5 Tips for Choosing the Right Oils.

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Even among people “in the know,” choosing the right oils can be a challenge.

Here, let’s look at three of my personal favorites—olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil—and how to make the right decisions.


Olive Oil

In his book Losing Virginity, Tom Mueller takes us through the sublime, scandalous world of olive oil. He discusses how resellers add lower-priced, low-grade oils filled with artificial coloring to extra-virgin olive oil. Unfortunately, most American-derived olive oils contain soybean, rapeseed, and other oils.

When it comes to olive oil (or really, any oil), caveat emptor: Research and pick the right ones. Here are a few strategies to buy the right olive oil:


  • Choose unfiltered, which contains naturally occurring elements like antioxidants and buffer acids that create cloudiness but protect against oxidative damage.
  • Buy extra-virgin, as it comes from the first pressing of the olives. One study compared extra-virgin olive oil’s anti-inflammatory power from first pressing with later pressings’ antioxidant power. Researchers found extra-virgin olive oil lowered inflammation; non-extra-virgin oils could not.
  • Look for cold-pressed olive oil, which means manufacturers use very little heat mechanically processing olives to get the oil. Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil provides the strongest possible nutrient value because of low-heat processing coupled with the oil’s first pressing high phytonutrient content.
  • Big food companies sometimes use misleading terms like “pure olive oil,” which often signify a mix of unrefined and refined virgin olive oils.
  • Avoid extra-light olive oil. Companies love slapping this “light” term on foods because it plays into low-fat fears. These terms subtly suggest all fats are bad and make us fat, yet fats are not bad. Low-fat or “light” foods are typically highly refined and processed.


Coconut Oil

Quality coconut oil should be organic, virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined, and never deodorized or bleached.

Because it’s very stable, coconut oil becomes great for baking and medium-high heat cooking. We can cook with it, add it to meals when cooking meat, sauces and veggies, put it into our smoothies, stir it into hot beverages like tea or coffee, mix it into soups, stir in with nut butter, or just eat it right out of the jar by the spoon full.

Coconut oil contains an outstanding fatty acid profile and provides a great source of medium-chain triglycerides, which I’ve discussed in detail here. I also love coconut butter, such as in this smoothie recipe here.


Palm Oil

Palm oil is a vegetable oil pulled from the palm tree’s fruit. About 85 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia.

True, virgin, unrefined red palm oil is naturally reddish in color and comes loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Refined palm oil, on the other hand, is highly processed and loses its red color as well as its taste and health benefits.

I like red palm oil but avoid refined palm oil. Red palm oil or palm fruit is very nutritious. “Palm kernel oil” or crude oil is extremely processed and used as a food preservative in many popular foods, creating a huge demand for palm oil that has become completely unsustainable.

Look out for the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) label, which ensures the palm oil comes from sustainable sources that encompass social and environmental concerns.


5 Strategies for Buying Oils

We can choose the best-quality olive, coconut, red palm, or really any oil with these five strategies.


  1. Always choose organic, unrefined, cold-pressed, or expeller pressed. Those terms ensure we’re purchasing a quality, highly nutritious, sustainable product. Organic production prohibits genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and the use of hexanes for extraction in oils.
  2. Research the manufacturer. Ensure the product is truly cold-pressed and lives up to its claims and standards, for instance, and that the manufacturer is not using hexanes or other toxic solvents in the refining process.
  3. Choose oils in dark, not clear, bottles. Darkness protects the oil from direct sunlight exposure, which can create rancidity. Store the oil in a cool, dark place away from heat and light exposure such as cabinets or the fridge in airtight containers. Never store oils on kitchen counters or next to the stove.
  4. Always tightly close the lid after using. Oxygen can make oil quickly go rancid.
  5. Purchase the correct size and consume in the time recommended. Remember, oils tend to go bad after a span of a few months or years depending on the type of oil. Research shows, for instance, that even among properly stored olive oils, quality and health benefits decline after two months.


To learn more about the healthy oils and other fats that keep us lean and healthy, check out for my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin.

What are your favorite oils for drizzling, low-heat cooking, and medium-heat cooking? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.


Author: Dr. Mark Hyman

Image: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr

Editor: Emily Bartran


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About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues. Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.


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