Vegetable oils are some of the most misunderstood and over-purchased food items in our markets today. You may have heard that these oils are considered “heart healthy,” or a better alternative for saturated fats. Supposedly, they help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and improve your overall health…
The truth is, science does not back up any of the above claims.
What Are Vegetables Oils?
Vegetable oils are oils extracted from seeds like the most common, rapeseed (canola oil), soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, peanut, etc. These extracted oils were not introduced to our diets until the early 1900’s, when new unnatural processes made it easy to extract the oil from certain seeds.
Unlike coconut oil, butter, and olive oil, these vegetable oils can’t be extracted just from pressing and squeezing them naturally. For the oil to be made, the seeds must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered. Vegetable oils are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets, yet they get the reputation that they are healthy. How?
Vegetable oils are found in practically every processed food. From salad dressings to mayonnaise to cereals to cheese to hummus and so much more. These oils are some of the most harmful substances you can put into your body.
How Vegetables Oils are Made
Vegetable oils are manufactured in a factory and usually are made with genetically modified crops that have been heavily treated with pesticides. Let’s talk about the way canola oil is formed. Here’s an overly simplified version of the process:
Step 1: First, find canola seeds. Oh wait, they don’t exist. Canola oil is actually made from a hybrid version of the rapeseed, which is most likely genetically modified and treated with high amounts of pesticides.
Step 2: Heat the rapeseed at an unnaturally high temperature so they oxidize and become rancid.
Step 3: Then process with petroleum solvent to extract the oil.
Step 4: Add an additional heat process and add some acid to remove any wax solids that were formed during the first process.
Step 5: Treat the oil with more chemicals to improve the color and separate the different parts of the oil.
Step 6: Deodorize the oil to mask the horrific smell from the chemical processing and make it palatable.
Of course, if you would like to take it one step further, just hydrogenate the vegetable oil and it will become a solid. This will produce margarine and shortening.
Now, let’s compare the production of Butter to the production of vegetable oil.
Butter is a simple process that comes when cream separates from milk and is shaken up.
Step 1: Get milk. Step 2: Be patient and wait for the cream and milk to separate. Step 3: skim off the cream. Step 4: shake it until it becomes butter. This process can easily take about 5 minutes.
Here are videos to compare the two processes.
History of Vegetable Oil Production and Consumption
As mentioned before, vegetable oils were practically non-existent in their current form in the early 1900’s. Until that time, most people got their fats from animal sources like tallow, lard, butter, olive oil, cream, etc. But, since the invention of certain chemical processes and a need for “cheap” fat substitutions, the world of fat hasn’t been the same since.
The overall amount of fat consumed has not changed much since then (it has decreased slightly) but the type has changed dramatically. Consider that at the turn of the 20th century, the amount of vegetable oils consumed were practically zero. Today, people consume on average about 70 pounds of vegetable oils throughout the year, per person.
To scare you, even more, most animals we eat are also often fed genetically modified pesticide-treated seeds and grains (cows are supposed to eat grass by the way) and the amount of omega-6 rich oils on top of that consumption… We are exceeding the amount of unhealthy fats in our diet.
(Want to see more disturbing charts? check this out)
Even though, despite the fact that heart disease and cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate while butter consumption is down (and vegetable oil consumption is at an all-time high) people are still buying vegetable oil products because they believe they’re healthier for you.
As an interesting correlation, check out this article comparing butter and vegetable oil consumption and the rise of heart disease and cancer since then.
Since the 1950’s these vegetable oils and their derivatives have been increasingly used in processed foods and for frying and cooking. They are marketed as healthy because they contain monounsaturated fats and some Omega-3 fatty acids.
What’s Wrong with Vegetable Oils?
At this point, you can see how NOT real these oils are. Along with the continued myth about how vegetable oils are promoted as heart healthy because they contain monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids. And this is what advertisers focus on, to draw you into their fake health claims.
There are many problems with vegetable oil consumption and there is no safe amount. To understand why let’s look at a few of the biggest problems with vegetable oils without going into extreme detail.
Our Bodies Aren’t Meant to Consume Them:
The Polyunsaturated Fat Issue
Our body needs fat for rebuilding cells and use them for hormone production. Our body only uses what we give it. Vegetable oils contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats, and these oils have replaced many of the saturated fats in our diets since the 1950s.
When we give our body a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats instead of the ratios it needs, it has no choice but to incorporates these fats into our cells during repair and creation.
The problem is that polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are highly unstable and oxidize easily. These oxidized fats can cause inflammation and mutation in our cells.
In our arterial cells, these mutations cause inflammation that can clog our arteries. When these polyunsaturated fats are incorporated into our skin cells, their mutation causes skin cancer. (This is why people often get the most dangerous forms of skin cancer in places where they are never exposed to the sun, but that is a topic for another day!)
When there’s too much of polyunsaturated fats in the cells of our reproductive tissue, some evidence suggests that this can create problems like endometriosis and PCOS.
Read more about PUFAS here.
The Omega-6 Fatty Acids Issue:
We’ve talked before about how the body needs Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in balance, preferably a 1:1 ratio in a previous article. Most people consume a much higher ratio of Omega-6 fats, and this can lead to problems.
Vegetable oils contain a very high concentration of Omega-6 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats, which can cause an imbalance in our body. Omega-6 fats also easily oxidize. This oxidation can also cause many types of cancers and a host of other problems
Having an unbalanced level of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats have been linked to skin cancer and many types of cancers.
Read more about Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acid imbalance here and here.
