There are many items that we know to avoid in our diets. For example, you probably already know that trans fats are bad for your health. But there are many other items that are touted as healthy, that really aren’t. And part of the problem is that there’s so much conflicting advice out there that it’s difficult sometimes to know what’s right, and how to make the best choices for achieving optimal health.
As a holistic doctor and nutritionist, I’m here to help you sift through all that confusing info and dispel the myths about items like processed vegetable oils, so that you can get the anti-inflammatory, anti-aging support you need! With the right knowledge and guidance, you can make true and lasting progress toward a better, healthier life.
So let’s take a closer look at what vegetable oils are, why you should avoid processed vegetable oils, and which oils are the perfect fit for optimizing your health.
What Are Vegetable Oils?
These are oils that are extracted from plant-based sources (as opposed to animal-derived fats). Vegetable oils include two general categories: oils extracted from seeds, and oils extracted from fruits. Seed oils are extracted primarily from grain-based oilseeds, and are usually much more highly processed (and inflammatory) than fruit oils.
[Note: Industrially-processed seed oils are often referred to as “processed vegetable oils”. I refer to them as both vegetable oils and seed oils here, for clarity while maintaining consistency with current linguistic norms.]
Examples of commonly used processed vegetable (seed) oils are canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, soy, and sunflower, and well-known fruit-extracted oils include avocado, coconut, olive and palm. Of the two types of oils, fruit-derived oils are much healthier than seed oils, which are problematic for health for a number of reasons.
Seed Oils: Not As Healthy As They May Seem
The problem with seed oils lies, in part, in the process that the seeds must undergo in order to create the final product that we use in the kitchen. This industrial process not only requires the use of large machinery and lots of energy, but also a disturbing array of caustic ingredients which remain in the oils.
Canola oil, for instance, goes through an extensive extraction and preparation process in order to make it edible and palatable. This process includes:
- heating the canola seeds (aka rapeseeds) at very high temperatures, which are required for the extraction of the oil; this high-heat exposure causes the development of inflammatory free radicals in the oil, which then cause oxidative damage – ie. accelerated aging – in us when we consume them;
- applying hexane (a petroleum-derived solvent) and chemical de-gummers to remove undesirable solids (to make the oil more “clear” vs cloudy in appearance), the residues of which remain in the final product that we consume;
- bleaching to change the color of the oil, which also remains in the final product;
- and deodorizing (through further heat exposure) to counteract the rancid smell that develops due to the breakdown of the oil via the high-heat exposures.
So vegetable oils are inflammatory, full of damaging free radicals that accelerate aging, and contain various undesirable and unhealthy ingredients such as petroleum-based solvents, de-gummers, bleaches and deodorizers. Yuck!
However, this is only the beginning of the problems posed by processed vegetable oils (seed oils). While the process of making seed oils adds a load of chemicals and other additives that are bad for your health, the seed oil itself isn’t as healthy as it was initially believed to be, either. Let’s take a closer look at why this is.
Why Are Processed Vegetable Oils So Bad For You?
Processed vegetable oils (seed oils) entered our food supply in the late 1800s, having been created as a way to turn an industrial waste product into a marketable commodity, and they have been pushed hard by various commercial interests ever since. In order to sell the public on using processed seed oils, industry-paid “experts” and scientists have provided (and continue to provide) suspect science to support dubious claims about the supposed health benefits of vegetable (seed) oils.
[For more on the history of the creation and popularization of vegetable (aka seed) oils, check out The Atlantic’s article “How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet” and Nina Teicholz’s intensely-researched book The Big Fat Surprise, as well as her many related videos and articles.]
Eventually, based largely on this shady science, and due in large part to pressure from commercial interests, processed vegetable oils (seed oils) came to be promoted by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the government.
Because of this industry-biased influence, processed vegetable oils became accepted by the population at large as a healthier choice than butter and lard. But they aren’t, in fact, healthier. They are actually quite damaging to our health.
In addition to the issues discussed above regarding how vegetable (seed) oils are processed, these oils also contain high levels of inflammatory Omega-6’s (aka poly-unsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs), which counteract anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s and have been proven to cause chronic inflammation. This can lead to and exacerbate many health problems, including chronic pain, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders, to name a few.
Also, because they are grain-derived, oilseeds contain inflammatory compounds such as lectins and phytates, which cause a whole host of health issues all by themselves. For more info on these, check out my article “What’s Wrong With Grains”.
And finally, there’s the issue of vegetable oils that are made from non-organic seeds (which is most of the vegetable (seed) oils on the market). Non-organic oils (and all non-organic foodstuffs) are chock full of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and GMOs that are all detrimental to your health.
So, what’s a person to do? Which oils need to be avoided, and which ones should you be using instead?
The most harmful, processed vegetable (seed) oils, and the ones you want to avoid as much as possible, are:
Now let’s walk through the healthy oils that you can enjoy in your favorite recipes.
Which Oils Are The Healthiest?
Saturated fats and mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are the best choices for optimizing health, as they’re packed with anti-inflammatory, healing Omega-3’s and are more stable (ie. less inflammatory and more anti-aging), making them ideal for your overall health and wellness! In fact, getting plenty of Omega-3’s can help improve a wide range of issues, including common problems such as dry skin and hair, and more serious issues such as chronic pain, depression, brain fog, and impaired memory and concentration!
Whether you’re cooking with them, or making sauces or dressings, the healthiest vegetable oils are organic, minimally processed, cold-pressed, fruit-extracted oils:
- avocado oil
- coconut oil
- extra virgin olive oil
- red palm oil (non-hydrogenated)
- and very limited quantities of unheated nut and seed oils like walnut oil, hazelnut oil, and sesame oil.
Also on the healthiest oils (fats) list are all pastured-animal-derived fats, such as butter, tallow, and lard, and macadamia nut oil, as these are full of health-enhancing, stable, anti-inflammatory saturated and mono-unsaturated fats.
For more details on healthy fats, check out my guide, What To Eat For Optimal Health.
Take Control Of Your Health!
We have erroneously been told for decades now that we should avoid saturated fats and consume more PUFAs to avoid things like high cholesterol and clogged arteries.
However, vast amounts of evidence have now accumulated, showing us that this is simply not true. Processed vegetable (seed) oils cause inflammation and accelerated aging, leading to and exacerbating a wide range of conditions and damaging your health over time.
But you are in control of your health journey, and you can do something today to start reversing the damage these oils have caused!
STEP ONE: Clean out your pantry, switching from PUFAs to MUFAs and saturated fats. Do it now! Don’t delay! Just throw away all that canola oil (and any other processed seed oils lurking in your pantry, too). They’re so bad for you, they are really not worth saving. Don’t let them do damage to you for one more day!
I know it can be hard to throw away food, but they aren’t food, they’re garbage, so put them in the garbage can where they belong! 😝
Ready for a deeper dive? Want to help your body detoxify and heal from those nasty oils, and improve your overall health? Then it’s time for you to do my 10-Day Detox!
And until next time, here’s to your ever-improving good health! 🙂