What is the difference between unrefined and refined oils? Which oils are better for your health? There are so many cooking oils on the market that it is easy to be confused. I know I was when I first started cleaning up my diet. For example, there is canola oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, vegetable, olive oil, and countless others.
How do you choose from the endless list? I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the differences between unrefined and refined oils, the best uses of unrefined oils, and the health benefits of using unrefined oils.
Understanding Refined and Unrefined Oils
Basically, oils are divided into two main categories: refined and unrefined. Refined oils are extracted using heat. This technique speeds up the process of oil extraction and also results in more oil. However, extracting using heat also results in considerable loss of natural nutrients and loss of aroma and flavor.
The heat-extracted oil is then treated with various chemicals and subjected to deodorizing and bleaching processes. Sounds yummy! These chemical-based processes take away most of the nutrients from refined oils, leaving a quality-compromised product for the consumers. Another thing to be aware of is that many refined oils come from GMO crops.
Refined oils contain a large amount of omega-6 fatty acids. Because so much of our food is processed with refined oils, we are getting too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. This causes an imbalance in our bodies which can lead to chronic inflammation.
Unrefined oils also referred to as cold-pressed oils, are extracted using pressure, not heat. This technique results in most of the natural nutrients remaining intact. The parts of the plant from which the oils are extracted are pressed between two plates to release the natural oils ensuring the aroma and flavor is not compromised in the process.
The primary differences between refined and unrefined oils are:
- Refined oils are extracted using heat, whereas unrefined oils are extracted mechanically with no heat from an external source. The only heat is through the friction that takes place during the mechanical process, which is minimal.
- Unrefined oils have a pronounced flavor, color, and smell as compared to refined oils, which typically have neutral flavors and colors.
- Refined oils lose a lot of nutrients when high heat is applied for their extraction. The chemicals used for the deodorizing and bleaching processes also reduce the nutritive quality of refined oils. Unrefined oils retain most of their natural nutrients at the end of the extraction process.
Therefore, in general, unrefined oils are not just healthier than refined oils but also pack an extra nutritional punch for you and your family.
Examples of unrefined oils are:
Examples of refined oils are:
- Rice bran oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Soya oil
- Vegetable oil
- Grapeseed oil
Understanding Smoking Points of Oils
Another important element of any oil is its smoking point. The smoking point is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke, and it starts to break down. When oils break down, the nutrients, as well as the flavor, get affected.
Refined oils tend to have higher smoking points which make them better suited for cooking techniques which use high temperatures such as deep frying or searing. Luckily, we don’t do much deep frying around here!
On the other hand, unrefined oils have lower smoking points, which make them a poor choice for deep frying. However, they are an excellent choice for dishes where the cooking temperature is not very high. If you need to cook something at a higher temperature, avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee are suitable unrefined oils for cooking at medium-high heat.
The Healthiest Unrefined Oils for Cooking, Skin, and Overall Health
Olive Oil – There are different grades of olive oil, and not all of them are unrefined oils. For example:
- The extra-virgin olive oil is the purest form of unrefined oil, obtained from the first pressing with the least amount of processing.
- The virgin olive oil grade is obtained from the second pressing.
- The pure olive oil grade undergoes a lot of refining and filtering processes.
- The extra light olive oil grade is subject to rigorous processing leaving only a very slight olive flavor in it.
When choosing your olive oil make sure that it is extra-virgin grade and a brand that you trust. Extra-virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants and loaded with vitamins. It is an excellent moisturizer for the skin and stimulates cell repair to give you firm, smooth skin.
From the point of view of health, extra-virgin olive oil offers protection against heart diseases by improving healthy cholesterol and reducing harmful cholesterol. Also, extra-virgin olive oil is very easy on the stomach and is an excellent protective shield for people with chronic gastritis issues such as ulcers.
In fact, direct consumption of extra-virgin olive oil is known to induce the production of pancreatic hormones and bile, both of which are essential for the smooth functioning of the digestive system.
