The Problem with Refined Oils

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.


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Here is a detailed explanation of oils from Carrie Vitt in the first-ever “100 Days of Real Food” guest post:


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:

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.

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456 thoughts on “The Problem with Refined Oils”

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  1. Hi there!

    I just recently went on a real food diet after doing research on how to rid myself of cellulite. Success stories I’ve read are linked to real food. Since being on this challenge, have any of you seen a change in your cellulite? Either reduced or eliminated?

    Thanks a bunch!

  2. Dr Arun Kumar Sharma every kind of refined oils out there within the market. And, one will select refined mustard oil, Kachi Ghani oil, vegetable oil, oil, cotton seeds oil, Palmolein, and also the further virgin olive oils. relying upon the tastes and needs, any of those oils will be used for change of state functions. Keep dynamic the oil, so you get the utmost edges. http://www.lractiveworld.com/

  3. Which of these oils has the highest smoke point AND is generally the least expensive? I’m now on disability so budget is by far the BIGGEST factor in determining foods I can buy. I’d like to try this challenge but I’ll need one that i can afford to use several days a week.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. This article lists out the specific composition and smoke points of these fats/oils. You can find organic unrefined coconut oil at good prices at places like Costco. The same is true for olive oil.

  4. Hi,

    What do you use in place of canola oil when a recipe calls for a neutral tasting oil? Can I use equal parts butter? I don’t really like coconut oil in savory dishes.

  5. was wondering if sunflower/safflower oil is allowed? i see it in a lot of organic products when reading labels, and you haven’t mentioned it on this post. thanks so much!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Stephanie. They are among the more refined oils we avoid because of its high omega 6 profile. ~Amy

  6. I have a silly question. I have never cooked with coconut oil. Does it have a coconut flavor? I am not a fan of coconut and am wondering if this would change the taste of any of my recipes. Thanks! I love this site!

  7. I was wondering what brand of Avocado oil you recommend. Every Avocado oil that I have found states that it is refined, so I am trying to avoid it. However, I would love to use it in my tortillas instead of coconut.

  8. I’m guessing this has been brought up in the past, but I have some questions about baking with coconut oil. I finally took the plunge and bought a huge cylinder of coconut oil at Costco. This morning I was making waffles (printed from this website a long time ago) and Lisa had then claimed that she used coconut oil, she has since switched to melted butter in the recipe and I see why: when the coconut oil is mixed with anything that is cold (eggs, milk, etc.) it obviously hardens because the melting point is 76 degrees. The obvious solution is to make sure everything in a recipe is at least 76 degrees, but what a pain! How does Lisa, and everyone else for that matter, easily use coconut oil in baking? Doesn’t seem worth it to me as it causes too much frustration in the kitchen.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Allyson. I am not really familiar with his website but he seems to concur with the basics of “no refined oils”. His smoke chart is similar to others I’ve seen and he goes into detail about specific fats. I didn’t see anything counter to what we believe about healthy fats. ~Amy

  9. Hi, I recently bought a bag of 365 organic, GMO-free chips with expeller pressed safflower oil. Do you have any information on if this is a safe way to consume oil? Thanks!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Samie. Safflower oil is a refined oil and should not be consumed during the pledge. Outside of the pledge, an organic expeller pressed oil is a better choice among safflower oils but it remains refined (with an imbalance of Omega 6s to Omega 3s) and you should limit your consumption of it. ~Amy

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Jackie. The Rapeseed oil in the US is called Canola oil and it is highly processed and is not an oil we use. ~Amy

  10. Thank you for this post! I love the list of good oils, especially as I am trying to cook different cuisines with different flavors. What is your take on sunflower oil? It’s a favorite of ours for popping corn; though I haven’t the slightest idea how to tell if it’s healthy or not.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Susannah. Sunflower is not an oil we typically choose because it falls into the refined oil category. With oils it is important to balance your intake of Omega 6 fatty acids to Omega 3 fatty acids ratio. In the typical American diet, we get way too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s. Sunflower oil exacerbates that imbalance as it is high in Omega 6s. I’m not saying it is terrible for occasional use, but oils such as olive, avocado, and coconut are better choices. And there is nothing like popcorn popped in good old butter (grass-fed). :)

  11. I have been reading a lot about the benefits of grape seed oil, but it is on your list not to use. Can you tell me more?

    I only buy organic.

