For years, my wellness colleagues and I have designated sugar as the number one dietary evil, a true destroyer of health. And, though most people still eat way too much of it, U.S. consumption is finally on a slow decline. But the battle for your health is far from over. There is another killer on the loose and that one is ‘vegetable’ oil. In my opinion, the stuff is just as big a problem as sugar and should be eliminated from our diets just as quickly. Here’s a top-line on why – and what to use instead:
1) Your vegetable oil has no vegetables!
Many healthy fats come from plants, including olive oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and avocado. However, some of the unhealthiest fats around are also plant-based, and Big Food’s marketers know that if they slap the phrase ‘vegetable’ or ‘heart-healthy’ on a label —“health-washing” it — consumers will likely buy it for the presumed benefits because, hey, it says veggies right on the label. Trouble is, there’s no vegetable benefit or nutrients to be had in that gleaming bottle of golden vegetable oil. What’s in there is an industrial oil product better for cleaning and lubricating machinery.
2) Know the enemy.
I refer to vegetable oils like canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, rice bran, and soy as “industrial oils” because they were never part of the human diet until we developed food factories to produce them. Though technically ‘plant-based,’ these oils aren’t made with veggies but with barely edible, indigestible seeds, grains and legumes that our bodies can’t properly break down and digest. So, refining these ingredients into some semblance of something edible involves high heat and chemical solvents, like the neurotoxic solvent hexane, to remove the unappetizing taste and smell, and enhance the oil’s appearance and ‘pourability.’
3) Vegetable oil inflames your body.
As if the whole solvent issue wasn’t unappealing enough, another big reason to avoid vegetable oils is because they’re a very unstable form of fat. Unstable fats oxidize and turn rancid easily, forming free radicals. These free radicals damage healthy cells, and trigger inflammation – which we all should avoid at all costs. Granted, any fat can oxidize and release free radicals, but the polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils are the most unstable, and all it takes is some light exposure to kick off the oxidation process, even before you crack open a bottle. Planning on sautéing dinner with a bit of vegetable oil? Heating the pan will further destabilize and oxidize the polyunsaturated fats and unleash free radicals. Why risk adding more inflammation to your body? One more cause for concern: the severity of COVID-19 outcomes increasingly is being linked to inflammation, — ditching vegetable oils has never been more essential.
4) Industrial oils are good for machines, not you.
Take for example the sounds-healthy-but-it’s-not canola oil. First, it’s a made-up food derived from rapeseed. “Canola” stands for “Canadian oil low acid,” because it was originally developed in Canada and the word “canola” had a nice marketing ring to it. So, no vegetables, no benefits, highly refined and plenty of free radicals. It’s the worst of all worlds.
The trouble is, these cheap, readily available, shelf-life extending industrial oils are so prevalent in the foods many of us eat every day — think, restaurant food, processed foods, baked goods, prepared foods and packaged foods – it’s easy to consume lots more than you think are. And all that unstable, polyunsaturated fat threatens your health in several important ways:
— They’re often made from genetically modified crops
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can have harsh consequences for your health, destroying your good bacteria and altering your microbiome. An imbalanced microbiome leads almost immediately to weight gain and inflammation, and all the symptoms of unwellness that inflammation brings on.
— They throw off the balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6
Omega 3s are a type of fat found in fish, flax, nuts, and seeds. Omega 6s are a type of fat found most frequently in meat, dairy products, eggs, and other animal fats—but also in industrial oils. Ideally, your ratio of Omega 6s to Omega 3s is 1:1. But our modern consumption is more like 10:1 or even 25:1, in favor of omega 6, because most of us eat too much industrially-raised meat and poultry and not enough grass-fed meats, wild fish, nuts, and seeds.
Industrially-raised animals are fed (usually GMO) corn, soy, and other grains, which turns their fats into Omega 6, so most of the commercially available meat, eggs, butter, milk, and cheese you’re probably eating on the regular is loaded full of Omega 6s. Grass-fed and pasture-raised animals, however, are high in Omega 3s, which is why they produce much healthier meat dairy and eggs.
To help keep your Omega-3-to-6s ratios on track, do the following:
- trade processed foods for fresh, whole foods
- eat few if any fried foods
- ditch baked goods, prepared foods, and Frankenfoods like non-dairy and dairy creamers
- don’t eat or cook with faux butter products, vegetable shortening, etc.
5) Embrace truly healthy oils with real benefits.
Know what you’re buying, cooking with and eating! Pay attention to labels, but get the real low-down on ingredients, and how items are processed, from research-intensive sites like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores Guide, rather than the manufacturer’s ingredient lists which are virtually impossible to decipher (unless you’re a food scientist). Ultimately, what you want when it comes to oils are stable, unrefined, minimally processed saturated fats – NOT polyunsaturated — which will support the health of your heart, brain, gut, immune system, and hormones, and help tamp down inflammation. Here are 10 simple ways to be smart about your oils:
- Look for cold-pressed oils, to ensure they haven’t been treated with heat or solvents. If your oil is refined, leave it behind.
- Look for oils in dark glass or metal packaging to prevent light exposure. Clear plastic is a major no-no, and a big clue that the stuff inside the bottle is low-grade, industrial crap.
- Buy the highest quality oil possible, either from reputable, small batch producers, organic or artisanal producers at the farmers’ market, to minimize concerns about chemical pesticides or genetically modified ingredients.
- Make oils-with-benefits your top choices, opting for fruit and nut oils, like extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, flax seed oil, macadamia oil, almond oil avocado as well as palm oil – but only if it’s responsibly and sustainably sourced.
- For those who prefer to cook with animal fats, like butter, ghee, duck fat, lard, and tallow, look for it to come from organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals to get the best quality possible.
- For everyday use, extra virgin olive oil works well for sauces, light sautéing and salad dressings.
- For higher heat cooking and for those who follow the vegan path, coconut oil is an excellent and reasonably priced go-to.
- Always store your oils far away from sources of heat and light to prevent rancidity. You can also wrap them in tinfoil for an additional layer of protection.
- Clear the kitchen of ‘vegetable’ oils like canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, rice bran and soy, disposing of them properly through your local government or biodiesel recycler.
Steer clear of vegetable oil-soaked fast food –particularly fried foods – and processed and prepared foods, including most bottled salad dressings, to avoid these troubling oils.