Birke Reports – Don’t Let Cooking Oils Fool You

Thank you for following along with my travels on Facebook… I’ll be back soon, but in the meantime I have a special guest post from one of the most inspirational people I met this year – 13 year old – local food and organic farming advocate – Birke Baehr. If this is the first time you are learning about Birke – you’ve got to check out his TED Talk and his new book “Birke On the Farm” – especially if you have kids. I am super proud to call him one of my friends and who knows he might just become a regular around here…so watch out, he’s a firecracker!


First of all, I’d like to thank Food Babe for inviting me to be a guest on her blog, I’m very excited! We have been talking about working together and I really like hearing about her ideas and recent adventures.

I’d like to start by sharing with you a certain line of products that have popped up in my local “healthy” supermarket. The day after Christmas I was shopping and noticed a large display in the middle of the aisle. Spectrum, a well known brand of organic oils and cooking products has introduced some new products. My family has bought Spectrum coconut oil and some of their other organic oils because they have such an extensive line of organic products. But, what caught my eye that day was this whole new line of products they have introduced. They’re canola oil blends and it seems that they have mixed non-organic canola oil with coconut, peanut, and olive oil just to name a few.

Birke

Now for those of you who don’t know canola oil is…

“It is widely recognized as the healthiest salad and cooking oil available to consumers.” (But it is not!) It was developed through hybridization of rapeseed. Rapeseed oil is toxic because it contains significant amounts of a poisonous substance called erucic acid. Although canola oil contains only trace amounts of erucic acid it is also one of the top 4 genetically modified crops. You can read more about the history of canola and how it is a big con here.

Spectrum is owned by Hain-Celestial Group; which probably has the largest conglomerate of well known organic brands such as: Arrowhead Mills, Celestial Seasonings, Rice, Soy, and Almond Dream, and the Garden of Eatin’ just to name a few. In 1999 the H.J. Heinz Corporation bought 19.5% of the company but then sold their stock in 2005.

During the Prop 37 GMO labeling campaign the Hain-Celestial Group sent out a press release stating that that, “The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., a leading natural and organic products company, today publicly announced its endorsement of the mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in accordance with international standards, citing its long compliance with those requirements adopted in Europe and other international markets.” They also donated $25,000 towards YES on GMO labeling. On the other hand the former owner of almost one fifth of the company H.J. Heinz Corporation gave more than $450,000 against labeling.

Olive Oil Spectrum

After learning a lot about their stance of GM foods Spectrum seems to be very supportive on labeling. In fact, I discovered that they are a part of the Non-GMO Verified project. Yet, I also find it very interesting that they haven’t done a press release on their new line of products nor are they featured on the Spectrum website. Since canola is one of the top GMO crops, something is really bothering me about these canola blends. Hopefully we will hear more on these new products and my concerns will be addressed. I don’t want to condemn this company; only shed light on these new products and their history and leave it up to you to make the decision.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Also if you are wondering…you can check out Food Babe’s three favorite cooking oils here -


More About Birke Baehr -

An Internationally recognized speaker and youth advocate for sustainable food and agriculture, Birke has visited and volunteered at farms around the United States and recently published his first book, “Birke On The Farm“. Birke has spent the last four years traveling around the United States and Italy visiting organic farms and learning from the farmers who steward those farms. He has attended numerous organic agriculture seminars and workshops; including one with renowned farmer and author, Joel Salatin who Birke looks up to in his pursuit of new thinking about food and agriculture. Birke continues to educate himself in this genre and intends to be a sustainable organic agriculturist in the future. He has a passion for educating others, especially his peers, about the destructiveness of the industrialized food system and the enlightening alternatives of sustainable and organic farming, food and practices. You can follow Birke on Facebook and Twitter.

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46 Responses to “Birke Reports – Don’t Let Cooking Oils Fool You”

  1. Leena

    My favorite cooking oil is nutiva’s coconut oil. Foodbabe, what do you think about ghee purchased from Indian stores? Safe to consume?

