Sometimes when grocery shopping I just stare at the labels on cooking oils and have to scratch my head.  Refined, unrefined, cold pressed, virgin, extra's so confusing!  So I went on a mission to understand just exactly what these terms mean and how they can help us decide which ones to buy.

What Are the Differences Between Refined and Unrefined Oils

Unrefined oils are usually cold pressed, meaning oils are extracted mechanically, applying pressure but little heat.  This preserves the flavor and nutrients and is usually a healthier option.  These oils are closest to their natural state. If you are committed to eliminating processed foods from your diet, these are the best choice. 

Refined oils are extracted using heat and are treated with a variety of chemicals (including hexane) to degum, bleach, deodorize and filter it.  NOT appetizing!

Types of Refined Oils

Refined oils include canola oil, vegetable oil (usually a blend), safflower oil, soy bean oil, corn oil, and margarine.  Unless Non-GMO Project Verified,  these are often refined from genetically modified seeds.   

Common Unrefined Oils

Organic or Grass-Fed Butter or Ghee Butter is a real food that has been around for centuries.  Butter from grass-fed cows is usually higher in Omega 3’s, some vitamins and essential fatty acids.  Ghee is the butterfat that is left after the milk solids and water are taken out (clarified butter.) It does not need to be refrigerated and can be used for cooking at high heat.

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil This oil is the highest quality olive oil, with the freshest flavor, most antioxidants and polyphenols. Extra Virgin means it was made from fresh olives, shortly after harvest, and was extracted mechanically without chemical solvents and without high heat. Virgin olive oil is also minimally processed and is categorized differently due to a slightly higher acidity.  Beware of other olive oils ("pure olive oil") that are refined beyond the first pressing, sometimes using heat, chemicals, and filtration.  These are usually less nutritious and less flavorful.  Click here to read more.

Organic Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil  This oil has been extracted from the first pressing of fresh, raw coconut meat without the addition of chemicals.  With coconut oil, both virgin and extra virgin are the least refined and are processed in a similar manner.  Click here to read more.

Keep in mind that fats are part of a healthy balanced diet.  It is essential to eat some fats, but it is harmful to eat too many.  They give us the energy our body needs to work properly and help us absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E,  and K.)  Fats also provide essential fatty acids the body needs for brain development, controlling inflammation, & blood clotting.

There are scientific studies on both sides of whether it is healthier to consume refined vegetable oils or the unrefined oils, that contain higher saturated fats.  You should always consult with your doctor to understand which of these will provide the most benefit for you. 

Resources:  (health concerns and refined oils with studies footnoted)    (explanation of fats profile, with footnotes to books and studies)    ("Why I trust cows more than chemists")   (why fats are important in your diet)    (explanation of types of coconut oil)  (explanation of types of olive oil)