The Great Food Revolution of 2012: Learning to read labels and eliminating hydrogenated oils

by Melody on May 31, 2012

Welcome to the Great Food Revolution of 2012.  You can read more about where our food journey started and resources we have used along the way to make our decisions.

Getting rid of the fake stuff and reading labels

This was basically where we started.  Without having a clue what most of the labels meant on our food, we just slowly tried to get rid of the packaged, boxed and processed food we had in the pantry (think pre-cooked rice, boxed mashed pototoes).  We worked hard at making everything from scratch as much as possible.  Even without knowing exactly what was in those foods, by making things from scratch, we knew what WASN’T in our foods now.  The sheer amount of ingredients (especially unpronounceable ones) and the sheer amount of sodium in most of them made us appreciate home cooked so much.

We now shoot for the least amount of ingredients as possible in the foods that we buy.  I still don’t exactly know what everything is on a label, but we’re learning.  One of the things that we have known for quite some time and read more extensively about in Real Food was the misleading information companies put on labels.  “Natural” may look good on a product, but it means nothing.  The term is not regulated at all, so just about any company could slap a “Natural” label on to make their product look better.  Unfortunately, it makes our job harder to sort through all the fluff.

When it comes down to it, we just make it ourselves or we don’t eat it.

Getting rid of all hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup

There were two major factors in our ultimate switch from using any type of canola oil or high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS):

  • We watched the documentary King Corn (Amazon) and watched them actually make high-fructose corn syrup.  It looked like a science experiment, there were ingredients with skulls and crossbones on them.  That doesn’t seem natural.

Sealed the deal for me.

What I learned is that most canola oils and HCFS are genetically modified, meaning they are “foods” that would never be found in the natural world.  They are designed to make our foods “taste better” or as in the case of canola oil, provide a neutral-tasting oil that stands up to high heat and is cheap.  Only now are we starting to realize the effects they may be having on our health.

With oils, the processing is the key element.  Because canola oil starts out as something that can not be consumed, it has to be highly processed.  Direct from the article “Almost all Canola oil undergoes a process of caustic refining, degumming, bleaching and deodorization”.  Umm, what?  By undergoing this serious processing, some of the omega-3 fatty acids in the oil are turned into trans fats.  We all are trying to avoid those, right?  I’ve read all kinds of things about these shelf-stable, neutral oils that once heated, turn rancid and the fats are oxidized.  Both of those words just sound horrible.

While I understand that canola oil probably arose out of people’s want for a neutral-tasting and inexpensive cooking oil, now that I have seen the information, those reasons just don’t cut it for me.

Here’s the tricky part.

Check the labels on some of the foods in your pantry.  Chances are most of them don’t actually say canola oil.  They may say safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil.  In my humble opinion and from what I have learned, these are the same thing.  They have all been highly processed, just come under a different name.  We try to avoid all of them, which as you’ll find, is next to impossible if you eat anything from a can or a box.

It. Is. In. Everything.

We just do our best and that is the best we can do.  My kids still get all kinds of treats at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, but I figure if I do the best I can for them at home, it will all balance out somewhere.

So what do we use for cooking and baking?

We have swapped out the majority of oils in our house with coconut oil.  We do our best to buy organic, unrefined coconut oil.  This goes through a cold-pressing process with minimal processing.  (Remember, the least amount of processing something goes through, the better).  It is solid at room temperature, but is very heat-stable, meaning it is good for baking, roasting, sauteing. In most baking recipes, I swap it out for whatever oil is called for.  I also use it to roast milder-flavored vegetables.

Coconut oil definitely has a distinct taste and smell that doesn’t lend itself to everything I cook or bake.  In those cases, I will use butter or extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil.  While not as heat-stable as coconut oil, it is still better (in my opinion) than any canola or hydrogenated oil.

What’s the best place to buy?

For olive oil, we have been using Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  It is cold-pressed and has a really good flavor, the best I have found for the price.  Amazon currently has a 2-pack of 1-liter tins for $18.65, which is about $.24/ounce.  Costco sells olive oil at about $.22/ounce, but I’m not 100% sure how it is processed.

For coconut oil, we have two favorites so far.  The Nutiva Organic Extra-Virgin coconut oil often goes on great sale at Amazon.  We try to shoot for less than $.50/ounce, the larger the containers you buy the less the price tends to run.  We have also been using the Vitacost brand organic, extra-virgin coconut oil and it is a great price as well.  If you haven’t signed up for your $10 credit, you can snag it for just $.28/ounce.  We’ve been happy with both of these brands, as far as quality and taste go.

I’m excited to share our journey with you! Please weigh in.  Do you have any favorite brands or types of oil you use?  What is the biggest challenge for your family at the grocery store?  If you have been reading labels, what has been the most surprising?

In the next post of this series, I will be talking about our journey through the muddy waters of produce.  Grocery store vs Farmer’s Market?  Conventional vs Local vs Organic?

