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Bare 5

Reconnecting to health and wellness

Avoid Vegetable & Seed Oils

vegetableoilHealth Tip #2

Eliminate or drastically reduce trans fats and vegetable/seed oils

This is probably not a surprise when it comes to the trans fats, but many are surprised to know that most industrial vegetable and seed oils are also likely less than ideal for your health. They came into popularity early to mid last century for a number of reasons, particularly in the 1960s & 70s, when people were convinced of the supposed detriment of animal and saturated fat. As time has gone on and American health has worsened, many blame the increased rates of disease, particularly heart disease and diabetes, on these new manufactured fats that replaced the more traditional fats eaten for most of human existence.

Trans Fats
Trans fats (hydrogenated fats) are the big, bad one right now, and are being blamed by many to be a major, if not the main, factor in heart disease. Time will tell how bad they are for us or if we’ve misunderstood this dietary demon too (and they’re not as terrible as we fear). Chances are they aren’t great for our health nor terribly bad unless you consume a lot of them, have a diet high in sugar/processed carbs/fat or have a less than ideal overall health profile.

Known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat/oil, these are manufactured by injecting nickel and hydrogen atoms into a fat (often polyunsaturated) with a little bleach and coloring, creating a product that either looks and acts like saturated fat and/or gives majorly extended shelf life.

There appears to little in these fats that our bodies know and/or can deal with well. The consumption of these fats and the resulting metabolic derangement can lead to a number of problems including higher risk of heart disease & diabetes, hormonal disruption, immune system damage, increased risk of allergies & asthma and interference with healthy fat metabolism.

The bottom line with trans fats: until we know more- stay away. Unfortunately these fats are similar to the multitude of sweeteners, appearing literally everywhere in our food supply. If you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil/fat in the ingredients, look for another option. Soy/soybean oil and canola oil are in this category because they contain some trans fats, however government regulations allow these to often be labeled as trans fat free if it falls below a certain serving size. You can usually find trans fats in prepared foods, such as packaged goods and fast foods. In general, if a product has shelf life, it likely has something concocted in a lab in it to help it stay fresh. For example, almost every pastry or snack food that you can find wrapped up on a shelf has something trans fat related in it. Although many companies are dropping trans fats due to demand and regulation, they often get around it by using other oils that serve the same purpose. Many nut/seed companies roast the nuts & seeds in canola or soybean oil. Staying aware is key.

Vegetable/Seed Oils
Vegetable oils and seed oils are right behind trans fats, although they are thought of as not quite as damaging. Many people still think vegetable and seed oils are good, due to 1) immense belief and commercial demonizing of animal fats and 2) these oils theoretically come from vegetables and seeds.

To point one above- The thinking (particularly in the scientific and medical realms) that animal fat is uniquely bad is fading quickly (and rightfully so in my opinion). And second point above- Unfortunately, vegetables don’t have much naturally occurring fat so they are processed immensely to create a fat. Chemical extraction (usually with hexane), heating, bleaching, deodorizing (and often much more) are required to produce fat from a grass substance like corn. Seed oils have a little more fat to start with but often go through a very similar process to extract it, creating a similarly unnatural product. These isolated, quite unnatural fats/oils are full of inflammatory properties and have become the antithesis to health. The big ones to be aware of are soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, peanut and cottonseed oils. 

These oils contribute negatively to health, in particular due to their rancidity and atherogenic (arterial) impacts. One of the main reasons for avoiding these fats is the high amount of omega 6 fat they contain. Although necessary to our diet and physiology in small amounts, omega 6 fats cause rampant and unnecessary inflammation when consumed out of balance with omega 3. Since omega 3 (the balancing fat to omega 6) intake is typically not very high, over consumption of omega 6 can lead to many of the same health problems as the trans fats. They are particularly dangerous when oxidized (exposed to light, heat or air) rendering them very reactive and inflammatory. So, if you can avoid it, do not use them at all, particularly when cooking and especially when cooking at high heat and/or frying. As you can likely guess, commercially fried foods (e.g. french fries, fried chicken) are cooked in these types of fats and oils (they actually used to use animal fat, which is could end up being much healthier for you). To make things even worse, these oils and fats are used over and over again and become more toxic with each use. In general the same awareness rules apply, look for these everywhere. They are easy and very cheap ways to add flavor, substance and shelf life so almost every food product has defaulted to use vegetable and seed oils as part of its ingredient list. On a closing note, many of these are GMO derived, another note of caution.

If you find yourself buying these oils or things that contain them, look for the more traditional versions that are expeller pressed and limit the heat, light and air the fats get exposed to. 

So what oils/fats can you use in place?

The best for cooking are coconut oil, palm/palm (kernel) oil and animal fats, including butter/ghee (particularly from grass fed sources), beef tallow, pork lard, and duck fat.

Dressings made with olive oil, avocado, pistachio or macadamia oil (primarily monounsaturated fat but still ideal to keep safe from heat, light and air).

In general be very aware of the fats you are consuming. If they are from a vegetable/seed source, highly processed and unnatural, think twice and look for a more naturally occurring fat.

Once again, let me know if you have any questions.