    Reply
  2. Melissa @ My Whole Food Life

    This is a great post! I have heard a few things myself about these oil “blends”. My favorite oils are organic toasted sesame, organic walnut and organic coconut oil. Thanks for spilling the brand on canola oil. Many people still believe it is healthy.

    Reply
  3. SHERRY MCKINNEY

    Thanks for a great article. So glad young people are “getting on board” with the GMO because you are the ones that can change things for us all! So, is all canola oil, even if listed as organic, really GMO?”

    Reply
    • Brittany Ardito (to SHERRY MCKINNEY)

      I wouldn’t eat canola oil even if it is organic because it is still an unhealthy oil with unhealthy properties (as Birke mentioned above), even if it is not genetically modified.

      Reply
    • JasonMChicago (to SHERRY MCKINNEY)

      I wouldn’t eat canola because it is toxic (organic or not!). Best oil bet is coconut oil. Period end of story. Good brands are Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva, and a few others.

      Reply
  4. Amy Beahm

    What oil do you use for baking? I tried melting Nutiva’s Coconut oil, but then it clumped back together when I mixed it with the dry ingredients in my recipe.

    Reply
    • Juliet (to Amy Beahm)

      I second what Amy said. I have the same problem about already melted coconut oil solidifying even when kept other ingredients at room temperature to avoid the problem.

      What do you think about “Liquid coconut oil” by Nature’s way? http://www.naturesway.com/Products/Essential-Fatty-Acids-EFAs/15857-Liquid-Coconut-Premium-Oil.aspx

      Though they have an organic semi-solid version of coconut oil, this liquid coconut oil isn’t organic though it’s non-gmo.

      Reply
      • Nathan (to Juliet)

        We use Spectrum’s Coconut oil in our pancake mix and we had this problem as well until we tried refrigerating the oil before we put it into the mix. Once we did this it no longer clumped together. Give it a try.

    • Brittany Ardito (to Amy Beahm)

      Coconut oil works fine with baking. Even if it does start to solidify after melting it down, the product will turn out fine when it comes out of the oven because it will melt back down in the oven. If it still bothers you, you can use real, organic butter from grassfed cows. You can also try palm oil which is the same family as coconut oil and is not damaged by heat.

      Reply
      • Dan (to Brittany Ardito)

        Palm oil is however HORRENDOUS for the environment and endangered species. Huge areas of ancient rainforest are being cleared daily to grow this crop and indigenous wildlife such as orangutans are being killed and displaced. Google it and see for yourself. AVOID PALM OIL!

      • Leslie (to Brittany Ardito)

        Yes, the majority of companies don’t give a crap how they get the palm oil and it’s devastating to the environment. However, Nutiva says theirs is sourced from organic farmers, does not harm the environment and It’s Fair Trade. Take their word for what it’s worth but Foodbabe endorses them.

    • ski (to Amy Beahm)

      Coconut oil will solidify at 74 degrees. Make sure ALL the ingrediants are aboue that temp or it will get hard.

      Reply
  5. Amy@TwoBGardening

    Thanks for the info. It’s hard to trust big companies, seems like they are out to fatten their own wallets. Love reading Food Babe’s blog and hearing from Birke. Keep up the good work :)

    Reply
  6. Brittani

    I haven’t had any issues when I use it for baking. I melt it down and add it to my wet ingredients then add the dry ingredients. I use it in pancakes and all of my baking.

    Reply
  7. silvia alvarez

    i know canola oil is toxic to our bodies….why would they blend it with good oils, is it to make us think it becomes healthy when its mix….?????

    Reply
    • -joshua! (to silvia alvarez)

      As long as Americans are striving to be Conspicuous Consumers (constantly buying bigger, better, faster computers, phones, tv’s cars, houses, and other such stuff) then low cost food is always going to be in demand.

      The general public still thinks that canola is a GOOD oil thanks to the marketing efforts from special interests and it is cheap–at least cheaper than to most other [healthy] oils. Blends, therefore, are perceived as a healthy affordable alternative to more expensive oils.

      Reply
      • Jamie (to -joshua!)

