WHY VEGETABLE OILS ARE HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH AND WHAT TO CONSUME INSTEAD.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things about visiting my Nana was the sweet treats she’d always have waiting for us when we arrived. Candies, pies, cookies, meringues, and the best of them all, brownies. A fresh hot pan of decadent brownies cut into small squares with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. I could eat the whole pan, and because I was at my Nana’s house, she pretty much let me do so.
You might assume that this yummy pan of brownies was made from scratch because, if you’re like me, you assume that all grandmothers make things from scratch. But these were not, and it didn’t make a difference to me as a kid. These brownies came from a blue box full of premade mix adorned with a famous little doughboy, Pillsbury brownie mix. I remember getting so excited when I saw that box in the pantry because I knew it meant a sweet indulgence in my near future.
If you’ve ever made brownies from a premade mix, you know that it only calls for a few added ingredients. You mix it all together and pop it in the oven, and then you’re done. Simple and easy. One of those ingredients is vegetable oil, a colorless, flavorless, and cheap oil used for just about anything. It comes in a giant bottle that can sit in the pantry for who knows how long. Vegetable oil goes hand in hand with box mixes because it’s accessible and inexpensive, just like a premade mix. There’s just one problem with this. Vegetable oils are harmful to your health!
What is vegetable oil and how is it made?
Let’s back up a minute and discuss what vegetable oil really is and how it’s made. Vegetable oils are oils extracted from different seeds. The most common of these is the rapeseed, which is used for Canola oil. Others are made from soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, peanut, etc. Why is that such a big deal, you ask? Well, like most things you eat, wear, drive, listen to, watch, etc., it’s all in the process of how it’s made.
Unlike olive or coconut oil that can be cold-pressed, vegetable oils have to be manipulated and highly processed to give you the end product. Such a process includes finding seeds to use (often genetically modified and full of pesticides), heating the seeds at extremely high temps causing them to oxidize and go rancid before you even purchase them, adding solvents to extract the actual oil, heat some more to get rid of any residue, treat the oil with more chemicals to improve color, and finally deodorize the oil to mask unpleasant smells.
Holy crap, that’s a lot! Makes my head hurt a little.
Let me go on a tangent for a sec. Do you know how to make butter, another cooking oil, and my personal favorite? You take some cream and either shake it, churn it, or mix it to separate the butter from the milk, and voila! You have delicious butter. Sounds much easier and less processed, doesn’t it?
Although one could argue the only problem with butter is that you don’t get a lot of product at once. It can be expensive if you purchase organic and grass-fed, which I only recommend, and you have to melt it first to use it for cooking and such. I get it. That takes time. But I’ll take all of that to have the flavor, the nutrients, and the richness of the end result. I’ve never regretted using butter to fry my eggs or top my grass-fed steak. Yum!
And please note that margarine is NOT butter. No way, not ever. Margarine and vegan “butter” spreads are full of hydrogenated vegetable oils (even worse) to make them solid. Alright, let’s get back to said oils; more on how wonderful butter is later on.
The Saturated Fat Myth
Now that you know how vegetable oil is made, let’s go over some of the ways they are harming your health. You may have heard that vegetable oils are good for your heart because they don’t contain saturated fats and cholesterol. Unfortunately, saturated fats and cholesterol have been demonized, but more recent studies show that they’re not the bad guy like we all once thought they were. The human body is actually made up of 97 % saturated and monounsaturated fats, and we need these fats for rebuilding cells and hormone production.
You can learn more about saturated fats here.
Vegetable oils do contain monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids (you’ve probably heard how good these are for your health), and this is what advertisers use to draw you in. What they don’t talk about is that vegetable oils contain PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids). PUFAs are highly toxic and easily oxidize, which can cause inflammation and cell mutation in the body. The free radical oxidation of the PUFA has been linked to cancer, heart disease, endometriosis, PCOS, metabolic disease, it can interfere with the function of the thyroid, and many other things.
Read more about the harmful effects of PUFAs here.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Another issue with vegetable oils is that they are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids also oxidize easily and are linked to many types of cancers. But wait, didn’t I say they too had Omega-3, the healthy one? Shouldn’t that balance it out? Nope, nope, and nope.
Vegetable oils contain a much higher concentration of Omega-6, and like everything in life, you have to have a healthy balance. It’s true that Omega-3 reduce inflammation and protect against cancer and other diseases, but it won’t do any good if it’s trumped by the more harmful Omega-6. Clever marketers knew that most people would see on a label of canola oil that it contains Omega-3 and not know that it also contains a higher amount of something worse. Basically, those Omega-3 benefits are obsolete, and one may never know it.
It’s important to note that Omega-6 fatty acids are present in many natural foods, but these foods are not processed, and there’s usually a balance of both fatty acids. Regardless, most Americans are high in Omega-6 and don’t consume enough Omega-3 fatty acids, which is a direct result of consuming vegetable oils.
Besides the PUFAs and Omega-6, vegetable oils are just downright unhealthy. Remember how I told you they’re made, all of those steps of heating, adding chemicals, more heating, and deodorizing? Completely unnatural! Humans were not made to consume such processed foods.
