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. Canola oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, olive oil… How do you choose from the endless list? I know it confused me when I first started cleaning up my diet.
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. You can also download a FREE Guide to The Uses and Benefits of Unrefined Oils at the end of the post.
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, extraction 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 are not compromised.
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 nutrition value of refined oils. Unrefined oils retain most of their natural nutrients at the end of the extraction process.
In general, unrefined oils are healthier than refined oils and are a better choice for a clean eating lifestyle! However, for the occasional deep-fried treat, unrefined oils don’t break down and can be better for cooking at very high temperatures.
Here are a few of my favorite brands of unrefined oils:
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 that use high temperatures such as deep frying or searing. Luckily, we don’t do a lot of deep-frying around here!
Unrefined oils have lower smoking points, which makes 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:
- 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 it is extra-virgin grade and a brand 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.
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 has been known to induce the production of pancreatic hormones and bile, both of which are essential for the smooth functioning of the digestive system.
I use EVOO for sauteing, as a marinade, drizzling on my salads, pesto, hummus, and in my homemade salad dressings.
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 is often used as a carrier oil for essential oils when applied topically, and is a great massage oil and is a common oil used in aromatherapy.
Bitter almond oil is excellent for cooking. It is known to contain antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itch properties.
Unrefined almond oils have a toasty, nutty, and buttery flavor. They are known to increase the level of healthy HDL cholesterol while lowering levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. Almond oil can improve liver health and immune function and can also help 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. It is known to reduce harmful cholesterol and increase useful and healthy cholesterol in the body.
Coconut oil is amazing for making DIY skin and hair care. Body moisturizer, makeup remover, body scrub, lip balm, and as a deep conditioner are some of mine and my daughter’s favorite ways to use it. Check out our DIY Coconut and Olive Oil Makeup Remover.
Coconut oil has an oily, creamy texture, and a rich buttery flavor and scent. Unrefined coconut oil is excellent to use in baked goods, spreads, and Asian-inspired dishes. It’s so yummy in my Homemade Peanut Butter Cups. 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 its 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 is a beautiful shade of emerald-green. I love using avocado oil to roast vegetables and when cooking dishes that require higher temperatures. It’s also great for making pesto, hummus, and salad dressing.
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 retain natural hair color and reduce hair loss. Additionally, the antibacterial properties of sesame oil can help to fight against pathogens that attack the scalp and/or hair.
Gargling with sesame oil may 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. Olive oil and coconut oil can also be used for oil pulling.
Toasted sesame oil has an amazing nutty flavor. I love using it in Asian dishes, salad dressings, and marinades. Be careful!- A little sesame oil goes a long way!
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. Unrefined oils retain their nutrients, flavor, and aroma and have fewer added chemicals than refined oils. In my opinion, food cooked with unrefined oil just tastes better and I am a big fan of using unrefined oils as part of skin and hair care!
Download your FREE Guide to The Uses and Benefits of Unrefined Oils.