Not all butter and oil is created equal.

Does shopping for butter and oil make you feel like you're trying to decipher hieroglyphics? We get it! When we first decided to take the real food plunge, we strolled down the butter and oil aisle and we each scratched our head thinking, "What in the world in a buttery spread?" "Are vegetable oils good for us because they say vegetable?" "What's the difference between extra virgin olive oil and plain old olive oil?" "Are these oils highly processed?"

With all the terms and crazy jargon, it's easy to see why many of us find shopping for (and using) butter and oil downright confusing. The key to getting back to a traditional way of eating (the way that nourished healthy families for thousands of years) is to choose ingredients, or products made with ingredients, that are as close to their natural state as possible. Think: minimally processed or unrefined.

So you don't have to stroll down the grocery store aisles scratching your head like we did, we've come up with a few simple tips to sourcing real fats, butters and oils.

A quick note on industrialized foods and how they've created an addiction to fat

Fat is one of the three tastes (sugar, fat, salt) that most people develop cravings for. But, why do we crave fat? Well, for starters, it tastes good. But, if we break it down from a scientific standpoint, foods rich in fat interact with our saliva and trigger the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that makes us feel good. Experts further explain that because our brains are wired to enjoy things that make us happy, when there's an increase in our feel-good dopamine, we're triggered to want more despite knowing there may be negative consequences later... who doesn't love instant gratification?

What if you found that your favorite processed foods from the store (even many of the seemingly "healthy" ones) are explicitly engineered to be addictive? Would knowing that they're deliberately designed to get you hooked, even if it's at the expense of your health and weight, change your opinions of them?

Manufacturers conduct research specifically to determine which foods tempt consumers' taste buds the most. They spend BILLIONS of dollars to create the perfect balance of sugar, fat and salt in every bite, ensuring that we'll come back for more. It doesn't help that these highly processed foods, which are often rich in fat, are so easily accessible.

These foods and snacks fill vending machines, snack bars and are located near the check-out aisles in grocery stores. It makes it almost impossible to ignore the temptation and natural craving for these fatty foods. This is yet another reason why we decided to make the switch to a real food lifestyle and ditch ultra-processed foods, and why we encourage you to do the same.

What should you steer clear of when it comes to fats, butters and oils?

Butter

  • Avoid buttery spreads made with vegetable oils, even if it's labeled as a natural buttery spread.
  • Avoid butter substitutes, such as margarine.
  • Avoid items that list hydrogenated ingredients/fats on the label.
  • Avoid items that list trans fats on the label.

Oil

Have you ever looked into the process of how canola, vegetable or other oils commonly referred to as “vegetable oils” are made? These oils are refined and processed (most of them with chemicals or solvents), which means they not only lack flavor, but also nutrients.

  • Avoid canola oil.
  • Avoid vegetable oils: soy, corn, safflower, canola or cottonseed.
  • Avoid items that list hydrogenated ingredients/fats on the label.
  • Avoid items that list trans fats on the label.
  • Avoid refined oils.

So, what’s okay to eat when it comes to healthy fats, butters and oils?

  • Lightly salted or unsalted butter containing only the ingredients cream and salt
  • Virgin and/or unrefined oils, such as coconut oil or olive oil

Some of our favorite healthy fats, butters and oils for you to try

  • 100% grass-fed, lightly salted or unsalted butter
  • 100% cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • Unrefined, cold-pressed, 100% virgin coconut oil
  • 100% cold-pressed toasted nut and seed oils
  • Unrefined, cold-pressed, 100% pure virgin avocado oil

Cooking temperatures

Which oil is right for you? That depends largely on the type of cooking you're doing. Think about what you're making (and how you're using it). An oil's smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and smoke and, therefore, begins to lose flavor and nutritional value, is one of the most important things to consider.

Are you...?

  • drizzling
  • dipping
  • making a marinade
  • concocting a salad dressing
  • making cold salads (bruschetta, potato salad, pasta salad, quinoa salad)
  • roasting
  • baking
  • grilling

Some oils, like coconut oil, have a high smoke point and can be heated to high temperatures without losing flavor and nutritional value. Unfortunately, other oils, like virgin olive oil, burn at high temperatures and lose the nutritional benefits (like all those amazing antioxidants).

These oils have a higher smoke point and are stable to cook with at medium to high temperatures:

  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil

These butters and oils have a lower smoke point and should be used to cook with at a lower temperature: 

  • Butter
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Toasted nut and seed oils (extremely low smoke point)

Oils with a low smoke point are great for cold dishes, such as our Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.

Where to find your fats, butters and oils

  • Locally produced butter is recommended when possible. This may be found at a local farmers' market.
  • A reputable oil and balsamic taproom is a great place to purchase oils. You can taste test and try a variety of strengths and infusions. Some of our favorite infused oils are cayenne infused, basil infused and garlic infused. Search online for local oil and balsamic taprooms. 
  • When you can’t buy local, check the labels and look into organic products.

Substitutions that we LOVE

  • Pumpkin puree and applesauce with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners can be an awesome substitute for oil or butter in recipes.
    • When we make homemade brownies, we use applesauce or pumpkin rather than oil or butter. They're slightly more dense, but are absolutely delicious!!
  • Plain Greek yogurt is another great alternative to cut back on oil or butter in certain recipes, such as in Zucchini Bread.

A few fun facts...

  • Don’t worry non-coconut lovers, coconut oil doesn’t leave your food with a strong coco-nutty flavor. What’s the harm in trying?
  • Store cooking oils in a cool, dark cupboard or the refrigerator so heat and light don't degrade the taste and quality.
  • Healthy fats can help with the absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

Simplifying the transition

When creating your weekly grocery list, add one or two real food ingredients (such as healthy fats, butters and oils) needed to make your favorite meals. By slowly replacing processed ingredients with healthier versions, the transition will feel natural. You'll learn to cook with and start relying more on those ingredients.

You can easily do this with butters and oils in two simple steps:

  1. Take inventory and remove all buttery spreads and butter substitutes from your refrigerator. Replace them with lightly salted or unsalted butter containing only the ingredients cream and salt.
  2. Make sure you are using cold-pressed, 100% virgin and/or unrefined oils to cook with. Refer to the list above for different options.