Is Vegetable Oil Bad for You?
For years we’ve been told that vegetable oils are the healthy fats. Just the name “vegetable oil” sounds healthy, right? The truth is, these vegetable oils (or industrial seed oils, as I call them) are mostly a marketing ploy and research says they are not actually healthy fats at all.
What are Industrial Seed Oils?
The term “industrial seed oils” is a much more accurate way of describing the average bottle of oil on the grocery store shelf these days. But what exactly are industrial seed oils?
Industrial seed oils are highly processed oils from plants like soybeans, corn, rapeseed (marketed as canola*), and cottonseed oils, among others. These oils are hardly part of the natural human diet and have only been considered “food” for the last few decades or so.
What makes industrial seed oils so highly processed? Instead of being simply pressed from the plant like olive oil or coconut oil, industrial seed oils go through an extensive processing operation to make them edible:
- They’re extracted at extremely high temperatures (damaging the unstable fatty acids).
- Then they’re further processed with petroleum-based chemicals like hexane, and deodorized with even more harmful chemicals.
- Then more chemicals are added to make the oils the “right” color that consumers expect to see on the shelf.
That doesn’t sound like nourishing food, does it?
How Industrial Vegetables Oils Became Part of Our Modern Diet
Here are some interesting tidbits about the history of industrial seed oils and how they got into the modern diet:
- Vegetable oils were highly popularized as soap-making oils in the late 1800s. Petroleum oil was being used as fuel for heat and lamps, so soap makers took advantage of the new source of cheap “waste” oils on the market – aka vegetable oils.
- In the first half of the 20th century, new industrial seed oils like soybean oil and corn oil made their way into the market.
- Hydrogenation became popular in the mid-20th century. The hydrogenation process turns liquid vegetable oils into solid oils (consistency similar to lard, an ancestral food – only much cheaper).
- At the same time, saturated fats were demonized by the health industry (whose research was largely funded by big food corporations that were invested in industrial seed oils at the time).
- These seed oils were highly profitable and with hydrogenation, also highly versatile. Food companies started marketing them as “vegetable oils” which sounded more appealing to the average shopper.
If you want to geek out on the history of vegetable oils, read this in-depth article.
3 Reasons Vegetable Oils are Unhealthy Fats
1. Our Bodies Are Not Adapted to Them
In spite of what modern marketing tells you, our bodies were not meant to run on highly processed vegetable oils. In the last few decades, our consumption of vegetable oils has skyrocketed – but our biological needs haven’t changed in thousands of years.
The fatty acids present in industrial seed oils aren’t in tune with what our bodies are adapted to eat.
2. Oxidation and Inflammation
Industrial seed oils are almost entirely composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They’re called “poly”-unsaturated fats because they contain many bonds in their molecular structure. This multi-bond structure is inherently unstable.
That means vegetables oils are highly susceptible to oxidation when exposed to heat, light, and chemical processes. Oxidation creates inflammation in the body – and inflammation wreaks havoc on our systems and is responsible for many health problems like heart disease, digestive disorders, and autoimmune conditions. (source)
While a healthy diet may contain some polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3 fatty acids – more on that next), a diet too high in polyunsaturated fats is not healthy at all and makes us more vulnerable to inflammation and disease.
3. Too Many Omega-6 Fatty Acids
One of the huge problems with the polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils is the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Most industrial seed oils contain vast amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and very little omega-3s.
Omega-6 fatty acids are the most pro-inflammatory fats in polyunsaturated oils. Consumption of these fatty acids should be limited as much as possible, and we should also take care to get healthy omega-3s in small amounts to counteract the effect of any omega-6 fats we do eat.
What are Good Fats to Eat?
So now that we’ve discussed how vegetable oils are bad for you, the real question is: what fats are good to eat?
I believe the best fats are traditional fats (those in a traditional, non-industrialized human diet) and fats that aren’t over-processed (as close to nature as possible). These fats will contain mostly monounsaturated fats and saturated fats, which are stable and what our ancestors have eaten for thousands of years.
Here are some of the healthy fats you can enjoy:
- Healthy, gently processed vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil (which are both high in monounsaturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fats).
- Coconut oil (extra virgin or expeller-pressed).
- Butter and ghee from grass-fed cows.
- Fats found naturally in whole foods like nuts, avocados, olives, coconuts, pasture-raised dairy and eggs, pasture-raised meats, wild-caught fish and wild game.
Have you made the switch?
If your goal is a nourishing diet that supports your health, then just say no to industrial seed oils. Stick to healthy, traditional fats and your body will thank you!