One thing I always say on my blog is that no matter what diet you follow (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, traditional, WAPF, etc.) one VERY important commonality between all of these diets is the reduction or removal of processed foods. You can do a lot for your health by removing processed foods. Many pervasive diseases today stem from an autoimmune response to chronic inflammation caused by processed foods. Unfortunately, the mainstream medical establishment is slow to catch up to a lot of this information regarding inflammation. Diseases like allergies, asthma, hearth disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis are more pervasive than ever before and so is our country’s dependence on processed convenience foods. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding cooking oils in the mainstream medical community, so this article will help you clear up some of that misinformation.
When examining the healthy quality of cooking oils, there are three main things that we want to look at: 1. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. 2. How it affects heart health 3. How it is processed. I’ll discuss below why these things are important.
Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids
First, let’s talk about the importance of the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Although they do play an important role in the cellular functions of our bodies, when they get out of balance, it can lead to a whole host of health problems. Too much omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation, clogged arteries, heart disease and an increased risk of cancer. This 2004 study suggests that “Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases” (source) Another study shows that a high intake of omega-6 fats may contribute to a higher risk of breast cancer. (source)
The world health organization’s (WHO) recommended ratio for omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 4:1, meaning that for every food you eat containing omega-3 fatty acids, you should eat no more than 4 times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids. I’ve heard recomendations that it should be even lower, like 1:1 (source). The maximum ratio recomended by the WHO is 10:1.
The average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in Americans is between 10:1 to 25:1! That is well into the red zone according to the WHO’s recommendations (i’m talking about the World Health Organization, not the rock band…I don’t think Roger Daltry is running around on stage singing about “my generation and it’s overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids”, hehe). This is surely because of the increase in the use of vegetable oils and corn and soy additives in almost every packaged food. The omega ratio in corn alone is 46:1! Even foods like meat, eggs and dairy can be high in omega-6’s because most animals are fed corn and soy. If you do eat animal foods make sure you get grassfed, pasture raised and organic to avoid high omega-6s. For recommendations on healthy oils, dairy products and other foods see my store or my marketplace.
So when we look at cooking oils, remember:
Too many omega-6s = Bad.
Cholesterol, Saturated Fats and Heart Health
Because of old faulty data (the lipid hypothesis), mainstream medicine has been recommending oils low in cholesterol and demonizing saturated fats because it was believed that dietary cholesterol led to heart disease. This could not be farther from the truth. Dr. Johnny Bowden explains, “We’ve been taught this based on some research that was done in the 60’s and 70’s which has since been shown to be extremely faulty, that research couldn’t even get published today, it’s been taken apart, but most well meaning doctors who have no time anyway just don’t have time to actually read the details of the research because in that research it shows pretty clearly that cholesterol doesn’t really lead to heart disease its a bad predictor.” (source)
In-fact, data shows that saturated fats can actually help protect you from heart disease! In a study done in Framingham, Massachusetts they found that “the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. The opposite of what… Keys et al would predict…We found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” (source)
On the other hand, there is ample research that proves there is no connection between saturated fat, cholesterol intake and an increased risk in heart disease. A 2009 study found that “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [Cardio vascular disease]” (source). An article from heart surgeon Dr. Dwight Lundell explains that cholesterol and saturated fat DO NOT lead to heart disease, but inflammation does. He goes on to say “The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine. What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Quite simply, they are the overload of simple, highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour and all the products made from them) and the excess consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and sunflower that are found in many processed foods.” (source)
These handy stats from an article on jules’ fuel show how reduced saturated fats and increased omega-6 oils have affected heart disease in the United States:
1900: Heart disease rare
Butter Consumption: 18 lbs./person/yr
Vegetable Oil Consumption: 11 lbs./person/yr
2012: Heart disease leading cause of death
Butter Consumption: 4 lbs./person/yr
Vegetable Oil Consumption: 59 lbs./person/yr”
This could be why despite recommending low-cholesterol foods and prescribing cholesterol lowering drugs for years, that heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US. We have most certainly been fed the WRONG information.
The American Heart Association, the organization that our country looks to for dietary recomendations for heart heathy food, still promotes the use of these harmful oils. Canola oil is even a SPONSOR of the A.H.A.!
So, to sum up:
Saturated fat = Good.
High cholesterol ≠ heart disease
saturated fat ≠ heart disease.
If you want to see a really great video that explains cholesterol myths click here.
1. Grapeseed Oil
I know this one is going to be a big shocker for a lot of people. Especially since grapeseed oil is constantly marketed as such a healthy cooking oil. Well, the “health” of grapeseed oil (and most of the other oils on this list) is all based on misleading information and myths about cholesterol and heart health (I’ve explained this all above, so if your skipping ahead, go back and read it if you really want to understand why grapeseed oil is not heart healthy!).
Grapeseed oil is about 70% omega-6 fatty acid which, as I explained above is way too much omega-6s. Too much omega-6s PUFAs causes inflammation which is the true cause of heart disease and can lead to other health problems like cancer and autoimmune disorders.
It is an industrially processed oil. This great article on grape seed oil explains,
“Some makers of grapeseed oil will go on about how “pure” and wholesome their product is compared to other oils, or even other brands of grapeseed oil. That’s probably because most grapseed oil is industrially processed with hexane and other toxic, carcinogenic solvents used to extract and clean the oil, with traces of these chemicals remaining in the final product. However, an expeller-pressed processed grapeseed oil is still rife with polyunsaturated fat, in concentrations which are highly toxic to humans. Doesn’t matter how “pure” those PUFAs are.”
Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) like grape seed oil are very fragile and therefore prone to oxidation. When an oil oxidizes it creates free radicals which can also lead to cancer, inflammation, hormonal imbalance and thyroid damage. Even cold pressed grapeseed oil may not be harmed during processing, but once you cook with it, it will oxidize.
If you want to know more about grape seed oil in detail read this article.
2. Canola oil/Rapeseed oil
About 87% of canola oil is genetically modified. To create canola oil, one must take the crude oil that has been heat extracted from rape seeds (what canola oil is made from) and refine, bleach and deodorize it. The fact that it is processed under high heat causes it to go rancid, which then creates the need for industrial carcinogenic bleaches and deodorizers like hexane.
Even though canola oil contains omega-3s, these oils are fragile and subject to oxidation through heating. If you think about it, other oils that are high in omega-3s would never be used for cooking. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are high in omega-3s, but are never heated because they are sensitive to oxidation. Look at this label of this flax seed oil bottle it says not to heat it.
Like I mentioned before, cold-pressed oils that are not heat treated in a factory with chemicals are still fragile oils. They will oxidize and become rancid once you cook with them. Even canola oil, as it was used as rapeseed oil long ago in china, caused health problems mostly related to the heart. Other studies done on canola oil consumption in farm animals has shown a negative effect on coronary health unless mitigated by the intake of beneficial saturated fats (source). Another reason why you shouldn’t avoid saturated fats!
Unfortunately, people have been told for so long to avoid saturated fats and replace them with refined oils that have an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Is it any wonder that heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the US?
To read more about canola oil check out this article.
3. Vegetable oil/Soybean oil
Although vegetable oil sounds nice and natural because it seems like it’s made of vegetables, about 99% of the time a bottle of vegetable oil is actually just soybean oil. You can even look at the ingredients in a bottle of vegetable oil next time you go to the grocery store… you’ll see just one ingredient “soybean oil.”
Soybean oil is 54% omega-6, which like I discussed above is too much omega-6 and can lead to inflammation and health issues.
Soy is something that is best avoided or at least reduced in consumption unless it is fermented (like tempeh, natto or fermented soy sauce). I personally avoid soy for a few reasons. Soy is high in phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors which means that it blocks the absorption of many vitamins, minerals and proteins. It also contains phytoestrogens that can mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt normal hormone function which could possibly lead to increased cancer risk. If you want to learn more about soy this is a great book on the subject.
About 94% of soy is GMO unless it’s organic or labelled non-gmo. However, just because it’s non-GMO it doesn’t makes it good for you. It will still contain the phytic acid and phytoestrogens mentioned previously.
Even though I am vegetarian, some vegetarians and vegans get on the defensive when I come out against soy, because it is largely considered a “vegetarian food”. People assume that because I say that soy is bad for you, I must mean that being vegetarian is bad for you, becuase that’s what vegetarians eat. This is not true. In fact, most people that eat a standard american diet of processed and packaged food probably consume as much, if not more soy than any vegetarian or vegan that moderately consumes soy. Soy derivitives like soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, soybean oil, soy flour, vegetable oil and more are in almost every packaged food. Next time you go to the grocery store pick up a box of cereal, salad dressing, bars, cookies, crackers or anything else and I bet you’ll see one or more soy derivitives in the ingredints label. If you are vegetarian and need soy-free recipe ideas check out my new ebook.
The point is, I’m not targeting vegetarians when I say that soy is not good. I’m targeting processed food, which I think we can all agree is not good.
I avoid soy for the above reasons and because frankly, it’s not hard for me to do so. I make most of my food at home from scratch, which takes out the huge amount of soy products in processed boxed foods (soybean oil, soy protein, soy lecithin). I don’t feel deprived without soy. If you do have soy, fermented soy like tempeh and natto is the best choice because the fermentation process reduces the phytic acid.
If you have a little bit of organic tofu here and there it probably won’t kill you, but I wouldn’t depend on it as the primary source of protein to include in your diet every day. If you want to read more about my take on soy you can read my article 5 Vegetarian Foods I Never Eat.
4. Vegan Butter Substitutes (Earth Balance)
Butter substitutes like smart balance and earth balance are mostly a mix of canola and soybean oils. You can revisit #2 & #3 of this list to read more details about why these oils are not healthy, but basically, soybean oil is too high in omega-6 fatty acids which can lead to inflammation and other diseases. Canola oil is highly processed and treated with chemical deodorizers and solvents.
On top of that, Earth balance also includes corn which is notoriosuly high in omega-6 fatty acids.
5. Corn Oil
There is a popular misconception that corn is a vegetable. It is actually a grain. Corn originated and was bred from a tall grass-like plant that somewhat resembled wheat.
Corn oil has 58% omega-6 fatty acids, which, like I mentioned above is too high and can lead to inflammation.
On top of that, corn is one of the most genetically modified crops in the US. About 88% (probably more) is GMO!
Which Cooking Oils Are Healthy?
So, now that we’ve covered which oils are unhealthy, you probably want to know which oils are good to use. Well, like I said before, saturated fats are good because they can actually protect you from heart disease and are very stable fats. Want to know which oils specifically are healthy? Click here to check out my article 6 Healthiest Cooking Oils.