P.S. More on fats and industrial vegetable/seed oils:
Fats: Old and New
Articles
Salad = Diabetes?
Living Off The Fat of The Land

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18 thoughts on “Avoid Vegetable & Seed Oils

    1. Thanks Heidi,
      I know a few people that like safflower for cooking but I personally don’t use it. I lean more toward saturated fats for cooking due to the stability of the fats as heat increases and they usually have less processing involved in the creation of them. I also try to limit the omega 6 in my diet, which nearly all veg/seed oils are higher in. I also try to limit things that I can’t make myself or things that involve chemicals and/or heat to create. However, if you’re using it once a week, I wouldn’t be concerned. That being said, if I were to use a vegetable/seed oil, an organic high oileic safflower would be one of the better choices. Thanks for your comment, have a nice Saturday… 🙂

  1. Don’t forget lard and ghee! I know you said animal fat but i think lard needs special mention. One the most tasty, most stable, most versatile and best for you. But, unlike everything with food, it has to be a non-industrial product. Industrial lard is hydrogenated and has additives. Instead find the local hog farmer at your farmer’s market, ask if the pigs are fed a diverse diet and are allowed to forage some of the time. If the answer sounds good, ask for leaf lard! Render it down in your oven, and viola! Good for shortening and frying and deep frying and sautéing, totally neutral flavor and smell. God Luck!

    -Andrew

    1. Hi Steph-

      I think rice bran oil sits somewhere in the middle. Better than most industrial seed and vegetable oils but not as good as some of the less refined, more traditional fats. It’s an extract from something that doesn’t have much fat naturally occurring, which means it is a bit more of an “unnatural” processed fat/oil. It does seem to have some favorable properties: high smoke point, some antioxidant properties and nice amounts of monounsaturated oleic acid and some saturated fat although the near absence of omega 3 paired with a higher percentage of omega 6 (linoleic acid) gives me a little pause.

      Secondarily, I can’t find good info on how long it has been used as a food and it’s only been commercially produced for a short time and was typically used in soaps (although, as a general rule I do think we should only put things on our skin that we could eat).

      I think it’s not bad for occasional use, particularly if you can find a low refined, cold pressed, non chemically extracted version.

      Bottom line: I prefer oils and fats that come from fatty foods (plants or animals that have fat in good quantity in the whole version that require much less processing and rendering out). I think we should limit the amount of fat we eat from low fat food origins.

      Thanks for the comment, I will edit this post to include some thoughts on rice bran oil and a couple other in betweener oils.

  2. I read omega 6 is a essential fatty acid but the body only uses it as raw materials for hormones for inflammation and clotting factors. We only need these in tiny quantities. They are used only when we are injured. Omega 3 on the other hand is used to make a many hormones, especially to do with the brain.

    I see websites with completely opposite views, even useing what looks like the same paragragh but just editing it to reverse it’ts meaning. Someone is lying.

    Research papers and web sites on both sides of the argument do not seem to be able to differentiate between omega 6 and omega 3. An experiement using a combination of omega 6 and 3 and get a positive result, they then say it is the omega 6 when it is the omega 3 counteracting the negitive qualities of the omega 6.

    It is like saying the group men and women have facial hair and get pregnant. Omega 3 looks massively important from cell walls to making brain matter and vitally important neurtransmitters. Some web sites denigrate omega 3, they are either thick as a brick or devious. The truth seems to be hidden under quite a lot of lies, to promote other retail products.

    1. Well said, thanks for your thoughts. It certainly has been an area that can be considered murky at times and a bit more clear at others. Since I think we are just at the beginning stages of figuring out the complexity of human metabolism, I’m not surprised there’s so much conflicting info. Throw in people trying to make money and it gets even trickier to sort out.

      Both omega 3 and 6 occur naturally and exist throughout the world. Humans (and mammals in general) have been eating them for a while and they are a part of our complex physiology. That being said, whenever we condense something that exists as part of a balanced whole we are entering into new territory which it may be hard to figure out.

      I think both are a integral part of human function but are not needed in the massive amounts we eat, particularly in the condensed oils. I feel that getting a minor amount that occurs in plants and animals does most people well.

      Whether isolated omegas end up being useful (ie regulating inflammation) is up for debate. I don’t expect an answer anytime soon and have found it helpful to let everyone else argue it out… 🙂

    1. Hi Deirdre,

      Sesame oil sits somewhere in the middle for me. It’s been around a long time and is one of the more traditional oils- both good things. It also has a higher smoke point and seems to resist rancidity better than most seed oils. It also has a decent amount of vitamin K, something you don’t get much of these days. Toasted and regular aren’t too terribly different, some have expressed concern over the toasting, I don’t think it matters too much. Toasting brings out a few things but exposes others. Like almost everything else it’s a give and take. Regardless, sesame oils are primarily polyunsaturated fats and I think it still remains an issue, particularly when not sure of quality of processing (which we don’t always know). All that being said, as long as it’s not used all the time (or reheated when cooking) sesame oil would be one of the better seed oils to use for cooking and salads. I use it occasionally and certainly don’t mind using it from time to time. It gives good flavor and fits a nice niche in my life. Thanks for the question. 🙂

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