Why Vegetable Oils Are Bad for You
Vegetable oils. Comprised of two virtuous words practically synonymous with health, you’re probably perplexed as to why we’re raising a fuss at all? Let’s first set the record straight by clarifying that vegetable oils share no familial relation or origin to vegetables themselves, surprisingly. Such oils are, in fact, typically pressed and extracted from soybeans, corn kernels, rapeseeds (the source of canola oil), cottonseeds, sunflower seeds and safflower seeds, and should more aptly be termed “industrial seed oils”. While such deception is not sufficient grounds to incriminate them, we do believe that once you read our investigative report, you will at least be inclined to reduce your consumption – if not banish vegetable oils from your diet forever.
How Vegetable Oils Are Made
Brace yourself. This may be rough.
Once extracted from the native seeds, vegetable oils are refined, bleached, and deodorized to be made fit for human consumption (though that last part is debatable). Delineating the full process, they are: 1
- Gathered from the soybeans, corn, cottonseed, safflower, or rapeseed plants
- Heated to extremely high temperatures, thereby oxidizing their unsaturated fatty acids
- Processed with a petroleum-based solvent, such as hexane, to maximize the amount of oil extracted
- Deodorized with chemicals to tame the oils’ foul smells, creating trans fats as byproducts
- Colored with chemicals to improve their appearance
Nothing about this process is natural, making one doubt whether such oils are still appropriate for human consumption by the end of the whole shebang. Not only are you not getting any vegetables, you’re overloading your system with their antithesis – toxins, trans fats, and boatloads of other oxidative byproducts. It would be a pretty tough sell to the wiser world, and the sad reality is most of us are unaware that this is – and has been – happening under our noses (pun intended) for quite some time now.
History of Vegetable Oils
How did such sinister items become such a staple in our food supply? Below is a short timeline of how the transformation of a foul, sticky waste product leftover from cotton farming paved the way for production of, arguably, the most poisonous ingredients to ever enter our modern diets.
- 1860s. The hulls of cottonseeds, high in fiber, protein and various minerals, were commonly used to supplement cattle feed and as a fertilizer for wheat, oats and corn. 2
- 1870s. As America entered its post-war Gilded Age, ripe with huge-bearded presidents, two soap makers from Cincinnati – William Procter and James Gamble – created a new soap from vegetable oils. Rather than using traditional pork fat, they decided to innovate and transform the unwanted (and therefore inexpensive) oil of the cottonseed. 3
- 1900s. Hydrogenation was developed as a method for changing the saturation level of cottonseed oil, forming a semi-solid cooking fat. The result: Crisco. 3
- 1930s to 1950s. New options joined cottonseed oil: soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. 1
- 1940s to Present. Vegetable oils became an integral part of the American diet. A physiologist, Ancel Keys, steered people in this direction with his diet-lipid hypothesis, cherry-picking data to show that foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. This spurred new public health recommendations, directing people to eat more polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), prominently found in vegetable oils. 4
- 1970s to 2000. Vegetables oils became a true American dietary "staple," with average annual consumption of soybean oil alone rising from 4 lbs per person to 26 lbs per person! 56
- 2014. There remains no strong evidence for any benefit of switching from saturated fats to PUFAs sourced from vegetable oils. In fact, the evidence suggests that soybean oil and its friends may actually be depreciating your lifespan. 6
Why Vegetable Oils Are Toxic
We recognize the above title is an audacious claim, but it is one we feel justified in making. The proof is in the pudding – err, the proof is in the PUFA. (We were also tempted to write the PUFA is in the pudding since nearly all commercial puddings contain vegetable oils, but figured you could only handle so much irony for one article).
- Vegetable Oils Induce an Imbalanced Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
- The ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio should be 1:1, 7 though Westernized diets exhibit a ratio in the range of 10:1 to 20:1. 8
- Too many omega-6 fatty acids relative to few omega-3 fatty acids lead to an imbalance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mediators. This imbalance produces a state of chronic inflammation that contributes to numerous chronic disease processes. 7
- Evidence also suggests that vegetable oils may increase risk of autoimmunity by raising the body’s omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio and by increasing oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. 9
- A high omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio increases risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia. 10
- Vegetable Oils Are Highly Unstable
- Vegetable Oils Are Full of Chemicals
- Given that PUFAs are unstable, antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, and TBHQ (all synthetic) are added during the extraction process to help combat oxidation and rancidity; however, evidence has revealed these antioxidants act as carcinogens and are especially injurious to our endocrine and immune systems. 12-14
Vegetable Oils in Plant Milks and Plant-Based Creamers
Like gums and lecithin, vegetable oils are sometimes deployed as thickening agents – particularly in products designed for coffee performance. In barista oat milks, Minor Figures, Pacific, and the famous Oatly use rapeseed/canola oil; while Califia uses sunflower oil. Oatly also includes rapeseed oil in its original and unsweetened oat milks. What's more, in each of these products, oil is listed near the top of the ingredient list, meaning the concentration is high relative to other ingredients. Click here for much more about oat milk.
