Although vegetable oils have a healthy sounding name, trust me, they are anything but! They are also NOT made from vegetables. As you might already know, vegetable oils actually come from any combination of corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and/or cottonseed oil.
On a Paleo diet you are encouraged to eat naturally occurring fats from well-sourced and raised animals and oily fruits, however, with the consistent hype over “heart healthy” vegetable oils and their sky-rocketed consumption level, many people have questions about these highly over-recommended products.
What Are Vegetable Oils?
Vegetable oils are oils that have been extracted from various seeds. The most common include rapeseed (canola oil), soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, peanut, etc. Unlike coconut oil or olive oil that can be extracted by pressing, these oils have to be extracted in very unnatural ways.
Unlike traditional fats like butter, tallow, lard, olive oil, etc.) these industrial vegetable oils are a very new addition to the “food” world with the invention of certain chemical processes and a need for inexpensive fat substitutions.
At the turn of the 20th century that amount of vegetable oils consumed was practically zero. Today, the average consumption is 70 lbs a year per person.
This number increased dramatically with the campaign against saturated fats and cholesterol. (Read more on the role of fats in your health here)
Currently, despite the fact that cardiovascular disease and cancer continue to rise at alarming rates while saturated fat consumption is down, many still tout the health benefits of this food-like product.
Concerns with Vegetable Oils
A detailed description of the procession of canola can be watched here
- Canola oil is a hybrid version of the rapeseed which is commonly genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
- Once the rapeseed is collected, magnetized rods attempt to remove any foreign metal that may have been introduced into the collection of seed.
- Afterwards, a 60+ minute wash of a hexane
- After the hexane wash is complete, a wash of sodium hydroxideis performed.
- The “natural” waxes are collected and used to aid in the creation of vegetable shortening.
- Bleach is then introduced to lighten the cloudy color of the processed oil.
- Steam injection is then applied to remove the bitter smell
This procedure highlights how un-natural these oils are. Sadly, they are still marketed and recommended as “heart healthy”. This is because they contain monounsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids but context is important too. Even if your vegetable oil is marketed as well-sourced, organic and cold pressed, it is still not fit for your consumption and need not play a role in your Paleo diet!
Vegetable oils are problematic because they contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). The fat content of the human body is predominantly saturated and monounsaturated fat. Your body needs fat for rebuilding cells and hormone production and it can only use what you provide.
Polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable. These types of fats oxidize easily. These oxidized fats cause inflammation and cell mutation which is linked to health concerns including cancer, heart disease, endometriosis and PCOS.
Omega 6 Ratio
There is much talk about how healthy Omega-3 fats are, but what often gets neglected is the fact that it’s more about the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats that are critical to good health.
Vegetable oils contain a very high concentration of Omega 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids oxidize easily. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and protect against cancer. Unbalanced levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats have been linked to many health problems. Although the labels on many vegetable oils promote them as a good source of Omega-3s, consuming these oils actually makes the imbalance even worse.
This is why having a more complete idea of the ingredients in the foods you are eating is crucial for your healthy eating plan.
For heart health, vegetable oils are recommended for cooking. Unfortunately, the PUFA content of vegetable oils leaves them highly unstable. When exposed to high temperatures, they oxidize.
The combination of high heat and unstable fat generates particles called oxidized lipids. These oxidized fats trigger Inflammation, creating inflammatory conditions in which atherosclerotic (heart disease) plaques develop.
Beyond the unnatural levels of polyunsaturated fats and Omega-6 fatty acids, there are all the additives, pesticides, and chemicals involved in processing. Many vegetable oils contain BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These artificial antioxidants keep the food from spoiling too quickly, but have been shown to produce potential cancer compounds in the body. They have been further linked to immune system issues, infertility, behavioral problems, and liver and kidney damage.
Vegetable Oils Are Unhealthy
These oils are extremely unhealthy. They’ve been linked to reproductive problems, low birth rate, hormonal issues, obesity, mental decline, liver problems, and the big problems of our day: cancer and heart disease.
Although some more modern foods may become part of your Paleo diet (like ancient grains or dairy), avoiding vegetable oils at all costs is important for your long-term health, even if they are marketed as organic, non-GMO, high oleic and/or cold pressed.