Here’s a small list of health issues they are linked to (this doesn’t come close to all of them): reproductive issues, low birth rate, hormonal issues, mental decline, liver problems, toxins in the body, depressed immune system, metabolic disease, cancer, and you guessed it, heart disease. They also increase feelings of hunger, accumulate in body fat, and impede the use of stored energy. I’m constantly hearing from people that they are always tired with no energy and always hungry. Do you see the connection here? Suddenly butter doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
Speaking of butter, I promised I’d get back to that dreamy and satisfying brick of fat. Butter gets a bad rep, but I promise you it’s truly amazing. On top of the fact it’s natural and unprocessed, it’s one of the best sources of Vitamins A, D, K, and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, so consuming them through butter is the easiest way for your body to absorb them.
Butter helps boost your immune system and can protect against gastrointestinal infections. It’s also a great source of cholesterol, which, despite what you’ve read, our bodies actually need to function properly. Butter contains iodine, which is essential for thyroid function, and it helps balance our hormones. I swear this is not an ad for butter, but if you know someone trying to sell some, I’m your gal.
Here are some more benefits of butter in case you’d like to do more research.
So, where do you start? What do you do now that you’ve learned about the harmful effects of vegetable oils, and what do you use instead? Don’t worry; I’ve got you. First, let’s discuss the “hateful 8.”
These are the eight seed oils that should be avoided in your diet:
All of these oils are toxic and oxidize easily, creating inflammation in the body. Margarine, shortening, and any fake butter substitutes should be avoided as well. Most of these oils, if not all of them, are found in processed foods, including salad dressings, mayo, and baked items. The average American gets 80 % of their fat calories from these vegetable oils known to cause a slew of health problems, and most people are none the wiser because the conversation isn’t out there about how harmful they are.
- Rice bran
Here are the oils you should consume instead:
All of these oils are safe to consume, healthy, and delicious. That’s it. It’s that simple. No warnings needed.
- Butter - try to find butter sourced from grass-fed cows. The nutrient content is higher, and it tastes better. You’ll notice that butter from grass-fed cows has a more yellowish hue due to the beta carotene from the grass and flowers they eat.
- Coconut oil - tastes amazing in brownie batter and other baked goods. Go for unrefined, virgin or extra virgin oil. And never choose anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
- Avocado Oil – this oil has a high smoke point, so it’s suitable for high heat cooking. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, and it doesn’t need to be organic. It’s great for homemade salad dressings and mayo, and it fends off free radicals.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – one of the best and nutrient-dense oils you can consume. Most of you know about this one, but I encourage you to do your research to make sure you are purchasing pure olive oil. Here’s a helpful link on how to make sure you are purchasing the best olive oil.
Other safe fats to use include:
- Tallow – can double as a face moisturize. Don’t judge; I’ve tried it!
- Lard – also good for high heat cooking
- Palm oil – only buy from sustainable sources due to unfavorable harvesting practices. More info here.
Oils to use sparingly:
These oils have health benefits; however, they also contain higher amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids. Also, they’re not good for high heat cooking.
Now that you know which oils to avoid and which to consume, what should you do?
- Make the switch – go ahead and start using better fats when cooking. And throw out those vegetable oils!
- Read the ingredients list on labels – seems like a chore, but you’re probably already reading the nutrition facts, so why not read the ingredients? Eventually, you’ll know which brands use better oils.
- Make your own salad dressing and mayo – here’s my fav salad dressing recipe: olive oil or avocado oil, splash of lemon juice or ACV, dash of Dijon mustard, garlic powder, and any other seasonings you want to use. Put it in a small container with a lid and shake it up. I eyeball all amounts, but you’ll want more oil than mustard and the lemon or ACV. I can’t tell you the last time I purchased salad dressing for myself.
- Avoid restaurants that use the bad oils – this one is tough, and I can’t say I follow this rule all of the time. I just try to make better decisions when I go out to eat. And honestly, I try not to eat out that much. Not only can the oils be bad, but it’s hard to know the sources of the animal products and seafood that are used and whether or not the fruits and vegetables are organic.
If you’re overwhelmed by all of this, that’s okay. There’s a lot of information here. Just remember that we can improve our health a great deal just by making small changes.
I invite you to start reading the labels on the foods you buy. Trust me; I understand the importance of convenience. It’s so much easier to purchase premade foods, especially when you have little to no time on your hands. But nowadays, there are a lot of healthier premade foods available that don't contain harmful vegetable oils; you just have to look for them.
Next time you’re grocery shopping, check the food label. Not just the nutrition facts, but really read the ingredients. If you see any of the “hateful 8” oils listed, try to find a better option. Eventually, over time, you’ll know which brands are better options and learn ways to avoid products that have these highly processed oils.
Also don’t be upset if you wind up eating something that contains vegetable oils. We’re not perfect, and we don’t all have access to better products. Just try to cut back as much as you can. You’ll start to feel better, have more energy, feel fuller longer, and set yourself up for a healthier body and lifestyle.
And while you’re at it, cut back on the refined sugar as well, okay?