Dr. Mark Hyman: How to Buy the Right Kinds of Olive, Coconut and Palm Oil
"I get so confused choosing the right oils and differentiating between different kinds of fats," writes this week's house call. "I watched a 60 Minutes episode that showed olive oil imported from Italy wasn't really olive oil. And the other day, I went to the supermarket to pick up coconut oil and it said palm oil on the back. How can I make sense about these healthy fats amidst the confusion and deception?"
Honestly, even among people “in the know," it can be a real challenge choosing the right kinds of fats and oils. Quality ultimately becomes key here. Fortunately, you can find a ton of helpful resources to navigate through the confusion in my new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin.
In his book Extra 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.
In fact, one study demonstrated about 69 percent of olive oil imported and labeled “extra-virgin" failed to meet standards in an expert smell and taste test (standard testing for this type of labeling). That's outrageous! When it comes to olive oil (or really, any oil), you have to do your research and pick the right ones.
While most oils are refined, olive oil is one of the few oils we still consume mostly unprocessed.
Here is what I look for when choosing olive oil:
- Always choose extra-virgin, which is the oil that is derived from the first pressing of the olives. This version of the oil contains many nutrients (such as polyphenos) that protect it from heat damage. One study compared the anti-inflammatory power from the oil resulting from the first pressing of olives with that of later pressings. Researchers found extra-virgin olive oil lowered inflammation, while oil from later pressings did not.
- Choose unfiltered. Unfiltered olive oil will appear to be cloudy because it contains naturally occurring elements like antioxidants and buffer acids which protect against oxidative damage.
- Also look for cold-pressed olive oil, which means manufacturers use very little heat when 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.
- Be aware of misleading claims by big food companies who throw around misleading terms like “pure olive oil." These somewhat misleading phrases, which are aimed for your wallet more than your health, often signify a mix of unrefined and refined virgin olive oils.
- Also avoid extra-light olive oil. Companies love slapping this “light" term on foods because it plays into your low-fat fears. These terms subtly suggest all fats are bad and make you fat, yet if you've read my books or blogs you know fats are not bad. Low-fat or “light" foods are typically highly refined and processed. Remember, nothing in nature comes in “low-fat" form.
Other tips to get the best out of your olive oil…
Storage is important because heat and other factors can trigger oxidation and other problems. Always store olive oil in a dark, cool place. Keep it sealed tight and out of direct sunlight or away from other heat sources like near the stove.
Use olive oil within one to two months once you open it for optimal health benefits. Research shows quality and health benefits decline after two months, even among properly stored olive oils. I love to use olive oil for low-heat cooking, dressings salads or drizzled over veggies, meat and fish. Some people take two tablespoons before meals to help with digestive health.
I have discovered coconut oil and love it because of its it medium-chain triglycerides, a beneficial fat that can speed up metabolism and convert to energy quickly in your body. I discuss this in more in this recent blog.
Always choose coconut oil that is organic, virgin, cold-pressed and unrefined. And avoid products that are deodorized or bleached.
Coconut oil is one of the most versatile oils you can own. Because it's very stable, you can bake with it and use it when cooking meat, veggies and sauces over medium-high heat. You can put it into your 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.
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.
It is important to note that most palm oil in our food supply is “conflict palm oil" that involves deforestation, disruption of ecosystems and human rights violations. These versions are by Big Food companies.
All that said, I do like unrefined red palm oil because of its nutritional value.
When choosing palm oil, the color of the oil is important. 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. Only buy products with sustainable palm oil. Look for the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) label.
Avoid “palm kernel oil," refined palm oil or crude oil—all of which is extremely processed. Palm oil can be listed under many names, including palmitate, glyceryl stearate and palm kernel oil.
Six Strategies for Buying Oils
The next time you purchase olive oil, coconut oil, red palm oil or really any other type of oil, consider these six strategies.
1. Always choose organic, unrefined, cold-pressed or expeller pressed. These terms ensure you're purchasing a quality, highly nutritious and sustainable product. Organic production prohibits genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and the use of toxic solvents (such as hexanes) for extraction in oils.
2. If possible, check out the company directly. Ensure the product is truly cold-pressed and lives up to its claims and standards and that the manufacturer does not use toxic solvents in the refining process. Check out websites and don't hesitate to email or call them with any concerns.
3. Choose oils in dark, not clear bottles. The dark color helps protect the oil from direct sunlight exposure, which can cause it to go rancid. 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 go rancid quickly.
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. Those mega-store gargantuan containers, aren't such a great buy if you don't use the oil that often.
6. Choose the right oil for the job. Because different oils have different smoke points, it's important to choose the right oil for the task at hand. Here are the temperatures at which some of the more popular oils reach their smoke points (lowest to highest):
- Sunflower oil, unrefined: 225 F
- Red Palm Oil: 302 F
- Walnut oil, Unrefined: 320 F
- Coconut oil unrefined: 350 F
- Extra-virgin olive oil: 375 F
- Macadamia oil: 413 F
- Almond oil: 420 F
- Hazelnut oil: 430 F
- Avocado oil: 520 F
My Top Picks
Readers and patients often ask for my favorite oil brands, so here are my top picks for my favorite go to's.
I've included a link to olive oil expert Tom Mueller's picks for the best quality and best-priced brands here.
Armed with these strategies, you can feel confident you're buying not only quality oils but also the right oils. To learn more about oils and other fats that keep you lean and healthy, check out for my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin.
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Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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