        Joshua, that’s probably the best way I’ve heard the general public explained. You’re completely right on why this blend would even be developed, it’ll be perceived as healthy by people that aren’t educated on the subject or think eating truly healthy is too expensive and they will purchase it, especially when it’s sold by in a “health” food store by a pretty well respected brand. Sadly, perception, not education on a product is enough for some people to make a purchase decision.

  8. Brittany Ardito

    What a great article. Birke, you are such a great role model and someone for our country’s youth to look up to. Such knowledge for a 13 year old! I am impressed :-)

    Reply
  9. Eco Mama

    You need to take over Vilsak’s job at the Dpt. of Agriculture, Birke. I think you’d be much better for the job! You’re an excellent presence and role model for kids and adults, love what you are doing!

    Reply
  10. steven hong

    Great info Birke! I don’t use Spectrum oils. But it is interesting that they are trying to make a positive spin on something that is already known as being bad (canola).

    I use coconut oil for almost everything. I purchase mine at Costco. It is Carrington Farms unrefined, cold pressed, organic, extra virgin, coconut oil. It does impart some flavor which can be beneficial in most instances. It is especially good with popcorn.

    As far as coconut oil clumping back up, if the recipe calls for water, i also heat the water up. This really helps in keeping the oil liquid.

    Reply
  11. The Dixie Dish

    Super informative post here, Birke! Thank you and I look forward to reading more.

    Reply
  12. -joshua!

    As long as there are millions (billions?) of dollars at stake in a product’s success, the spin factories will do whatever they can to ensure a positive perception. Since Canola is billed as “Canada’s greatest agricultural success story” you can expect the BS masters to be working double duty.

    Reply
  13. Sarah

    I was just wondering what the reasoning behind using coconut oil is. I do not understand this fad. Coconut oil has more saturated fat than olive oil or safflower oil.

    Reply
    • Food Babe (to Sarah)

      It’s not a fad – it’s been used for centuries in asia and other countries. It is made up of medium chain fatty acids – that actually help fat to release from your liver – improving your metabolism. It’s amazing and I’m not the only one who recommends it.

      Reply
    • Ron (to Sarah)

      It is not the saturated fat that is the problem, it is the type of saturated fat that you need to do some research. Coconut oil is a MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride).

      Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fats with an unusual chemical structure that allows the body to digest them easily. Most fats are broken down in the intestine and remade into a special form that can be transported in the blood. But MCTs are absorbed intact and taken to the liver, where they are used directly for energy. In this sense, they are processed very similarly to carbohydrates.
      source: (http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21809)

      Reply
      • Sarah (to Ron)

        Thanks Ron for a scientific response with a reference. Glad to have someone give a response to my question finally without the answer being straight opinion.

  14. michalle

    somebody mentioned palm oil… I thought it was the most toxic kind of oil. I only use sesame olive oil. I am trying to use coconut for high heat and baking for my family of 9. but its hard for us to get used to. what is the next best oil for that? is palm an option?

    Reply
  15. Beth Wade

    Great Article! You are a very unique teenage boy! I only use EVOO first cold pressed & organic virgin coconut oil, and organic unsalted butter!

    Reply
  16. Kait Austin

    Great post! Eye-opening! Thanks, Birke!

    Reply
  17. Kris k

    Teeny little problem with coconut oil….no stir fry. It’s smoke point is too low for high temp flash cooking. Peanut oil is my choice

    Reply
  18. Peggy G

    I have tried using coconut oil more, but what can I use if I don’t like the strong coconut taste? What else can I use for baking?

    Reply
    • Brody (to Peggy G)

      I always use butter in baking – I think in a lot of cases, butter can be substituted for oil.
      Or you could try olive oil – depending on how much you need to use, there may be a slight olive oil taste to it.

      Reply
  19. Sherra Kinder

    Thanks Vani for sharing Birke’s great article! It is good to know the motives and how much companies are willing to invest towards positive eating for all Americans. The amounts donated toward each campaign, either for or against, is quite different from the other. I appreciate also knowing that this company is on the fence and I will be sure to continue to read labels to make sure they don’t change what I typically use from them that has been gmo free. Thanks bunches!!! You are indeed an inspiration!!!! Sherra in TN

    Reply
  20. Kristy

    I am just learning about the health benefits of coconut oil and in my searches I, of course, have come across conflicting information. What do you think about the following information? I don’t know what to believe anymore.

