Fat plays a crucial role in our diets. It’s the unsung hero behind hormonal balance, blood sugar regulation, smooth skin, and supple joints. But don’t peel open the margarine just yet. These benefits come exclusively from unrefined, naturally derived fats. Food labels are deceiving, and oil labels get more than their fair share of confusing and often misleading terms. For example, despite its claims of being “heart healthy,” canola oil is not a healthy fat at all. Yet even aside from those marketing claims, there are so many terms that beg for explanation. What does “expeller pressed” mean, anyway? And is “unrefined” a good thing?
Unrefined oils are those that have been produced with minimal heat and have not been bleached, deodorized, or otherwise altered. Refined oils have been chemically and/or mechanically altered, and may also have been bleached and/or deodorized. If the oil has no flavor, it has obviously been refined. You might have thought that “refined” was a good thing.
Yes, we value it in people, but not in oil! Healthy fats include unrefined oils, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil, as well as fatty foods in their original forms — fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Refined fats are best avoided because of the negative effects they have on our bodies. These fats include the many refined vegetable-based oils available today, including canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, and peanut. “Vegetable oil” is a product containing a blend of refined oils, often based on corn, soybean, or sunflower.
All of these oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and are made using toxic chemicals. Multiple studies link the consumption of refined oils with diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. But what about the various forms of healthy oils that are available on grocery shelves? The terms can make your head spin, so let’s decipher those labels.
Expeller pressed means that the oil has been squeezed straight out of the plant through a mechanical press, without additional heat or chemicals. While that sounds about as pure as you can get, friction from this process can cause heat to build up, damaging the nutritional content.
Cold pressed oils have been expeller extracted in a controlled temperature setting. Heat never rises above 120°F (49°C), preserving nutrients and flavor.
Extra virgin indicates that the oil was extracted from the first pressing of the plant, while virgin refers to the second pressing. If the words “extra virgin” do not appear on the label, then it’s either fully refined or mostly refined with a small amount of unrefined oil added for flavor.
Organic simply means that the plant was organically grown; the oil may still be refined. Be aware that there are also organic extra-virgin refined oils; even though the oil may have been extracted properly, manufacturers will refine it to remove color, odor, and/or taste. Coconut oil is probably the least understood of healthy oils. Some say it’s nature’s wonder, while others say that it’s bad for your health. The truth is that both are correct. Extra-virgin, unrefined coconut oil has an outstanding level of health-enhancing properties, while refined coconut oil has effects as negative as those of margarine. Unrefined coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut. The stronger the coconut flavor, the fresher the coconut. Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut, which goes through various levels of mechanical and chemical processing before it’s bleached and deodorized. Extra-virgin unrefined coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than most other fats.
These fats are responsible for many of the health benefits of coconut oil and have been shown to increase calories burned over 24 hours by as much as 5 percent. Unrefined coconut oil has also been shown to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. This Yom Tov, try replacing typical refined oils (canola, we’re looking at you) with high-quality fats that really make a difference to the way your body functions. Just keep an eye out for those labels to be sure that you’re getting exactly what you bargained for.
Wishing you a beautiful Yom Tov,
Rorie Recommends: Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Unrefined Coconut Oil There are many brands of extra-virgin cold-pressed unrefined coconut oils to choose from, such as Spectrum, Nutivia, Grain Brain, Nature’s Way, and Carrington Farms (available in bulk at Costco), and there are lots more out there. Don’t get stuck on the brand or the packaging. Once you make sure the label checks off all the right boxes, you’re good to go.
Rorie is a health coach certified in integrative nutrition, a recipe developer, creator of Rorie’s Dough Mixes, and founder of Full ‘N Free, LLC. She believes that ingredients matter and that healthy food should be delicious. To learn more about Rorie and her dough mixes, recipes, programs, and services, visit www.fullnfree.com. All statements are suggestive only. Please consult with your doctor before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
(Originally featured in FamilyTable, Issue 663)
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