Are "vegetable" oils healthy... or Toxic?

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Almost a year ago, the newspaper USA Today published an article condemning coconut oil as having "never been healthy". The proof for this statement? None. Zip. Zilch. It is based on an extrapolation of decades-old data that the American Heart Association trots out every so often to revive the tired old Diet-Heart hypothesis. The hypothesis states in a nutshell that saturated fat raises Low density lipoprotein (LDL) which, in turn, causes heart disease. Problem is, that's simply not true. This hypothesis was based on flawed epidemiological studies and has been proven wrong. (For an excellent book on the subject of how the faulty diet-heart hypothesis became so firmly entrenched in our medical establishment and the science behind why it is wrong, check out The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. Spoiler alert: saturated fat is good for you, so is cholesterol. In fact, both are vital for long-term health and energy.)

So what does the Diet-Heart hypothesis have to do with vegetable oils? Back in the 1950s, the medical establishment started to promote the idea that saturated fat is bad for us, based on the Diet-Heart hypothesis. Saturated fat is found in foods like butter, cream, fatty meat, lard, eggs and more. These foods were the staple of the American diet for a very long time. However, margarine, Crisco, corn oil, canola oil and other generic vegetable oils (all low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fats, PUFAs), were being praised as more "heart-healthy" than these traditional foods. (Newly revealed documents have shown that the sugar industry was involved in promoting the diet-Heart hypothesis as far back as 1965. Sugar is one of the main culprits in coronary heart disease, and pointing the finger at saturated fat as the demon took the heat off the sugar industry. Read this New York Times article for the sordid details.)

PUFAs are easily damaged by oxygen and heat and can become quickly rancid and oxidized, leading to a number of health problems when we consume them. PUFAs can cause mutations in cell membranes, as well as free radical damage throughout our bodies, including damage to the skin causing wrinkles and potentially even skin cancer. Free radical damage can lead to inflammation, autoimmune disease, premature aging, dementia and more. 

Most of us are aware that highly processed sugars and carbohydrates cause serious health issues; the same is true of highly processed oils.

Most vegetable oils sold today are rancid, highly processed foods that contain enormous amounts of toxic chemicals. Corn oil, soy oil, canola oil and “vegetable” oil are usually made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been heavily treated with herbicides and pesticides and go through a series of chemical processes to make them edible. Unlike butter or coconut oil, these vegetable oils can’t be extracted just by pressing or mechanical separation. They must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered. These are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets.

Let’s look at the process to manufacture Canola Oil, an oil often promoted as a healthy alternative to butter or other saturated fats. Canola oil is made from the rapeseed. Rapeseed oil contains high amounts of the toxic erucic acid, which is poisonous to the body. Canola oil is an altered version, also called Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed (LEAR).

Canola (modified rapeseed oil) is produced by heating the rapeseed and processing with a petroleum solvent to extract the oil. Then another process of heat and addition of acid is used to remove nasty solids (wax) that occur during the first processing.

At this point, the newly created canola oil must be treated with more chemicals to improve color and separate the different parts of the oil. Finally, since the chemical process has created a harsh smelling oil, it must be chemically deodorized to be palatable.

This is the typical processing that all industrially produced vegetable oils go through. Compare that to the process for making butter:

1)      Milk the cow.

2)      Separate the cream from the milk.

3)      Shake or whip the cream until it becomes butter.

4)      Rinse.

5)      Enjoy!

That’s a simplified look at the butter-making process, of course, but it illustrates the point that industrial processing requires a lot of chemicals to achieve the end result. This processing leaves toxic residues in the end product, BHA and BHT for example. BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are artificial antioxidants that help prevent food from oxidizing or spoiling too quickly. These chemicals have been shown to produce potential cancer causing compounds in the body, and have also been linked to liver/kidney damage, immune problems, infertility or sterility, high cholesterol, and behavioral problems in children.

Vegetable oils also contain residues of the pesticides and chemicals used in their growth and manufacture and most often come from genetically modified sources. These pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used in the manufacture of vegetable oils are lipophilic, meaning that they adhere to fat and are therefore highly concentrated in vegetable oils. 

Another issue with vegetable oils is the high Omega-6 content, which is a pro-inflammation essential fatty acid (EFA) in the body. When Omega 6 EFAs are out of balance with the inflammation-reducing Omega 3 EFAs, our health suffers in many ways. Many people try to increase their intake of Omega 3s to even out the balance, but a healthier approach is to reduce the Omega 6s, which are found in abundance in industrially processed vegetable oils. (Omega-6 EFAs are not "bad" for us. They are an important player in the necessary and healthy acute inflammatory response. The problem comes from the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 EFA. Most of us consume far too much Omega 6 and far too little Omega 3.)

So what to eat?? Eat the Good Fats!

High quality fats are an efficient, slow-burning fuel that provide steady long-lasting energy. Here is a list of healthy fats you can consume freely. When you nourish your body with healthy fats, your appetite will naturally regulate itself, making it easy to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the many health dangers associated with eating too much sugar. 

  • Coconut Oil and Palm Oil: These fats contain Medium Chain triglycerides, which is very efficiently utilized by the body. They are anti-bacterial and anti-viral, have immune-boosting properties and taste great.
  • Butter: Yay Butter! Butter from grass-fed cows is a great source of fat-soluble vitamins A & D, and a lesser-known fat called Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). Vitamins A & D are important to the health of our hearts, brains and immune systems among many other benefits. CLA is a potent protector against cancer, inflammation, diabetes and heart disease to name just a few benefits, as well as helps the metabolism work efficiently and maintain a healthy weight. Plus, butter is delicious!
  • Organic Cream: also a good source of healthy saturated fat, organic heavy cream is essentially liquid butter, and is great served whipped on top of fruit, in desserts or in cream based recipes.
  • Oily fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce systemic inflammation. The omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fish are in the form of DHA and EPA. Both of these EFAs are critical for optimal brain function and health. Farmed fish is very low in the critical EFAs, so be sure to get wild-caught fish from reputable sources.
  • Lard, beef tallow and duck fat: These are very stable high-heat cooking oils that are rich in the crucial fat-soluble nutrients vitamins A, D, E and K. Quality matters! Buy only meat products from 100% pastured animals.
  • Eggs: According to “conventional” wisdom, the versatile and delicious egg has a double-whammy against it: fat and cholesterol. Turns out, cholesterol is an important nutrient in the body, and the saturated fat found in eggs is very healthy. In addition, egg yolks are a rich source of choline, which aids in proper neuronal signaling (ie, improved communication between neurons). Choline is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that supports learning and memory, as well as deep sleep. And, if all those health benefits are not enough, egg yolks provide ample quantities of Vitamins A, D, E and K. Be sure to eat eggs from pastured chickens for the most health-bang from your food buck.
  • Olive Oil, Avocado Oil and avocados: Healthy oils that should not be heated. Use in salads and dressings.·      
  • Flax seed, Walnut, Macadamia and other nut oils are good choices for occasional variety. These oils should also not be heated and instead used in dressings or drizzled on vegetables after cooking for flavor.

Want to learn more about what foods you should and should not be eating to maintain high energy levels? Check out my six-week e-course, “6 Weeks to Abundant Energy”.