    Researchers from the Heart Research Institute in Australia studied the body response from eating meals containing good fats versus bad fats. Participants were fed with meals prepared with either coconut oil (high in “bad” saturated fats) or safflower oil (high in “good” polyunsaturated fats). After only 3 hours, researchers found the participants fed with the coconut meal high in saturated fat had a significantly reduced blood flow due to arteries’ reduced ability to expand. After 6 hours, researchers found that the good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol’s anti-inflammatory properties had decreased after the saturated coconut meal, but improved after the polyunsaturated safflower meal. The results of this study were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in August 2006.

    Reply
    • Assistant to Food Babe (Krista) (to Kristy)

      Hi Kristy – You can find conflicting information on almost any topic. Food Babe is a huge advocate for coconut oil and we believe that it is incredible for your health.

      Reply
      • Tarun (to Assistant to Food Babe (Krista))

        For hundreds of years scientists believed that Earth was flat. Gladly, we believe in Science and new scientific research proved that Earth is not flat. This whole blog is based on credibility that you are doing research and making a conclusion from that. When you simply reply to a user, who is stating a “scientific research”, by what foodbabe “believes” in and illogical argument such as “you can always find conflicting information”, people see through that. I am one example. The moment I saw your reply, I completely disregarded this article and question the intentions of your “beliefs”, which seems to be focused on making money and you believe if you admit you are wrong you will lose people’s trust.

        I understand its hard for you to question what you have supported in the past. I suggest you reference the research studies you used to come up to the conclusion. Once new studies are done conclusions can be changed and that’s a good thing. Otherwise we will still be believing Earth is flat.

  21. Marina

    Hey guys what is your opinion about olive oil? I’m a high consumer… thanks!

    Reply
    • Lauren (to Marina)

      Yes I would like to know about this also! I use a good bit of olive oil in cooking but Food Babe does not discuss this (that I can find)! Thank you!

      Reply
  22. Kristin

    What is the best oil for frying? I realize frying isn’t a healthy way to cook, but my husband is Puerto Rican, so every now and then we have to fry some plantains. I’d love to know what kind of oil would be best for this!

    Reply
  23. Anurag Mehrotra

    We cook with the following three fats: ghee, mustard oil and peanut oil. What are your views on these three oils for cooking. Could you suggest some safe brands available in the US for the same.

    Thank you

    Reply
  24. Laurin

    Dear FoodBabe,

    Thanks for this report. I have known Canola oil is not healthy for a long time but whenever I go to the health food store, their products are loaded with the stuff. Even more infuriating is when they have a label that says something like Safflower and or Canola Oil.

    Could you do a story on the fake health foods in our stores? I don’t buy very many processed foods, but every now and then I need to get a bar, crackers, etc. and it’s so hard to find anything with truly good ingredients in the health food store. No one holds them accountable…. and they keep spreading the misinformation by pushing their products as healthy.

    Reply
  25. Eva

    Dear Food Babe,

    I am confused about coconut oil, so many conflicting views. If you have the time, I’d be interested to know what you think about this article that I have just found.
    http://www.jeffnovick.com/RD/Articles/Entries/2008/4/10_Marketing_Junk_Food__Dont_Go_Cuckoo_Over_Coconut_Oil.html
    Your fan
    Eva

    Reply
  26. Sally

    Please share your views on Avocado Oil. Thank you!

    Reply
  27. Emma Kiana

    Hi all,

    I also could find nothing about olive oil, peanut oil. I always just used olive oil and Smart Balance in a pinch. I have no clue if Smart Balance is even safe to eat and until recently stopped using those no-cook cooking sprays.

    I am trying to lose weight and know that too much of a good thing (oil in general) is not a good thing. I see advertised on tv, pans that proclaim that you need no oil to stir fry or make an omelet. Are these pans safe to use? And if not, are there alternate stir fry, omelets… methods to control oil intake in general? Oh, and best pan to use!

    Dazed and confused

    Reply

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