Paradoxical situations: A conscious cooking oil primer

“Which cooking oils should you choose if you want healthy options that don’t also happen to orphan baby  orangutans ?”

“Which cooking oils should you choose if you want healthy options that don’t also happen to orphan baby orangutans?”

Each week we look for topics that spark some interest and allow for a kick off point to research on your own.  

This week I’m afraid we pulled on the thread of an idea and have not found a reasonable conclusion.  Any hope for a clear or concise answer has already started to unravel.

Prompted by the plethora of brands and varieties combined with echoes of headlines and the “results of the latest study show…”.  The question seemed fairly simple to answer:

“Which cooking oils should you choose if you want healthy options that don’t also happen to orphan baby orangutans?”

Many consumers have stopped using canola oil (GMOs and other ideas) and palm oil (deforestation). But what about the others?  

Here’s a brief look at the cooking use, health benefits, and environmental and social considerations for some of the most common cooking oils.

Olive Oil

Cooking  Use extra virgin for drizzling, light olive oil for low-heat cooking.
Health  High in oleic acid, believed to reduce inflammation and help fight cancer and heart disease.
Enviro/Social  Large-scale non-organic farming causes soil erosion and puts stress on water resources, especially in southern Europe.

Vegetable Oil

Cooking  Neutral flavor that’s good for high-heat cooking and frying.
Health  High in trans fats. May provide too much Omega-6, contributing to inflammation.
Enviro/Social  Vegetable oil spills damage animal life and water oxygen levels, similar to petroleum spills.  Spilling 300,000 gallons of anything is likely to have an environmental effect.  Vegetable oil may have the least negative impact when produced and handled correctly.

Grapeseed Oil

Cooking  Neutral flavor makes it a good all-purpose cooking oil.
Health  Studies suggest anticancer and cardioprotective properties.
Enviro/Social  Sustainable byproduct of the winemaking industry.  Look for “cold pressed” or “expeller pressed” versions.  Chemical extraction methods use hexane and other chemicals

Coconut Oil

Cooking  Distinct tropical flavor. Good for baking and sautéing.
Health  High in healthy fats and hailed for its antimicrobial properties.
Enviro/Social  Many farmers live in poverty despite the booming international market.  Your best option is to look for fair trade certified products.

Avocado Oil

Cooking  Neutral flavor makes it a good all-around oil for medium- to high-heat cooking.
Health  High in vitamin E and oleic acid. May strengthen the immune system and benefit skin and eyes.
Enviro/Social  Growing operations strain water resources. Much of Mexico’s avocado production contributes to deforestation and is controlled by a drug cartel.

As with many foods, the best way to ensure quality and ethics in your pantry is to source products carefully. Look for small-scale, fair trade, organic oils and enjoy cooking with products that contribute to the well-being of everyone.

We will continue to add information to the references and listing below.  If you have a question or feel like we missed something please leave us a comment.



PBS-How avocado mania drives climate change and crime

The Guardian-Can hipsters stomach the unpalatable truth about avocado toast?

Both of the above cite this article from Vocativ-“Blood Avocados”: The Dark Side of Your Guacamole

Daily Kos-Avocados and the Mexican Drug Cartels

Coconut Oil

Ethical Consumer-Cracking the coconut industry

The Guardian-Coconut water: how its popularity has affected the supply chain

Harvard Health-Harvard Health Letter Ask the doctor: Coconut oil

Fair Trade-Fair Trade USA Launches Fair Trade Certified™ Coconuts

Grape seed oil

NCBI-Grape Seed Oil Compounds: Biological and Chemical Actions for Health

Olive Oil

International Co-operative Alliance-Reversing the Hidden Environmental Costs of Olive Oil

Vegetable Oil

EPA-Vegetable Oils and Animal Fats

NOAA-Recipes for Disaster: Cleaning up After Food Spills

University of St Louis-Vegetable oil spills hurt environment, too