The other day I saw a “real food” blogger giving away a tub of “organic ghee” to one lucky reader. I said to my husband, “What in the heck is ghee and why would anyone want it?” I thought that blogger sounded a lot more “hard core” than me about eating naturally…admittedly because I didn’t understand the reasoning behind the giveaway.
I’ve openly shared for months that oils are a weakness of mine and one of the last areas where our family could use a “real food” makeover. Trust me, the reader comments that call me out on my use of canola oil and cooking spray have not gone unnoticed!
So I am pleased to share that my period of “ignorance is bliss” is over, and to help me make this transition I’ve turned to Deliciously Organic blogger and cookbook author, Carrie Vitt. And I must share that after a brief conversation with Carrie about this post I went out and actually bought some organic ghee. I haven’t opened it yet, but I will hopefully find the perfect opportunity to start using it!
Before we dive into this post I want to say that if you tried to avoid refined oils 100% of the time it would be incredibly challenging to leave the house. So it’s important to remember to strike a balance between your real food mission and reality.
Healthy fats in your diet are essential to healthy living. Healthy unrefined fats enhance our immune and endocrine systems, are needed for energy, and help play an important role in the health of our bones.
Olive oil, for example, that is unrefined, uses olives that have been pressed to extract the oil, but the oil itself hasn’t been filtered, heated, treated with chemicals, and so on. In other words, without getting too technical, it’s in its pure state.
In a world where our attention is brought to the latest studies it is important to understand which oils are beneficial for the body and which ones to avoid. Overall, it is best to consume unrefined oils. Unfortunately, these are sometimes difficult to find, but I’ve tried to remove most of the legwork.
Oils to Avoid
Many of the oils used in the modern American diet are hazardous to our health. They are processed, cleaned with chemicals, and most come from genetically modified corn, canola or soy. Most oils found on the grocery store aisles are heated to very high temperatures during processing; this heat oxidizes the oils. Oxidation also creates free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies so it is best to avoid them.
The processing increases the shelf-life of the oils and removes most of the natural flavoring, making them more attractive for the industrial food industry, but less attractive to the consumer. Vegetable oils, like canola and corn oil, are usually made with genetically modified corn, canola, and soy. So, I suggest you limit the use of such oils and stick with unrefined oils.
Here’s an easy checklist of oils to avoid:
- Vegetable Oil
- Organic Vegetable Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Corn Oil
- Canola Oil
- Organic Canola Oil
- Grape Seed Oil
- Hydrogenated Oils
- Any oil that is labeled as refined, hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated
Recommended Oils and Fats
Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap over the last twenty years because many studies published about coconut oil were done on hydrogenated coconut oil. We should as a matter, of course, avoid hydrogenated oils of any kind so be sure to read the labels. Virgin coconut oil, processed without chemicals or high heat, is rich in medium-chain fatty acids that are quickly absorbed into the body for energy.
This naturally saturated, but not hydrogenated, fat is getting renewed attention among researchers as it becomes clear that saturated fats have many vital roles to play in our bodies.
When buying coconut oil, make sure you buy organic, unrefined, centrifuged oil. To receive the maximum benefits you really want to find the best oil possible. Coconut oil is extremely stable so it is great to use when higher heat is necessary.
In a typical recipe, coconut oil can be used as a replacement for other oils 1:1. If you are sautéing, however, I have found that you need less coconut oil than you may initially think (due to low water content), so use it very sparingly.
Recipes Using Coconut Oil (pictured)
The best butter is from organic, pastured cows, unpasteurized, and preferably cultured. Bright yellow organic butter is a good indicator of butter made with milk from grass-fed cows. If you can’ t find raw butter, which is made from raw milk, then try to use an organic, cultured product.
Olive oil is a wonderfully nourishing oil and is most beneficial when used in its raw form or processed at medium to low heat. Olive oil has a medium smoke point (visually starts to smoke) and so it’ s best to cook with it at a medium heat or lower to prevent oxidation, which breaks down the nutrients.
When buying olive oil, look for oil that is extra virgin, cold-pressed, and unfiltered. This can be difficult because there are no regulations on labeling olive oil in the United States.
So, for instance, an oil labeled cold pressed or unrefined may not actually be so. The first thing to do when searching for a good olive oil is to find out where it comes from. Call the company, visit their website, and find out exactly how they make their oil. When you buy it, the olive oil should have a golden color and be cloudy (because it’ s unfiltered), and come in a dark green bottle to slow oxidation. The oxidation process creates free-radicals which can damage the body’ s cells.
Red palm oil is a beautifully rich red oil that contains oleic and linoleic acid. It’s a highly stable oil that adds a rich flavor to recipes and is my favorite for popping popcorn.
Sesame oil is a stable oil that is great for cooking at high heats. I also love to add flavor by drizzling it over stir-fry before serving.
Flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3s and should be kept refrigerated until consumed. Since heat will oxidize this oil, it should not be used to cook with, but rather only added to salads, smoothies, and other cold foods. It is best to use this oil in small quantities because the body absorbs it slowly.
Some additional healthy oils and fats to use:
- Lard – preferably from organic, pastured animals
- Ghee (clarified butter) – good to use at high temperatures
- Tallow – preferably from organic, pastured animals
- Avocado oil – good to use at high temperatures
Keep in mind that even though you’re not going to use certain processed vegetable oils in your cooking, it’s almost impossible to completely avoid them if you are using processed foods, as they are found in thousands of packaged products. Therefore, make sure to read the labels on packaged foods to know what kinds of oils were used and choose products that use the most healthy ingredients.
I understand this new information can be overwhelming. There is a simple and practical way to make the change. My motto is “Make one change a week.” For example, this week you could buy some coconut oil and use it in your cooking and baking instead of canola oil. Or maybe you identify the foods in your pantry and fridge with processed oils and begin using healthier foods and ingredients. It’s your choice. You can do this!
If you find yourself asking, “Isn’t fat bad? Doesn’t fat cause heart disease? Doesn’t fat make me fat? Go to this post where I answer these questions and provide further resources.
About Carrie Vitt
Carrie Vitt began cooking as soon as she could peer over the countertops and by sixteen was working in the kitchens of her mother’s award-winning Dallas catering company, The Festive Kitchen.
When, as a young mother, Carrie found herself challenged by health problems that meant popping multiple medications each day, she decided to take matters into her own hands — or rather, into her own kitchen. She switched her diet to whole, unprocessed, pure organic ingredients and noticed an improvement in a matter of days.
When her friends and family wanted to know how she did it, she began sharing recipes on her blog, www.deliciouslyorganic.net, and followed up in 2011 with a cookbook, Deliciously Organic. Husband, kid, and party friendly, Deliciously Organic is brimming with the recipes and flavors families love, all created using wholesome, unrefined, and organic ingredients.
Carrie lives with her husband, an Air Force test pilot, and their two daughters in Southern California.