Fats are becoming more widely accepted and embraced once again since the "low fat" craze in the 80's and 90's spread across the masses.
During this time, low fat products were encouraged and fats were demonized and blamed as the cause of obesity and heart disease. This led to an increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates and diets higher in sugar. Unfortunately this mass production of low fat and fat free products and the message that fat was bad resulted in not only unhealthy eating patterns but also increased caloric consumption due to reduced satiety and satisfaction. The low fat craze contributed to the obesity and chronic disease epidemic by promoting lower caloric foods that were often void of nutrition and promoted unstable blood sugar, inflammation, and nutritional deficiencies.
The return back to fats is good news of course because fats are an important part of a healthy diet. However, we can't forget that just like carbohydrates, not all fats are created equal.
A large portion of fats in the typical North American's diet nowadays comes from the consumption of cooking oils, and more particularly, seed oils. These processed oils are relatively new in the human diet as they were only introduced in the early 1900's when the technology to extract these oils became available.
Today we explore why the most popular cooking oils that are widely used in fast foods, processed foods, restaurants, but also in many kitchens may not be so healthy after all.
Are industrial seed oils making you sick?
Highly processed vegetable oils, also known as industrial seed oils, are derived from corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, grape-seed, sunflower, safflower, and other plant sources.
Why are these oils unhealthy?
The plants that are used to make these vegetable oils are also derived from genetically modified crops. The top genetically modified plants are the same ones that are used for industrial seed oils : corn, soy, cottonseed and rapeseed. There is not enough information to prove the long-term safety of GMO's for human consumption and there have been many claims that they can hurt your health (1)(2).
These oils are also naturally rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which are unstable molecules that can break down into toxins and generate large amounts of free radicals that can damage cells in the body.
What's more, the processing that goes into the production of these seed oils is far from natural utilizing methods such as refining, bleaching, and deodorizing in order to create a product that is shelf stable and that humans can consume. But should they?
These seeds are heated to extremely high temperatures which can cause oxidation resulting in harmful byproducts and substances such as free radicals, lipid peroxides, and trans fats.
Vegetable oil extraction is often completed by chemical extraction using solvents like hexane.
Then even more chemicals are used to deodorize the oils, resulting in the production of trans fats, which are associated with many health problems (3).
Lastly, because these oils are so unstable, additional chemicals are added in order to improve the taste, texture and shelf life of the final product while preventing rancidity.
The processing of vegetable oils ultimately creates a product that can last on the shelf but is nutritionally void, calorically dense, and contains chemicals, trans fats, and free radical byproducts.
What's more, the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 consumption in the standard American diet has completely shifted. We need both fats in our diet, however a healthy ratio must be maintained in order to support optimal health.
Throughout human evolution the ancestral ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is said to have been 1:1 while it may now be closer to 16:1 and even as high as 20:1(4).
Vegetable oils are sources of omega 6 fats that can convert to pro-inflammatory molecules that can increase the risk of inflammation and inflammatory disease with high dietary intake (5).
While the consumption of omega 6 fats has significantly increased, omega 3 consumption has declined, and the rates of chronic diseases have skyrocketed.
Though they are certainly not the only factors involved, the overconsumption of omega 6 fats and underconsumption of omega 3's may contribute to chronic inflammation and chronic disease (6).
Those who follow a typical western diet are typically eating way too much omega 6 relative to omega 3 and adopting a diet that includes balanced amounts of each can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
So what's the solution? A good rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods and packaged foods as much as possible to minimize your consumption of inflammatory seed oils. That being said, not all vegetable oils are bad for your health, healthier cooking oils you can choose include coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
Omega 6's need not be completely avoided as there are plenty of whole food sources of omega 6 fats that should be included as part of a healthy diet such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and eggs.
Omega 3 consumption is also important to implement in your daily diet to balance the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats and reap their anti-inflammatory benefits. You can obtain omega 3 fatty acids from food sources such as walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, mackerel, sardines, and wild salmon or through supplementation.
Swapping your cooking oils for healthier alternatives while minimizing processed food consumption is a simple habit that you can implement and that will, at the same time, make a positive difference for your health.
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