've ever wondered what all the fuss was about, and wondered what difference there was between different oils, here's our quick guide.

Olive oil

High in monounsaturated fat, which helps protect against "bad" cholesterol, olive oil also contains 75 per cent oleic acid, along with 10 per cent omega-6 linoleic acid and 2 per cent omega-3 linolenic acid. Opt for extra virgin olive oil, as this is the oil from the first pressing of the ripe olives and will be highest in antioxidants.

Olive oil is perfect for salad dressings, and for cooking at a moderate heat. Don't refrigerate, but keep in a cool dark place, and don't buy in huge quantities as it goes rancid over time. Olive oil makes a great moisturiser for dry skin, and mixed with sugar or sea salt makes a great body scrub and skin-softening exfoliant.

Sesame oil

Made from sesame seeds, the oil comes in two varieties made from either toasted or untoasted seeds. Untoasted seed oil is good for frying, while toasted sesame oil has a stronger taste and is used mostly for flavouring. Both are a staple ingredient of many oriental dishes.

Sesame oil contains 42 per cent oleic acid and 43 per cent omega-6 linoleic acid, and can be used for frying as it contains antioxidants not destroyed by heat. It is high in magnesium, which is good for the nervous system, and contains sesamin, which has an antioxidant effect. Sesame oil is easily absorbed when applied to skin, and has a sun protection factor of 4.

www.clearspring.com

Flaxseed oil

This cold-pressed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, 57 per cent, and also contains omega-6, 16 per cent, and oleic acid, 18 per cent. The optimum balance between omega-3 to omega-6 should be 1:2, but Western diets have a tendency towards 1:25 and upwards, so flaxseed oil can help counterbalance this.

Flaxseed oil helps protect against heart and prostate disease. Although the oil can't be used for cooking, it can be added to salad dressings, pasta and rice dishes and vegetables.

www.healthyandessential.com

Pumpkin seed oil

Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and the mood-boosting amino-acid tryptophan. Pumpkin seeds are traditionally advocated for maintaining prostate health in men. The oil has a wonderful dark green colour, and nutty flavour and it's called "green gold" by the Austrians who make it. One recommendation for its culinary use is to drizzle it on roasted or grilled vegetables.

Available from Waitrose and www.vomfass.net

Nut oils: Almond, Hazelnut, Macadamia and Walnut

These are light, delicately flavoured oils, most suitable for dressing salads or other dishes post-cooking. Nuts are high in unsaturated fats, and also provide a source of vitamin A and potassium. Potassium is needed to keep blood pressure stable while helping to regulate the body's water balance.

Macadamia oil is available from www.merchant-gourmet.com

Avocado oil

The beauty industry has known the benefits of avocado oil for years, integrating it into many products for its moisturising properties, making it particularly good for dry, sensitive or ageing skins. Now it's finding its way onto our tables, with all the health benefits of an oil that is high in unsaturated fats and contains beta-sitosterol, which is thought to help in lowering blood cholesterol. Avocados (left) are also high in antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, which counteract free radical damage that causes ageing of body cells. Use for salads, drizzling over vegetables, fish or meat.

Available from Waitrose

Argan oil

Argan oil is a nut oil from Northern Africa, and a rich source of essential fatty acids. It contains almost double the vitamin E found in olive oil, and is cold-pressed to preserve its antioxidant properties as well.

It can be eaten - traditionally sprinkled over food or added to soups, couscous, and tagines - but can also be used externally, on the face to keep skin supple and treat acne, psoriasis, and chicken pox scars, and elsewhere on the body. Berber women have known about its skin preservation properties for years.

Wild Wood Argan Oil available from www.nutricentre.com

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