    I have been using just coconut oil for a while, but recently have started including some grape seed oil. I am just wondering if that was the right decision.

  12. Can you share some olive oil brands you recommend as well as butter? Sometimes it seems the good ones are so pricey I’d hate to buy one claiming one thing and being another. Thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christina. There are a lot of good olive oils out there and it can really be a matter of personal taste. I read recently that Costco’s Kirkland (organic)brand is pretty highly rated and reasonably priced. This might help, too: http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/shopping-storing/best-olive-oil-00100000065905/index.html. As far as butter goes, you can find a grass-fed brand like Kerrygold in most gorcery stores which a lot of readers really like. Lisa sometimes buys ghee. You can find a better selection of organic and grass-fed options at stores like Whole Foods or Earth Fare. ~Amy

  13. Hi! I recently discovered 100 days and LOVE it!! I am slowly trying to move our family from eating probably 80% processed food to hopefully less than 50% (it will take time). One thing that I have wanted to switch is what I use for cooking spray. I currently use Pam (gasp! I know) for nonstick stuff (lasagna pans, eggs, etc) as well as for baked goods (cakes, muffins, etc) and sometimes use Olive Oil spray for roasting veggies, meat or veggies in the skillet, etc. What are good substitutes for the non-stick spray that can also be used for baking (I’m hesitant to use olive oil for baking). Thank you!

  14. There are no children in my household, it is just myself that I cook for. I eliminated margarine, & most oils (with the exception of olive oil)back in 1987, but after some life trials,I was force to buy whatever was cheap & that did not always mean healthy. After experiencing some major health problems last year, I decided when I got my new apartment in December it was time to get back to healthier nutrition. This time it was different though. I heard about coconut oil on the Dr. Oz show but heard more about the benefits of it on PBS. Because I was interested in taking my health quest a little further, I did more research on the internet. My mantra nowdays is if it cannot be processed easily by the kidneys, liver, or gallbladder, I do not want it in my kitchen. I do have sugar and salt in my kitchen,but for company only. I use more cinnamon instead of sugar in my cereal and have quit using it in my tea. That was really hard for me since I was a soft drink addict but since hearing that it has over 20 teaspoons of sugar in it, that the carmel flavoring and acid in it can cause cancer,I kept the green tea but gave up the additives as I am a 2 time cancer survivor and do not want it a 3rd time. Arizona Green Tea With Ginseng and Honey was my favorite drink when I was out and about instead of soda at an attempt to be healthier but it has at least 16 teaspoons of sugar (listed as high fructose corn syrup)in it and when I found this out I choked. No adult should not even have that much per day in their diet! I have also cut out white flour,anything with high fructose corn syrup & anything with the suffix -ose in it because it is just another form of sugar. I also am trying to incorporate more onion, garlic, parsley, basil, oregano in my cooking. With the addtion of more cruciferous vegetables, more fiber containing fruit and healthy grains, I feel much better. The skin on my body and my complexion are much, much clearer and brighter and so are my eyes. I thought it would be much harder than it is but I am actually finding out that a lot of the things I was raised to think we need to have in our kitchen, really were just adding cost to the grocery bill and really were not needed. Did I mention that the best part of this whole journey was that I lost at least 40 pounds just by eliminating those things from my diet. This change is good for me. I already shopped at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market before, so just buying more of the items I should be buying there, than the other markets was easy.Good luck with your own journey!

  15. I would agree with you for 90% of the time… But I don’t think consuming these oils for the occasional outing is such an issue.

  16. How do you prevent coconut oil from clumping? I’ve been trying to use it in my baking, but it just clumps up every time.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Angie. It helps if your other ingredients are at room temperature when you mix. ~Amy

  17. Hi,

    I recently found a peanut butter using palm fruit oil. Is this the same as the red palm oil listed above? If not, would this be considered something refined/processed and not approved on the mini-pledge?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Samie. As a general rule, peanut butter should have no added oils. It has plenty of oil on its own. :)

  18. Saw in my grocery store today organic lard. It was vegetable lard and the label read it was palm oil. I wasn’t sure about palm oil, so I did a quick search and was overwhelmed by the environmental concerns re: the harvesting of palm oil (and subsequently red palm oil). Wondering what 100 Days thinks about this….?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Cassandra. We think it is very important for each individual to eat with their own conscience. ~Amy

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Patti. You want to be sure you are using one without propellants. ~Amy