Here is another study where researchers discovered that as margarine consumption increased… heart attacks went up. As butter consumption increased… heart attacks decline.
So, the take-home message here is that saturated fats don’t cause heart disease but vegetable oil fats do. This imbalance can cause damage to your intestines, can cause you to gain weight, and use your body for a host for food allergies and autoimmune issues.
Let’s Not Forget About the Chemicals and Additives in Vegetable Oils
Since vegetable oils are chemically produced, it’s not really surprising that they contain harmful chemicals. Most vegetable oils and their products contain BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These are artificial antioxidants that keep food from oxidizing and spoiling too quickly.
These chemicals also have been shown to produce potential cancer-causing compounds in the body. They have been linked to immune system problems, infertility, behavioral problems, and liver and kidney damage.
And oh yeah, many vegetable oils come from genetically modified organisms. Not sure why that’s bad? Check this out.
As a whole, these vegetable oils are extremely unhealthy. They’ve been linked to reproductive problems, low birth rate, liver/kidney problems, hormonal issues, obesity, mental decline, cancer, and heart disease. Are you convinced yet?
Oils to Avoid Completely
Vegetable Oils and their fats should be avoided completely. There are much healthier alternatives and there is no reason or need to consume these types of fats. The main culprits to watch out for are:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- “Vegetable” oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Any fake butter substitutions
There is no nutritional need for these oils and healthy fats can be found in higher amounts and better ratios in many other types of fats.
While it is simple enough to avoid these oils themselves, the tougher challenge is avoiding all the foods that they are in. Check out practically any processed food, and you will find at least one of these ingredients, often labeled as “partially hydrogenated corn/soybean/etc. oil” or “May contain soybean or canola oil.” These foods in particular often contain one of the above unhealthy oils:
- Salad Dressings
- Store Bought Condiments
- Artificial Cheeses
- Store bought nuts and snacks
- Snack Foods
- Practically anything sold in the middle aisles of the store
So, What is Safe to Use?
It can be overwhelming when looking for better solutions. Luckily, you don’t have to be a nutritionist to know the best fats to use. Look to your ancestors. Look at what foods were in grocery stores before the chemical and industrial age came along. To help you, here are some guidelines when it comes to fats and oils.
Good Fats for Cooking and Consuming:
There are so many wonderful and healthy fats that are beneficial to the body, so there is no reason to consume the unhealthy ones above. Fats that can be consumed freely for optimal health are:
- Coconut oil–Coconut oil does not oxidize easily at high temperatures or go rancid easily, making it a good choice for cooking and baking. It also makes a great natural moisturizer and can be substituted for butter.
- Meats – Meat, especially red meat, has gotten a bad rap, and unfortunately, the animals we consume have been as mistreated nutritionally as we have. Grass-fed and free-range meats have higher nutrient levels, healthy forms of saturated fats and even omega-3s. If possible, consume these forms of meat.
- Butter– This one food is usually the one people are happiest to start using again. Buy grass-fed pasteurized unsalted butter when possible.
- Organic Cream– Organic heavy cream is essentially liquid butter, and is great served whipped on top of fruit, in desserts or in cream-based recipes.
- Olive Oil– High in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats, olive oil is a great oil for salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise, and other recipes. If your cooking with olive oil, only cook on low heat. Its high monounsaturated fat content makes it susceptible to oxidation at high temperatures.
- Palm Oil– Has a high saturated fat content and is also heat stable. Some sources claim that palm oil production often encroaches on the natural habitat of some endangered animals, though sustainable versions can be found. If in doubt, just use coconut oil.
- Avocados and Avocado Oil– An excellent source of monounsaturated fats and great on salads or in guacamole. Avocado oil is great for cooking at high temperatures because it does not oxidize easily compared to olive oil.
- Fish– Fish are naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids and can help improve the Omega-3/Omega-6 balance in the body. Look for sustainable wild caught sources, and stick to small fish like tuna, sardines, salmon, etc to minimize mercury.
- Eggs– Another all-star in the healthy fats community, eggs are loaded with vitamins, healthy fats and necessary cholesterol. Consume them daily from free range sources. You can even find eggs with Omega-3s in certain grocery stores.
Oils and Fats to Consume In Moderation
Some fats are nutritious and beneficial to the body but should still be consumed in moderation if they are eaten. Many contain high levels of Omega-6 fats and can, therefore, mess up the balance of fats in the body.
- Flaxseed Oil– Though it contains a good amount of Omega-3s, it also has a lot of Omega-6s and its high in polyunsaturated fat content makes it prone to oxidation if heated. It’s not recommended, but it’s certainly not the worst option. Ground Flaxseed though, are great to add to your smoothies!
- Walnut Oil– Also high in Omega-6 fats, but it has a great rich taste and can be safely used occasionally in dressings or desserts.
- Macadamia Nut Oil– It’s expensive but it has a great taste. It can be used for salad dressings or to create a home-made mayonnaise.
- Nuts– Most types of nuts (remember peanuts are not nuts) are a good source of protein and healthy fats and can be eaten in moderation without problem. Just check to make sure they haven’t been cooked in vegetable oils, which is often the case.
What to Do with the Vegetable Oils You Have Already?
If you already have some of the unhealthy vegetable oils in your house… don’t eat them! It’s hard to throw away food, but you can use some of them in other ways. To oil down tools, make play dough, or as a floor cleaner. Just DON’T eat them!
Are you ready to throw out the vegetable oils? Still think canola oil is heart healthy?