In a world that seems overrun with these highly unnatural and toxic fats, it can seem overwhelming when sourcing better solutions. Trying to keep up to date with latest “scientific” findings you may lead to even more confusion. Luckily, ancient man has shed light on what real food and real fat was before the chemical and industrial age came in and made a grocery store full of imposters.
If you're wondering how to avoid vegetable oils. Check out our Paleo Fat guide for more details.
Guidelines For Fats & Oils
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is the oil that is extracted from the “meat” of a coconut. It is a natural oil that is made by “pressing” a coconut to remove the oil. A simple process, unlike the highly unnatural process used to make vegetable oil.
Look for “expeller pressed” coconut oil. This is a method of pressing the coconut to remove the oil. With expeller pressed oil, there is no strong coconut flavor that might overwhelm your dishes.
To use for cooking, simply use the same amount that you would have used if you were using vegetable oil. This makes the transition quick and easy!
Avocado Oil: Avocado oil is made by pressing avocado pulp. Once again, a much more natural process than vegetable oil. Avocado oil is high in oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat that is healthy. Avocado oil is also great for fending off free radicals.
Avocado oil is great for cold preparations too as it tastes pretty great on its own. All these features make avocado oil a fantastic, tasty and healthy plant-based fat.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: A classic option. Extra-virgin olive oil is a healthy alternative to vegetable oil. It is also affordable and easy-to-find. It is made by pressing whole olives. It is one of the healthiest oils you can find, as it contains mostly monounsaturated fats.
Of course, olive oil is also one of the most flexible ingredients out there. Is versatile and works well for many dishes that require no heating like in salad dressing, mayonnaise, pesto and tapenade. You can also use it for cooking at low temperatures in all sorts of recipes.
Other Alternatives: While coconuts, avocado, and olive oil are three of the most popular alternatives to vegetable oil, there are many other delicious traditional fats available including:
- Duck Fat
- Bacon (get the best bacon – ours of course – here)
- Palm Oil (Seek out a brand that is sustainably sourced as so much palm oil today is being harvested in horrific ways. When in doubt simply stick with coconut oil.)
Other fats (not necessarily for cooking, but essential to good health) include meats, eggs, dairy, and fish (nuts are also good in moderation as they have a high level of polyunsaturated fats).
When it comes to any food, keep in mind that where it comes from and how you store it can matter greatly. Traditional oils should be cold-pressed. They should also be organic when possible (especially when dealing with animal fats as the fat is where toxins/pesticides are stored). Do the best you can, and try not to get too overwhelmed by all the choices.
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Oils To Be Used Sparingly
The following oils are acceptable when used moderately. Most contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, and are best if not consumed too freely. However, they are still considered natural fats, and do have health benefits. They are not great for high heat cooking, but acceptable in dressings, mayonnaises, and other non-heated foods.
- Walnut Oil
- Flaxseed Oil
- Macadamia Nut Oil
- Sesame Seed Oil
Oils To Avoid Completely
These are the oils and fats to avoid as much as possible. They are simply not natural, and many are made with a similar process to vegetable oil.
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- “Vegetable” oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Any fake butter substitutes
Simply passing by these oils in the grocery story isn’t rather simple. Keep in mind that most processed foods contain these oils, too: salad dressing, condiments, dips and dressings (even those that may, on the surface, appear or be labelled Paleo friendly). Check your ingredients. Avoid buying them. In fact, skipping all processed foods (whether made with natural looking ingredients or not) will save you a lot of trouble.
Make It A Habit
It can be extremely challenging to avoid these rancid vegetable oils completely if you are eating out, and I personally try not to stress about the occasional night at a restaurant. By keeping these ingredients out of your house, occasional, minimal consumption with family or friends will have minimal impact. If you do by chance find a restaurant that uses quality fats, be sure to give them your business!
The most important part is being informed and knowing which ingredients you should and shouldn’t be eating. While this does require a lot of research at first, once you have completed your first few grocery shops it will simply become part of your routine.
If optimal health is your goal, then these manufactured fats have no place in your diet. Instead, cook with traditional animal fats, get your omega-6s from whole food sources such as nuts and poultry, and balance things out with omega-3 fatty acids from pastured ruminants, seafood, shellfish, and fish oils