“Oil is oil right?” Oh, this couldn’t be farther from the truth! (I cringed slightly as I heard this walking down the aisle of the grocery store.) Just like any other product we choose to consume (food, beverage, or supplement), we need to be mindful and informed shoppers to protect and optimize our health.
You may have seen the 60 Minute episode recently that showed olive oil imported from Italy really wasn’t olive oil at all. Yikes! And just the other day I picked up a jar of coconut oil and it listed palm oil on the back? I must confess, up until several years ago, even I was deceived by the marketing! Not only that… but I realized how I was actually using them was HURTING my health. Not anymore, and why I chose to post a blog to help you!
I find that clients are finding it exceedingly challenging to navigate not only the supermarket aisle, but filter through consumer ads, friend’s recommendations, and “health expert” blogs. So I want to give you the most accurate information on how to make the best informed choice for your health. Here you will find pointers and some of my favorite brands to help you when selecting 2 popular and healthy oils – olive and coconut.
Quality is key… as well as understanding how it is Sourced and Processed.
You can imagine how competitive selling olive oil can be due to its popularity and touted health benefits. In his book Extra Virginity, Tom Mueller takes us through the sublime, scandalous world of olive oil. He discusses how resellers add lower-priced, low-grade oils filled with artificial coloring to extra-virgin olive oil. In fact, one study demonstrated about 69% of olive oil imported and labeled “extra-virgin” failed to meet standards in an expert smell and taste test. Crazy! When it comes to olive oil (or really any oil), you have to do your research and pick the best ones. While most oils are refined, olive oil is one of the few oils we still consume mostly unprocessed.
Here are important considerations when choosing olive oil:
- Always choose extra-virgin, which is the oil that is derived from the first pressing of the olives. This version of the oil contains many nutrients (such as polyphenols) that protect it from heat damage. One study compared the anti-inflammatory power of the oil from the first pressing of olives with that of later pressings. Researchers found extra-virgin olive oil lowered inflammation, while oil from later pressings did not.
- Choose unfiltered. Unfiltered olive oil will appear to be cloudy because it contains naturally occurring elements like antioxidants which protect against oxidative damage.
- Look for cold-pressed olive oil, which means manufacturers use very little heat when processing olives to get the oil. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil provides the strongest possible nutrient value because of low-heat processing, along with the oil’s first pressing high phytonutrient content.
- Be aware of misleading claims by big food companies who throw around terms like “pure olive oil.” These somewhat misleading phrases often signify a mix of unrefined and refined virgin olive oils.
- Avoid extra-light olive oil. Companies love slapping this “light” term on foods because it appeals to those consumers looking for “low fat”. These terms subtly suggest all fats are bad and make you fat, absolutely not the case! Low-fat or “light” foods are often highly refined and processed. (Oh, we have come a long way since the “fat-free” days of the ’80’s…thankfully our culture and consumers are beginning to demand more wholesome foods, free of preservatives, additives, and dyes!)
Other tips to get the best out of your olive oil…
- Storage is important because heat and other factors can trigger oxidation and other problems. Always store olive oil in a dark, cool place. Keep it sealed tight and out of direct sunlight or away from other heat sources like near the stove. (boy did I get this one wrong years ago when I stored it smack up against my oven; and then often waited to put the cap on after I was cleaning up after my meal!)
- Use olive oil within one to two months once you open it for optimal health benefits. (Hint: that may mean purchasing a smaller bottle!) Research shows quality and health benefits decline after two months, even among properly stored olive oils.
Coconut oil has hit the market and boomed in sales over the past several years touting its health benefits…in particular for its medium-chain-triglycerides, a beneficial fat that may boost metabolism and convert to energy quickly in your body, and also help with overall gut health!
- Just like olive oil, always select coconut oil that is organic, virgin, cold-pressed and unrefined.
- Avoid products that are deodorized or bleached.
- Coconut oil is one of the most versatile oils because it’s very stable. You can bake with it and use it when cooking meat, veggies and sauces over medium-high heat. You can put it into your smoothies, hot beverages, or stir into hot cereals.
6 Strategies for Buying Oils
The next time you purchase olive oil, coconut oil, or any other type of oil, consider these six strategies. (Oh and remember…use a wide variety of healthy oils (listed below). Each offer benefits so don’t just stick to one type of oil, explore!)
- Always choose organic, unrefined, cold-pressed, or expeller pressed. These terms ensure you’re purchasing a quality, highly nutritious and sustainable product. Organic production prohibits genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and the use of toxic solvents (such as hexanes) for extraction in oils. If possible, check out the company directly. Ensure the product is truly cold-pressed and lives up to its claims and standards, and that the manufacturer does not use toxic solvents in the refining process. Check out websites and don’t hesitate to email or call them with any concerns.
- Choose oils in dark, not clear bottles. The dark color helps protect the oil from direct sunlight exposure, which can cause it to go rancid.
- Store the oil in a cool, dark place away from heat and light exposure such as cabinets or the fridge in airtight containers. Never store oils on sunny kitchen counters or next to the stove.
- Always tightly close the lid after using. Oxygen can make oil go rancid quickly.
- Purchase the correct size and consume in the time recommended. Remember oils tend to go bad after a span of a few months or years depending on the type of oil. Those mega-store gargantuan containers, are not such a great buy if you don’t use the oil.
- Choose the right oil for the job. Because different oils have different smoke points, it’s important to choose the right oil for the task at hand. Here are the temperatures at which some of the more popular oils reach their smoke points (lowest to highest):
- Sunflower oil, unrefined: 225 F
- Red Palm oil: 302 F
- Walnut oil, unrefined: 320 F
- Coconut oil unrefined: 350 F
- Extra-virgin olive oil: 375 F
- Macadamia oil: 413 F
- Almond oil: 420 F
- Grape seed oil: 420 F
- Hazelnut oil: 430 F
- Avocado oil: 520 F
My top picks for Olive and Coconut Oil:
Since I often have clients ask me “what do you use”…here you go:)! I am not necessarily promoting these specific products, these are just one’s I have come to use and love. (Be sure to check out the link above where the olive oil expert Tom Mueller provides an extensive list of his picks for the best quality and best-priced brands.)
Coconut oil: I like Nutiva because it’s cold-pressed, virgin, organic, never refined and ethically sourced. Nutiva also carries a red palm oil I have yet to try.
Hopefully armed with these strategies you will feel empowered and confident to make sure you are purchasing and using high quality oils good for your health!
Leave a comment and share some of your favorite picks of oils you use and love!
With you on the Journey Toward Optimal Health & Abundant Living,