Recently, 60 Minutes covered a story highlighting the risks of purchasing olive oil in the United States. The journalist Tom Mueller, who wrote the book Extra Virginity, researched the olive oil industry and estimates that 75-80% of extra virgin olive oil that is sold in the U.S. does not actually meet the legal grades for extra-virgin oil.
So what are we to do with this information, since we all know there are benefits to extra virgin olive oil? First, know the best oils to consume for optimal health, and learn the best brands (particularly for olive oil). And second, learn the best strategies to use when purchasing cooking oils.
1. Avocado oil. Has a neutral taste, and the highest smoke point (520 degrees Fahrenheit). What is the smoke point? The point at which an oil starts to create smoke, releasing free radicals, causing oxidation - think opposite of anti-aging antioxidants, and releasing a chemical called acrolein (cancer causing agent found in cigarette smoke). Costco, Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, and some HEBs carry this.
2. Coconut oil. High in medium chain triglycerides (shown to decrease inflammation and increase metabolism). Look for key words on labeling: ORGANIC, COLD-PRESSED, VIRGIN. Best brands I've come across in my research is Nutiva and the very high quality brand (i.e. more expensive, but raw and wild-harvested) Skinny & Co.
3. Olive oil. Key words on labeling: EXTRA VIRGIN (from first pressed olives; not the same as "pure olive oil"), COLD-PRESSED, UNFILTERED (i.e. the best olive oil should be cloudy in appearance). Best brands according to Tom Mueller:
-California Olive Ranch (Limited Reserve and Everyday)
-Corto Olive (can find this at HEB, some Costcos)
-Costco Kirkland Toscano (not the other brands)
-Lucini (downside- comes in a clear bottle)
-O-Live (find at HEB)
-Ottavio and Omaggio (find at HEB, Sam's)
-Trader Joe's: Premium Greek Kalamata, California Estate Olive Oil, and Premium Extra Virgin
-Whole Foods California 365 (not the other Whole Foods 365 brands)
4. Red Palm Oil. Key word here is "Red" palm oil. Most palm oil involves deforestation and impacts human rights. Look for brands with key words: UNREFINED, RED PALM OIL, and look for CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) on the label. True palm oil should be reddish in color. Avoid palm kernel oil. Nutriva also is a good brand option.
5. Nut oils (NOT peanut oil). Many have good smoke points, such as Hazelnut oil (smoke point of 430 degrees Fahrenheit), Almond oil (420 degrees Fahrenheit), and Macadamia Oil (413 degrees Fahrenheit).
6. Grass Fed Butter and ghee. Higher in omega 3s, vitamins K, D, A, and good source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Grass fed ghee is basically the butter with lower water content (so good in baking), and the casein/lactose almost completely removed. Smoke point for butter is 350 degrees, and for ghee is 485 degrees Fahrenheit. Kerrygold is a good brand for grass fed butter (found in most grocery stores). Ghee by Pure Indian Foods.
Top 5 Strategies for Buying Oil
1. Look for ORGANIC, COLD-PRESSED, EXPELLER PRESSED.
2. Choose olive oils and nut oils that come in dark bottles/containers.
3. Close lids tightly to avoid contact with oxygen, which makes oil go bad faster. Olive oil in particular has a short shelf life (2 months). See link below for shelf life of other oils.
4. Buy smaller containers, due to shorter shelf lives.
5. Use oils with higher smoke points for cooking (avocado, hazelnut, coconut oil). Try to avoid using olive oil for cooking at high temperature, since this oil is particularly sensitive to heat.
One last note: vegetable oil does NOT have the same health benefits as vegetables. Get rid of your canola oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, corn oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, rice bran oil, and pumpkin seed oil! Enough said.
For more information on the 5 rules of cooking with fats, and information on the shelf life of cooking oils, checkout this link.