Articles and Books

  • Real Food by Nina Planck (Amazon)A fantastic journey through the majority of the food groups (Fats, Produce, Dairy + more) and all the basic (and not so basic) reasons a whole foods diet is best.  Very succint and gave us all the information we have been looking for in one place.
  • The Case Against Canola OilOne of the main reasons we made our final switch to coconut oil
  • King Corn (Amazon) – All about the state of corn farming and high fructose corn syrup

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on any of this stuff.  This post is based on what I have learned doing research over the last few years.  Please use this as only a jumping-off point to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  As a family, we have found that these are the things that work the best for us.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, you are supporting this blog. Thanks!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather @ Queen Bee Coupons May 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Great article! So informative and helpful. Thank you for doing posts like this and I look forward to the next post in the series.

You’re awesome, keep it up!

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Trina May 31, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Um, ok, clearly I was clueless about what Canola oil was. I truly thought it was a healther alternative than corn oil or vegetable oil. And I even knew enough to try to avoid corn because of GMOs. Sigh.

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Melody May 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I know, I sighed a lot during the whole process. Either that or I would yell at my husband to come listen to all the things we “absolutely can’t eat now!”. :) It’s a journey, that’s what I keep reminding myself.

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sara gilden May 31, 2012 at 8:57 pm

You definitely have inspired me to make healthier choices for my family! I never thought I would be someone who cooked from scratch as often as I am now. Thanks for these great posts!

Do you think if the olive oil is organic them it isn’t processed as much??

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Melody June 2, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Here’s what I think based on what I’ve read. The more processed it is, the higher the heat and the more chemicals used. I would guess for it to be certified organic, it would have to be made with little to no chemicals, so most-likely far less processing. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s a decent guess. :)

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Kim June 1, 2012 at 9:37 am

Looks like to Costco organic oil is good stuff based on this article: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-51484582/5-things-you-should-buy-at-costco/

I’ve purchased it twice since i stopped buying the conventional kind and have been very impressed.

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Kim June 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

Gah, *Costco organic OLIVE oil. :)

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amber June 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

This is a little off topic but I was just wondering what your thoughts are on soy? I know that so many people think it is the best thing out there but we try to avoid it as much as we can.

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Kate June 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

We have to completely avoid soy because of a deadly food allergy in the family, but even if we didn’t, I’d avoid most of the soy products out there today. Soy in the form of soy flour, textured vegetable protein, and so on, is so heavily processed and so ubiquitous in processed foods, and like corn, it’s usually heavily genetically modified. If we didn’t have to avoid all soy, I’d still be ok with eating soy in traditional forms (soy sauce in a stir-fry for example) but I’d steer clear of soy products with puns or quotation marks in their names (soysauge, vegetarian “bacon”).

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Emilie June 2, 2012 at 7:01 am

Real Food addresses soy very well. I avoid it completely. I think the consensus has shifted that it’s so processed and genetically modified it should be avoided. A friend compared it to cigarettes this week, slowly killing you!

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Melody June 2, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I just went back through and read the section on soy and it basically reiterates what Emilie and Kate said. The majority of soy out there is pretty heavily processed and modified. It does mention that soy that has been traditionally fermented (like in some soy sauces) is probably okay, but most of the other should be avoided.

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Heidi June 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Thank you for your encouragement! Our family has started a new way of eating the last six months and sometimes I just get tired of it all! I know we are doing the right thing, but it can still be frustrating and overwhelming trying to determine what to change and how. Thank you for sharing your journey. It helps me feel like I am not alone :-)

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Lora June 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Awesome! This is so fun to read! I had NO IDEA that safflower, sunflower and soybean oil were similar or the same as oil! Yikes!! I always read labels (even though I often am not sure what I’m reading….just looking for gluten free) and you’re SO right – it IS in everything!! I have coconut oil sitting in my cupboard that has been there for over a year. Once again, you have inspired me to do something. I’m trying it! :) Can’t wait for the next post in this series!

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Lora June 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Oops! I meant the same as CANOLA oil…

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Addie June 6, 2012 at 6:09 am

We are making similar changes to our diet too. I appreciate how making things from scratch is usually pretty frugal too. But I’m wondering now if it’s worth it to keep my newspaper subscription for the coupons, since I feel like I use fewer each week. I do the 5 Sunday Everett Heralds (split with a friend). Can you comment on that? I mainly shop at Fred Meyer and Rite Aid for toiletries, etc. Thanks for this new series.

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Melody June 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I have struggled with as well and we only get 2 papers! I have decided that the small amount of grocery couponing and Rite Aid couponing I do justifies getting 2 papers. It is usually enough to take advantage of the deals and get the things we need. Sometimes I do wish I had more coupons, but our stockpile is decent enough in toiletries that I can make do by slowly adding with 1-2 coupon deals. I figured if there I start to get really desperate, I can ask my family or my neighbors for their coupons. Great question and definitely worth looking into for your budget needs.

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