Almond Oil – Although almonds are native to hot, tropical climates, they can be grown in a variety of other climatic conditions in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. There are two types of almond oils. Some are extracted from sweet almonds and some are extracted from bitter almonds.
Sweet almond oil – Made from sweet almonds, this oil is used as a carrier oil to enhance the safety of other essential oils for skin application. It is also used as a carrier oil to deliver other drugs and compounds. Sweet almond oil is also a great massage oil and is a common oil used in aromatherapy.
Bitter almond oil – Extracted from bitter almonds, this oil is excellent for cooking. It’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itch properties are some of the proven benefits of bitter almond oil.
Unrefined almond oils have a toasty, nutty, and buttery flavor, and are known to increase the level of healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Almond oil improves liver health and immune function and also helps in reducing irritable bowel syndrome.
Coconut Oil – At room temperature, coconut oil is white and solid, and when warmed and melted, it is clear. Virgin (another word used to describe unrefined oils) coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Coconut oil is known to reduce harmful cholesterol and increase useful and healthy cholesterol in the body. It has an oily, creamy texture, and a rich buttery flavor and scent.
Unrefined coconut oil is excellent to use in baked goods, spreads, and in Asian-inspired dishes. Use in salad dressings is not recommended since, as mentioned above, it becomes a solid at room temperature.
Avocado Oil – Avocados are unique fruits because, unlike many other fruits we know, it is rich in healthy fats. The health benefits of unrefined avocado oil come from these healthy fats and high antioxidants content. Oleic acid, one of the healthiest forms of fats, is the most abundant fatty acid found in avocado oil. Avocado is rich in lutein, an antioxidant that is highly beneficial for the eyes.
Avocado oil is an excellent natural moisturizer. Apply it directly on chapped skin or you can mix it with your favorite body lotion. It has multiple anti-aging benefits and offers great nourishment for your skin.
Unrefined avocado oil has a buttery, grassy flavor, and has a beautiful shade of emerald-green. You can use avocado oils to make your pesto, hummus, as a salad dressing, and pep up the flavor of your dishes.
Sesame Oil – Also referred to as gingelly oil, sesame oil is extracted from sesame seeds. There are a variety of pressing techniques used to extract unrefined sesame oil. It is rich in Vitamin K and Vitamin E and multiple other organic compounds beneficial for our health.
Studies have proven that sesame oil can help in the management of blood glucose levels and also helps in controlling high blood pressure. Sesame oil is rich in zinc, which is a vital component for healthy skin. This wonder oil has been used for ages to improve hair health.
Gingelly oil is known to help in retaining the natural hair color, and also reduces hair loss considerably. Additionally, the antibacterial properties of sesame oil help to fight against pathogens that attack the scalp and/or hair.
The abundance of calcium and copper in sesame seeds is the reason why sesame oil is excellent for bone health. Sesame oil is also known to facilitate the regrowth and healing of bones.
And finally, gargling with sesame oil can help in the whitening of teeth and reduce the incidence of dental problems. Some dentists recommend a treatment called oil pulling with sesame oil for healthy and shiny teeth. Put some sesame oil into your mouth and swish it around for a minute or two. Then spit it out. This is known to be an excellent form of daily dental care.
Many of the oils mentioned in this article are available both in refined and unrefined forms. It’s important to read the labels carefully to ensure that you are purchasing the correct product. Also, be aware that many processed products contain various types of refined oils.
Unrefined oils are definitely healthier than refined oils. The extraction process used for unrefined oils leaves the product as close to its natural form as possible. They retain the nutrients and flavor and aroma more than refined oils. They also have fewer added chemicals than refined oils.
In my opinion, food cooked with unrefined oil just tastes better. My challenge to you is to use more unrefined oils in your day to day cooking and share this info with your friends. I think you’ll agree with me that the food tastes better and you’re also getting greater health benefits.