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For some, the answer may be obvious, but for most people, it’s not so clear-cut. People all over the world are oblivious to the sources of fat in their meals. This can be attributed to the rushed nature of our culture. In trying to get more done, we grab a quick bite to eat, but never consider the food we’re consuming on a daily basis, especially the oils we ingest.
According to some experts, the quick answer to this question is “Seed oils are absolutely bad for you”. Seed oils are proven to be some of the leading causes of heart disease, cancer, and other life-degrading conditions.
Seed oils are absolutely bad for you. Seed oils are proven to be some of the leading causes of heart disease, cancer, and other life-degrading conditions.
Common Types of Seed Oils
Some of the most common seed oils that you may be readily consuming on a daily basis include soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed, rapeseed, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, and rice bran.
“I strictly use olive oil to cook my food” you may say.
While you may not be using seed oils directly in your cooking, many of them are in fact present in the processed foods and packaged goods that you are so quick to dismiss as a healthy option. ‘Healthy’ food items like granola bars, certain bread, dried fruits, and baked chips more often than not include seed oils in their ingredients.
Take a closer look at the ingredients for this popular brand of white bread.
Ingredients: Modified Wheat Starch, Water, Wheat Gluten, Wheat Protein Isolate, Oat Fiber (chicory), Vegetable Fiber, Wheat Bran, Soybean Oil, Yeast, Vinegar, Salt, and Preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid).
Seed oils are so widely used because they’re inexpensive, and they’ve been given the thumbs up by health organizations over the past century as they made their way into the food industry.
The Problem with Seed Oils
Imbalanced Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio
The issue with Westernized diets is that we are consuming foods that are greatly imbalanced in their essential fatty acid content.
In a nutshell, essential fatty acids are a type of fat that the human body cannot naturally produce; therefore, we must consume them in the foods we eat. Essential fatty acids come in two varieties: omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Upon consumption, omega-6 fatty acids give rise to inflammation in the body. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids provide an anti-inflammatory response.
A delicate balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid consumption must be maintained in order to promote optimal health.
To put things into perspective, while the ratio of ancestral consumption of omega-6’s to omega-3’s was 1 to 1, today we are consuming omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio as unbalanced as 20 to 1.
As you can imagine, this leads to chronic inflammation in the body which is a contributor to numerous chronic diseases.
When exposed to heat, light, and chemical inputs, as is typical in restaurants and food processing plants, seed oils become toxic to the human body.
Overheated and oxidized seed oils, produce trans-fats and lipid peroxides as byproducts. We’re no strangers to trans-fats and their well-known role in leading to heart disease when increasingly consumed.
Lipid peroxides lead to damage in DNA, proteins, and membrane lipids throughout the body. The accumulation of the trans-fats and lipid peroxides leads to aging and once again, the development of chronic diseases.
As if they weren’t harmful enough on their own, seed oils are frequently used and reused because it is cost-efficient. This is especially the case in restaurants and homes that use deep fryers.
The repeated heating also depletes seed oils of natural antioxidants while increasing free radicals. Similar to trans-fats and lipid peroxides, free radicals lead to damaged DNA, proteins, and lipids in the body as well as oxidative stress, which explains why they are associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and organ damage.
Keep this in mind the next time you open a bag of potato chips or order a side of french fries.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA)
Seed oils actually don’t have to be ultra-processed or hydrogenated to be bad for your health. The excessive consumption of PUFA from seed oils, even if produced via a very simple extraction method and not hydrogenated, can be very damaging to the body. They overstimulate inflammatory processes in the body. They are highly prone to oxidation both prior to consumption and within the body. And when metabolized, excess numbers of ROS molecules are naturally generated within the mitochondria. All of this directly promotes various disease states and general aging. Disease states that are contributed to by these factors include heart disease, diabetic damage such as the damage to capillaries in the eye, the extremities (diabetic foot amputations), and kidneys, as well as liver damage, and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Quick History Concerning Seed Oils
Believe it or not, seed oils were only recently introduced into the human diet. Prior to this, some of the most common sources of natural fats were: olive oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee (cows), lard (pigs), and suet (beef or mutton).
So where did the major shift from healthy, properly sourced natural fats to ‘industrial’ seed oils happen?
