Vegetable oils are often touted as healthy, being rich in essential fatty acids (namely omega 6 fatty acids). This has lead to traditional fats such as butter and coconut oil being phased out. These vegetable oils are touted as “heart-healthy”, yet we live in a time where 80% of people seem to be chronically ill in some way. As obesity and disease rates have increased so has consumption of vegetable oils along with sugar intake. So, are vegetable oils really as healthy as they appear to be? I’m afraid not.
Why You Should Avoid Vegetable Oils
Why People Consume Vegetable Oils
We’re Told They Are Healthy
There’s a lot going around about how saturated fat is bad for you and studies are going around linking red meat to cancer and various diseases. If you’re a typical member of the general public, you won’t bother to look into the study further than this, but many of these studies linking red meat to various diseases are using processed red meat such as hotdogs and burgers which are also loaded with additives, preservatives and other chemically processed ingredients. The general scientific consensus has linked saturated fat in these products to disease which is why unsaturated fats are promoted as being healthy.
Vegetable Oils Are Cheap
Compared to oils such as butter, coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oils are rather cheap. This makes them an obvious choice for any shopper. They’re cheaper and most consumers won’t think much about the impact on health that consumption of vegetable oils can have.
Vegetable Oils Are Heavily Processed
Once you realise how vegetable oils are made, I’m sure you’ll find it rather disturbing and alarming (I know I did). The process is far from natural and involves extracting oils from the vegetable seeds. But before extraction, these seeds are refined, bleached and deodorised before they are fit for human consumption.
- Seeds are gathered from corn, rapeseed, soy, sunflower, cotton and safflower plants.
- These seeds are heated to extremely high temperatures causing the unsaturated fatty acids in the seeds to oxidise. The carcinogenic byproducts created are harmful to human health.
- Next, they are processed using a petroleum-based solvent like hexane to maximise the amount of oil extracted from them.
- Chemicals are then used to deodorise the oils. This process can produce transfats which are known to be harmful to human health.
- Lastly, more chemicals are added to alter the colour of the seed oils so they look more appealing to the consumer.
All this processing doesn’t create a ‘heart-healthy’ oil. It creates an energy-dense, nutrient-poor oil which contains lots of artificial chemicals, potentially transfats as well as many oxidised byproducts (not to mention extremely high levels of omega 6 fatty acids – more on that down below).
Vegetable Oils Contain Harmful Additives
Vegetable oils are processed in a way which involves adding additives, pesticides and chemicals such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). These artificial compounds help to prevent vegetable oils from spoiling, but they have also been shown to produce carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) within the body. These carcinogens have been linked to immune system dysfunction, infertility, behavioural problems and liver and kidney damage.
Vegetable Oils Are Easily Oxidised
The differences between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are all linked to their molecular structure.
- Saturated fats don’t contain any double bonds.
- Monounsaturated fats contain one double bond.
- Polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds.
Vegetable oils tend to be rich in polyunsaturated fats, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when you consider how these vegetable oils are exposed to high temperatures whilst cooking and here’s why. All the double bonds in polyunsaturated fats make them more susceptible to oxidation. These fatty acids react with oxygen in the air and are oxidised. This process is further accelerated when cooking with vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fat at high temperatures.
The fat you consume isn’t just stored as body fat but is actually used to make cell membranes, so if you consume lots of polyunsaturated fatty acids, you’ve got lots of cells in your body which are more susceptible to oxidation. All these polyunsaturated fatty acids make your cells very fragile – they can easily be degraded to form harmful compounds.
We Aren’t Meant To Consume Lots Of Vegetable Oils
At the start of the 20th century, the average intake of vegetable oils was certainly less than 1 kg per year. Now, it’s over 30 kg per year. Vegetable oils are rich in omega 6 fatty acids, but we’re supposed to consume a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. The typical modern diet lacks omega 3 fatty acids which means this ratio is more like 1:20 or 1:30. As insignificant as this may seem, it largely impacts our health and that can be seen by the increase in medical problems that people have today as well as the significant increase in medical costs.
Vegetable Oils And Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Vegetable oils contain a high amount of linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid. Depending on the vegetable oil consumed, linoleic acid usually makes up between 50% and 75% of the fats in vegetable oils. Omega 6 fatty acids aren’t bad, but when the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is massively skewed, which it is when you consume lots of vegetable oils and use them in cooking, then you get a few issues.
Unbalanced levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids have been linked to many types of cancer and disease. It’s well documented that omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation, and that’s likely due to the fact that consuming too many omega 6 fatty acids and skewing our fatty acid ratio induces inflammation within the body. Even vegetable oils which say they are a ‘good source of omega 3 fatty acids‘ have very little omega 3 fatty acids, especially when compared to the omega 6 fatty acids they contain.
Oils, Fats And Food Products To Use And Avoid
When it comes to cooking with oils, you’ll want to stick to natural oils such as:
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil (although I would not recommend due to how much palm oil is already being harvested unsustainably)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (good for cooking at low temperatures and can be used as part of a salad dressing)
- Avocado oil
- Other fats (not necessarily for cooking, but essential for optimum health) such as those found in meat, eggs, dairy and fish.
You’ll want to use the following cooking oils in moderation due to the high omega 6 fatty acid content. These are natural fats and can be beneficial in small amounts, but ideally, you shouldn’t overconsume these oils. They aren’t great for cooking at high temperatures but will work well in food dressings and non-heat foods.
- Walnut oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Macadamia nut oil
In order to avoid all that processed junk, try to avoid the following oils completely:
- Canola oil
- Corn oil
- Sunflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Vegetable oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Safflower oil
- Other fake butter substitutes which are derived from vegetable oils
You may find that if you skim the back of ingredients on processed foods that quite a few foods contain these oil which I suggest avoiding. The best thing to do is to avoid buying processed foods altogether, then you won’t be tempted to eat them in the house. Not to mention, your health will definitely improve by simply avoiding these processed foods as most are lacking in nutrition!
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