Chipotle Switches to Rice Bran Oil: Is it a Healthy Fat?

by Sarah healthy fatsComments: 38

rice bran oil

Rice bran oil has suddenly been thrust into the foodie spotlight with the recent announcement by Chipotle founder, Steve Ells, that the restaurant chain is now using it for cooking instead of GMO soy oil.

Is rice bran oil a healthy choice for cooking and frying?  Is it a fat that was used by traditional Asian cultures?

The first thing to understand is that the announcement that the entire Chipotle restaurant chain is ditching all GMO supply lines is nothing short of huge!  It’s a really big deal, and Steve Ells should be applauded and supported for his brave decision that will likely bring the wrath of Monsanto down on his head one way or another.

Way to go Steve! You are going to get nothing but the big thumbs up from this blog regarding that decision!

That said, is the rice bran oil that is now being used for cooking at Chipotle instead of GMO soy oil really healthier? Is it something that would be ok to buy and use in your home?

The answer to this question is not quite as clear cut.  Let’s break it down piece by piece.

Rice Bran Oil is nonGMO

The biggest plus for rice bran oil is that it is nonGMO whether from organic or conventionally grown rice. Anytime you can eliminate a source of genetically modified foods from your life, it is a step toward better health.  The conventional thought that GMOs are safe and healthy to eat is nothing but biotech marketing propaganda. This article details 11 scientific reasons why GMOs should be carefully avoided in the diet as much as possible, unless of course, being a guinea pig is your thing.

The argument that GMOs will “feed the hungry” and “save the starving” is also a hollow one as pointed out by Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa (1),

Simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health.

In sum, the very fact that rice bran oil is not genetically modified means that it is definitely an improvement from the GMO soy oil Chipotle used to use for cooking.

Rice Bran Oil is Not a Traditional Fat

On the downside, rice bran oil is not a cooking oil that was traditionally used anywhere in the world.  It was not written about in the nutritional and anthropological classic Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A Price. This book details the ancestral diets of 14 isolated and vibrantly healthy cultures from around the world as observed and photographed by Dr. Price early in the last century.

Although rice bran oil is popular today as a cooking oil in several Asian countries including Bangladesh, Japan, India and China, it was not used as part of the ancestral diets of those cultures. In addition to modern Asian cooking, many Japanese restaurants in the United States exclusively use rice bran oil as well.

The Weston A. Price Foundation states that rice bran oil was not used in any traditional diets (2).

Rice Bran Oil is an Industrialized Oil

Rice bran oil is not an oil that is easily made by hand, which is probably why it is not found in traditional diets. Modern manufacturing of rice bran oil involves a high degree of factory refining. Here is a brief summary of the steps involved (3):

  • The husk of the rice grain is removed leaving a brown rice grain.
  • The brown bran layer and rice germ are removed leaving behind a white rice grain.
  • Rice bran oil is extracted from the bran and germ which involves a highly industrialized and high pressure process.
  • The resulting oil is then refined and separated into a clear liquid and solids.

Rice Bran Oil Has a High Smokepoint

Rice bran oil has a mild flavor and a high smokepoint of 450 F/232 C.  This makes it suitable for cooking as rancidity does not occur as long as cooking temperatures are not too high.

Rice Bran Oil is High in Omega 9 Fats

In India, rice bran oil is considered the Eastern version of olive oil as it is high in omega 9 fats:

Here is the breakdown of fats in rice bran oil:

  • Saturated fats:  25%
  • Monounsaturated (omega 9 fats): 38%
  • Polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6 fats): 37% with nearly all as omega 6 fats

This compared with the GMO soy oil previously used by Chipotle:

  • Saturated fats: 16%
  • Monounsaturated (omega 9 fats): 23%
  • Polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6 fats):  58% with nearly all as omega 6 fats

And finally, as compared with the traditional healthy fat olive oil:

  • Saturated fats: 14%
  • Monounsaturated (omega 9 fats): 72%
  • Polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6 fats): 14% with nearly all as omega 6 fats

As you can see, rice bran oil really is a much healthier fat than the soy oil previously used by Chipotle, although I would not go so far as to say that it is as healthy as olive oil which has far less omega 6 fats than either rice bran oil or soy oil.

Excessive consumption of polyunsaturated omega 6 fats from processed foods and the large amounts of grains in the Western diet is partially responsible for the inflammation epidemic and likely contributes to the obesity epidemic as well.  Combine this with the fact that they are usually already rancid when you buy them from the factory processing necessary to produce most of them (you don’t smell it because of careful deodorization before bottling).  As a result, it is best to avoid omega 6 fats and certainly never use them at home as in all likelihood you are getting enough already.

The Bottom Line About Rice Bran Oil

So can rice bran oil be considered a healthy fat? No, it cannot as it is not a traditional fat used by ancestral cultures and because it takes a highly industrialized process to manufacture it which likely denatures the (37%) polyunsaturates. However, as you can see from the discussion above, this is not the entire story.

Rice bran oil is an infinitely healthier choice as a cooking fat than the soy oil Chipotle used before. It is higher in healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats and significantly lower in polyunsaturates which are inflammation producing when consumed to excess (small amounts in the diet are fine). Most importantly, it is nonGMO so will not pose any long term health risks for customers and the environment.

In summary, if you wish to enjoy a meal now and then at Chipotle, don’t worry about the rice bran oil. It is fine to consume once in awhile, just don’t buy it to use for your cooking at home. Olive oil, tallow, pastured lard, coconut oil, ghee and of course butter would be far better choices.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


Sources and More Information

Chipotle Ingredients Statement

Rice Bran Oil FAQ

The Truth About Pumpkin Seed Oil

Selecting a Healthy Cooking Oil and Reusing it Safely

Caution When Using Chicken Fat for Cooking

Cooking with Olive Oil: Yea or Nay?

How Vegetable Oils Make Us Fat

How Argan Oil Benefits Health

Red Palm Oil Benefits Rival Coconut Oil

Walnut Oil: Healthy Sub for Flax Oil

The Many Shades of Palm Oil

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