This shift can be attributed to a mixture of scandalous donations to medical organizations, sketchy scientific research, and unsubstantiated marketing claims.
In 1961, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) to replace saturated fats. Saturated fats were condemned as a cause of heart disease. The decline in the health of President Eisenhower was also attributed to saturated fats, further spurring public opinion.
Many medical organizations began echoing the AHA’s advice that people should avoid animal fats and instead consume PUFAs such as those present in vegetable oil brands like Crisco.
Events like these led to the sweeping replacement of natural fats like butter and lard with the numerous industrial seed oils on the market today.
The Coincidental Rise in Heart Disease
In the 1930s, Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), which was virtually unknown 30 years earlier, became the leading cause of death in the United States.
Fast forward to 2010, 32% of deaths (~ 1 in 3 in the U.S.) are due to CHD. With this in mind, consider that the total vegetable oil consumption in the U.S. has increased from zero to 80g/day since 1900. In fact, a whopping 86% of added fats are coming from seed oils.
Before the spike in the increase of seed oil consumption, 99% of added fats were coming from animal fats, begging the question, are they actually to blame?
What About Saturated Fat?
Saturated fats are those most commonly found in animal meats and fats, such as butter from cows and lard from pigs. Saturated fats are also found in tropical oils like coconut and palm oil.
The consumption of saturated fats gets a bad rap by organizations like the AHA, who allege that they increase factors leading to heart disease.
However, while the consumption of saturated fats has remained relatively stable over the past century or so (and actually took a dip in the 1900s), the consumption of seed oils has increased drastically, along with the rise in heart disease.
Additionally, a recent 2014 study found no benefit to overall health from reducing saturated fats or increasing PUFAs from seed oils. The evidence does not support current dietary guidelines urging consumers to replace saturated fats with seed oils. In fact, as we have discussed, growing research shows that seed oils are detrimental to our health.
What Are Some Alternatives to Seed Oils?
Based on some of the research mentioned above, should you quickly find alternatives to industrial seed oils so prevalent in today’s food? Yes.
Contrary to what health organizations may say, as a rule of thumb, you should be aiming to only consume ~ 0.6-1.7% of omega-6 PUFAs from daily fats.
Here are some of the better fat alternatives you can switch over to today:
Tallow, lard, chicken and goose fat, and duck fat are some animal fats to note.
Duck fat is known for its delicious taste profile and versatility in different dishes. It has a high smoke point and fatty acid profile similar to that of olive oil.
One tablespoon of PUFAs contains 1.6 grams of PUFAs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil has been part of the human diet for thousands of years – much before the industrialization of seed oils. It is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols with a wide range of health-promoting properties.
One tablespoon of olive oil contains 1.4 grams of PUFAs
Coconut oil is highly regarded as a superfood. It contains lauric acid, which is a fatty acid that is readily used by the body for energy and has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.
Coconut oil contains 90% saturated fat, making it very heat stable as opposed to its seed oil counterparts
Butter and Ghee
Both butter and ghee are also mainly composed of saturated fats. Grass-fed versions of the two contain conjugated linoleic acid – a type of fatty acid with anti-cancer and metabolic health-promoting properties.
A tablespoon of butter contains 0.4g of PUFAs, while a tablespoon of ghee contains 0.5g of PUFAs.
Make the Healthier Choice
Despite how readily available seed oils might be in today’s market, increasing research shows that we should strive to find alternatives. The rapid increase in the production of industrial seed oils over the past century or so has led to a health decline in populations consuming Westernized diets.
If optimal health is your goal, then you should strive to include a well-balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. This can be done by including healthy fats from whole foods sources such as avocado, coconut, wild-caught fatty fish, and grass-fed meats. Always opt for pasture-raised and grass-fed alternatives because conventional alternatives contain higher omega-6 ratios.
Finally, balance things out by including foods rich in omega-3’s which can include seafood and fish oil supplements.
Tips to Eliminate or Reduce Seed Oils in Your Life
- Read ingredient labels. Avoid products that contain seed oils.
- Make your own mayonnaise and salad dressing using avocado oil or olive oil.
- Find alternatives to fried foods when eating out.
- Don’t be shy about bringing your own dressings when going out.
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