Even if one does not heed the evidence and accepts added oils as relatively benign, the question remains: Are they really necessary? To go one step further: What is it saying about the product as an "oat milk" that oils need to be used? Really, it’s an admission of deficiency. These guys will tend to use insubstantial quantities of source ingredients and/or straining processes that strip grains, nuts, and seeds of nutrients. Vegetable oils are one way to thicken the mouthfeel, making a watery product feel creamy and substantial.
Elmhurst plant milks and creamers avoid the oil trap with a HydroRelease™ process that translates the full nutrition of the source grain, nut, or seed to a creamy emulsion free of oils and other additives.
How to Avoid Vegetable Oils
First, read labels and look for whole, rather than over-processed, foods. The fewer vegetable oils you consume, the closer you will get to the ancestral 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, and the better your health will become. To hit the ground running, we recommend trying Elmhurst® hemp creamers with 350mg omega-3 ALA per serving, and of course, no added oils.
In certain foods like potato chips and French fries, albeit, it seems that these oils just "come with the territory", making it nearly impossible to find healthy alternatives. It is up to the brand to provide you with options, yet sometimes they do not. See oat milk. This craze has touched off a comprehensive reimagining of barista products. It has also left its participants with few options to escape added oils, except, perhaps, to flee back to dairy. Luckily, there is at least one line of plant-based oat and barista products set apart from the crowd: Elmhurst. All of its oat products (Milked Oats™ Barista Edition, original Milked Oats, and Unsweetened Milked Oats) – as well as its entire line of hemp creamers and barista hemp milk – are free of added oils.
Sometimes there are costs to omission. Without oils, can it really work? You will be glad to know that; indeed, this is not at the expense of performance. Through its unique HydroRelease™ method and comparatively high concentration of the source ingredient (oat milks have 16-20g whole grain per serving, for example), Elmhurst is able to achieve coffee-caliber creaminess without assistance from vegetable oils.
- Wikipedia. Vegetable oil. 2019; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetable_oil. Accessed August 1, 2019, 2019.
- Standifer M. Cottonseed Industry. 2016; https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/drc04. Accessed August 19, 2019, 2019.
- Ramsey DG, Tyler. How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet. 2012; https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/how-vegetable-oils-replaced-animal-fats-in-the-american-diet/256155/. Accessed August 1, 2019, 2019.
- Harcombe Z. US dietary guidelines: is saturated fat a nutrient of concern? British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018:bjsports-2018-099420.
- Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2011;93(5):950-962.
- Mozaffarian D, Ludwig DS. The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines: Lifting the Ban on Total Dietary FatUS Dietary Guidelines and Lifting the Total Dietary Fat BanUS Dietary Guidelines and Lifting the Total Dietary Fat Ban. Jama. 2015;313(24):2421-2422.
- Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie. 2002;56(8):365-379.
- Kones R, Howell S, Rumana U. n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: Principles, Practices, Pitfalls, and Promises - A Contemporary Review. Med Princ Pract. 2017;26(6):497-508.
- Fernandes G. Dietary lipids and risk of autoimmune disease. Clinical immunology and immunopathology. 1994;72(2):193-197.
- Loef M, Walach H. The Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratio and Dementia or Cognitive Decline: A Systematic Review on Human Studies and Biological Evidence. Journal of Nutrition in Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2013;32(1):1-23.
- Ganguly R, Pierce GN. The toxicity of dietary trans fats. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association. 2015;78:170-176.
- Pop A, Kiss B, Loghin F. Endocrine disrupting effects of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA - E320). Clujul Med. 2013;86(1):16-20.
- Ito N, Hirose M, Hagiwara A, Takahashi S. Carcinogenicity and Modification of Carcinogenic Response by Antioxidants. In: Kuroda Y, Shankel DM, Waters MD, eds. Antimutagenesis and Anticarcinogenesis Mechanisms II. Boston, MA: Springer US; 1990:183-194.
- Turley AE, Zagorski JW, Rockwell CE. The Nrf2 activator tBHQ inhibits T cell activation of primary human CD4 T cells. Cytokine. 2015;71(2):289-295.