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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Coconut Oil-- not just for tanning!

Cutting out processed foods is, in itself, a process. First you get rid of the obvious, like twinkies. Then comes the fairly easy to spot, like chewy granola bars. Next you'll find some of the slightly tricky to catch items, like "whole wheat" breads. But there still remains a few items in the pantry that are still HIGHLY processed and pretty unnatural. They masquerade as wholesome & nutritious and you'll never know by reading the labels. This week I'm taking on cooking oils!!

3 Reasons I do NOT want to use vegetable cooking oils:
  1) Almost certainly from a GMO crop.
      Something like 88% of the non-organic corn products out there are gmo'd. Canola and soy are somewhere over 90%. These are genetically modified organisms. These plants varieties were created in a lab by inserting DNA from bacteria or other different species to give the plant a special property-- usually pesticide resistance (round-up ready) or to actually produce their own pesticides (BT).
         While the government has stated that these food items are just as safe as the natural form, very few studies have been done which bear this out. At the very least, I can say that we just don't know what the long term effects will be from eating these artificially created plant products. I'm not comfortable with that. And, because there are other, proven safe alternatives, (eaten traditionally for hundreds of years) I'm happy to give these oils up.
   
2) Processing chemicals
      To manufacture a typical bottle of canola oil, first the seeds are crushed or pressed, then the resultant fluid has to be refined & purified. To do that, petroleum based solvents like hexane are typically used. Then because of the smell of the solvents, further "deodorizing" is done with other chemicals. In the end, you have a lot more than just canola oil in that bottle.

3) Omega-6 fats
       The final reason NOT to comsume these vegetable oils comes from their fat make up. Most of these oils are predominantly made up of omega-6 fatty acids with little to NO omega-3's. I discussed the importance of reducing omega-6's (and increasing omega-3s) in my previous post: real food revolution.  I predict that much like they have taken back what they said for years about the safety of trans-fats, the major health agencies will eventually come out against these oils as well.

What to use instead??

When you are looking for a fat to cook your food in, coat a pan or add to a recipe, there are a few less processed options.

A) Butter!!
A nice, pastured (grass-fed) butter can go into most baking recipes. It is also great for coating pans. I saw a simple, genius, tip the other day-- save the paper when you unwrap a stick of butter. Then you'll have an easy way to grease a pan the next time you cook!

B) Olive oil
Olive oil is a great natural alternative to most of the processed vegetable oils. BUT you have to be careful about what you buy. A LOT of domestically produced oils are refined and processed just as much as canola. Go for imported and cold pressed, virgin oils. This will be as close to the olive as you can get!

C) Animal fats
A lot of people are flocking back to the use of lard (pig fat) and tallow (beef fat) for cooking purposes. I think I just missed enough of that growing up that it seems kind of icky to me. Its definitely natural (if you are careful about your sources) and unrefined but its not my cup of tea.

D) Coconut oil
Coconut oil is pressed like olive oil (but from coconuts....) It can be virgin, cold-pressed (most natural) or highly refined. The more virgin your oil, the more pronounced the scent/flavor will be (just as in olive oils). The refined oils have a higher smoke point & more neutral flavor but are subject to some of the same issues as refined vegetable oils. Interestingly, coconut oil can actually be a solid at room temperature ( it melts around 75 F) so it can be used on the colder side much as butter would be. For this reason, it has gained in popularity especially in the vegetarian/vegan crowd (as well as being an excellent plant based source of some essential fatty acids).

Ideally, one would use olive oil for things like salad dressings-- where no or very low heat is applied-- as olive oil has a very low smoke point and use coconut oil for higher temperature applications- virgin has a lower smoke point and refined has a higher one.

What I did:

This week I bought a jar each of refined organic coconut oil and virgin organic coconut oil and used each in several cooking techniques.

I tried the refined first because I expected it to be the most like what I was used to in a cooking oil. And, I was not disappointed.  I found that the refined coconut oil has no particular odor. I used it to saute my beef in the first step of making stew (where I usually used canola) and I had no odor, taste or cooking difference at all! I also used it in a baking recipe in place of canola and had no difference here either.


Knowing that the virgin coconut oil would have a distinct but soft coconut scent/flavor, we saved it for more asian style dinner entrees. I found the scent not too overpowering,  not completely coconutty but just a hint of something kind of tropical. We used this twice-- once in a green curry stir fry and once to make pad thai. As the flavor married well with the recipes, honestly I didn't notice anything different from when we've made these in the past.

So, I encourage you to give coconut oil a try!  Its pretty painless and another way you can reduce the processed foods in your kitchen. While it might not have been something June would have used, certainly many other cultures have used this traditionally in their cooking.

As a side note, since I have both types of coconut oil in the cupboard now, I'll be finally able to experiment with a few recipes I've been collecting for homemade lotions, creams & other bath/beauty products!

Comment below and let me know if you gave coconut oil a try and how it went!

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6 comments:

  1. I have been using coconut oil for about a year and I love it. It takes a little effort to master since it is often solid when I get the jar out of the pantry, but I use hot water in my pancakes, and the water melts the oil. You can also put the jar in a bowl of hot water and it will quickly begin to soften. This is a great article. While I stick to olive, grapeseed, and coconut oils, I did not know about hexane or how different refined is from virgin. Now I have to make sure I have the right kind!

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  2. Thanks! I know it would be best to use just the unrefined, virgin stuff exclusively but sometimes you just don't want that extra flavor. So I have both but I'm buying organic & sort of hoping for the best. I know quality can vary wildly by brand and some low quality coconut oils are even...gasp... hydrogenated. Ewww!

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  3. Finally tried the organic refined coconut oil for cooking chicken breasts. My family loved it! I mentioned it to my Dr and she agreed that its a great alternitive!

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  4. How much is it?

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    1. A basic 14 or so ounce jar costs anywhere from $5-12 depending on where you purchase. I think most people can expect in the $6-7 range per jar. I have found that it lasts a similar amount of time as a like quantity of other oils (like olive) that can cost nearly as much. Of course if you bulk buy (and there are some great deals online) you can really reduce the cost!

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  5. if your coconut oil states 'expeller pressed' on the label, it does not involve hexane, which would be used in chemically pressing the oil. Expeller pressed is always the best choice. However, the 'virgin' refers to it coming from copra, an inedible, dried coconut product (it can be smoked as well) and the oil can be pressed from this, thus not being 'virgin' coconut oil. There is no certifying authority for use of this term 'virgin', so anyone can slap it on a label. Avoid copra orginated coconut oil. You want your oil to come from all wet, fresh coconut meat, not dried meat. Do research and purchase carefully. Coconut oil is also the BEST toothpaste, mouth rinse on the planet. My teeth have never felt cleaner, my breath never fresher, and my mouth not chronically dry anymore. Look up 'oil pulling'.

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