  19. Hi. I’ve seen it mentioned to a couple com enters that sunflower and safflower oils are refined, but I have seen varieties on the market that are labeled as unrefined. Should those varieties be avoided as well or would they be considered OK? Just curious! :)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Brianna. Yes, Lisa avoids sunflower and safflower oil, in general, as both are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Most westerners are out of balance, getting too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s which can ramp up inflammation in our bodies. ~Amy

  20. I’m taking the oil mini pledge and would love to try sesame oil, but the blog doesn’t say as much about that oil as the others. Should I be looking for organic, cold-pressed, unfiltered sesame oil as she describes with the olive oil, or are all sesame oils OK? The only sesame oil I found in our big chain grocery store didn’t say anything besides “sesame oil” on the label, but I would be happy to go to our local health food store if I knew what to look for. Thanks!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Patti. I buy Spectrum Organic. It is available often at conventional stores but would certainly be available along with many others at health food stores. ~Amy

  21. I am throwing away all of my canola oil sprays! I never realized how bad they are! Is there any cooking spray that is ok to use for coating pans or for cooking?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi. You can find olive oil spays without the propellants. That is what I use along with coconut oil or butter, spread sparingly with a paper towel onto whatever surface I am cooking on. ~Amy

  22. Wow ! There’s more information in these comments than on some so-called “nutrition” sites !
    I found this site by seaching for “olive oil vs canola oil health benefits”; from there, I found canola oil a very suspect substance. I then searched for “canola oid processing”, and found a wealth of good info on it, mostly from ‘canola.xxx.org’s, and even a certain W**MD site. Only ONE other site I found (there are several more I’ve found now) told the truth about Canola oil. This pretty much settled things for me; what I think I was actually seeing was the “bottom line” for a myriad of organizations, companies, and manufacturers.
    I’m purchasing Carrie’s cookbook, and several other excellent books referenced. Thanks for the info ! Two adults, for a week, then week after week !

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Allison. Depending upon what you are baking, you can try lard, olive oil, avocado oil, or nut oils-assuming your allergy doesn’t extend to various nuts.

  23. I’ve read a lot about cooking oils. (Where I come from, the Mediterranian, we used to cook with and eat Olive oil.) But I have yet to read about: What is the best oil to fry French fries in? Please and Thank you.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi John. Lisa almost never deep fries. This Mark Bittman article might give you the advice you seek. ~Amy

  24. Hi can you tell me a couple of the best unrefined extra virgin olive oils to use for food & the skin as treatments & where to buy it from please

  25. You should check out Camelina Oil. From my beautiful province of Saskatchewan, Canada. This is the oil I use 95% of the time. My husband and I both love it!

  26. Extra virgin olive oil has too strong of a taste for me in my homemade salad dressings. However, I think extra virgin olive oil tastes fine in cooking and I don’t notice the strong taste. I like canola oil in my salad dressings because it doesn’t have a strong taste. Recently I started using extra light olive oil that has very little taste. However, that is refined too.

    Is there any suggestions/recommendations for unrefined mild/delicate tasting oils to use in homemade salad dressings???

    I appreciate any help and I am always up to trying new things. Thanks!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Sarah. One of my favorite salad dressing oils is avocado oil. You might give it a try. ~Amy

  27. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Christy. I would go with coconut or olive oil to replace the grapeseed. My first recommendation with spices is to grow what you can in whatever bit of sunlight you have. :) It is incredibly satisfying, aromatic, flavorful, and inexpensive. Easy herbs to grow are basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano as are any mint and lemon balm (though they can also take over yard and may work best in containers). Additionally, this blogger goes into detail about herbs…more than you ever hoped to know:http://www.simplebites.net/spices-101-what-you-need-to-know-about-buying-spices/. :) ~Amy

  28. Good Evening! Thank you so much for all of your tips and tricks. I’m just getting into cooking… this is all new to me. This weekend I am planning on getting some basics for my pantry. One of the common ingredients in some recipes I’m making is grape seed oil. What do you suggest to use in place of that? Also, for other spices, such as cumin and dried oregano, is there anything in particular I should look for besides an ‘organic’ label?

    I truly appreciate your guidance. Thank you!

  29. We will be starting this mini-pledge on Monday. I’m wondering about avocado oil. I know I have seen it on some of the site recipes (whole wheat tortillas, for example), but I don’t know enough about it to know how it fits into this pledge.