Seed OilsSep 17, 2021
By: Nick Sienkiewicz, DPT, CSCS
A Heart Healthy Hoax
Seed oils, sometimes called vegetable oils, may sound like a healthy choice, but they are quite the opposite. In the early 1900s, scientists realized they could extract and manipulate small amounts of oil from cotton seeds that when processed and altered in a factory could create a substance somewhat resembling animal fats, like butter. This was the birth of Crisco. Over the next century, companies would begin to do the same to all different kinds of seeds, including corn, sunflower and soybean. The process allowed the Big Food industry to capitalize and expand profits by not only selling these so called oils for cooking, but also putting them in all processed foods because of their long shelf life (this is NOT a good thing by the way). This empowered seed oils take precedence in our modern society over fats, like butter and beef tallow, that humans have been using since the dawn of time.
You may think that you do not consume many seed oils in your current diet, but I will tell you they are hidden in everything, from salad dressings to your favorite snack, and even to some of your meat, as many animals, like chickens and pigs are often fed these highly processed seed oils (and remember you are what you eat). So you may be asking yourself, “well I use olive oil for everything so I’m okay right?” Well unfortunately, these seed oils are also added to other healthier oils. Yes, some manufacturers even combine seed oils with less toxic oils, like olive and avocado, in order to save money and maximize profits. As you can see, our modern American culture has made it very difficult to completely avoid industrialized seed oils. It takes some diligence, but hopefully this blog will help you sift through the chaos and be able to regain some traction on your health journey by reducing or completely eliminating seed oils.
The term “vegetable oil” is actually quite misleading because the oil is not derived from the vegetable itself at all, but rather the seeds. This is problematic because, as plants are living organisms, their main purpose is to reproduce. The seeds are the offspring of the plant, so the plant is most protective of its seeds in order to give the plant the best possible chance to live on. For this reason, plant seeds contain a variety of compounds that are toxic or poisonous, such as lectins, to animals that may try to eat them. Consequently, oils derived from these seeds will contain higher levels of these harmful compounds. Furthermore, the multi-step process of creating these seed oils results in other toxic byproducts that have been shown to be loaded with chemicals and compounds that are known to be harmful to not only humans, but other animals as well. As a result, seed oils can cause excessive inflammation, disrupt hormones and fertility, increase allergies, and play a role in a variety of diseases and conditions. These industrialized seed oils have been linked to various disorders that ail our society currently, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases.
Seed oils are polyunsaturated fats, meaning they are less stable and oxidize more easily, resulting in the breakdown into more toxic and inflammatory materials. On the other hand, saturated fats, like butter, are much more stable and cause less oxidative stress in the body. Seed oils also have higher ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Simply, omega 6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and cause your fat cells to swell, whereas omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and promote metabolic health. Our ancestors even just a century ago consumed a natural diet that was around a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s. Today, that ratio lies somewhere in the 20s:1 for most Americans. Much of this outrageously skewed ratio is due to this over-consumption of processed seed oils. More recently, these seed oils have been shown to cause hyperphagia. This is just a fancy medical term for excessive hunger, which occurs because seed oils disrupt the function of your hypothalamus in the brain and alter levels of leptin, which is your body’s hunger hormone. Yes, all that yo-yo dieting could have absolutely been derailed by consuming too much seed oil because it causes you to overeat.
Now, I know this all sounds frightening. The purpose of this blog is not to scare you but rather enlighten you! The beauty of this issue of seed oils being held on a pedestal in our culture is that you ultimately control what you consume. It is certainly true that products filled with seed oils are typically cheaper and more affordable. However, I would argue that spending a little bit more money on high quality whole foods each week is better than large medical expenses that could be the result of long term over-consumption of these industrialized seed oils. So here is a quick cheat sheet to help guide you through this process of eliminating toxic seed oils:
- Avoid or at least minimize the use of and products containing the following oils: canola (rapeseed), soybean, sunflower, safflower, palm, cottonseed, sesame, grapeseed, and anything saying “vegetable oil.” This is by no means a comprehensive list, so just assume any term that looks unfamiliar prior to the word “oil” is probably a seed oil.
- Stick to butter, ghee and tallow for cooking if possible. As a secondary option here, olive, coconut and avocado oil are all better options will less toxicity than the seed oils listed above. Lard, duck fat, and bacon fat from good sources are also viable options, despite what you have been conditioned to think!
- READ nutrition labels! You may notice that some olive or avocado oils on the market also contain certain amounts of seed oils to “stretch the product out.” Read ALL labels. You may be shocked to see what food products claim to be “healthy” and “organic” actually contain these harmful oils.
- Know where your product came from. This assures a better quality product, and is easiest when buying locally. Additionally, there are great options on the internet that you can buy remotely and have shipped to your home if more feasible. Do your research! A little extra work up front is better in the long run!
- Vary the consumption of your high quality fats and cooking oils. Butter, ghee and tallow are super healthy options and can be consumed daily, but do have slightly different amounts of certain fatty acids, so it is good practice to vary your use to cover all bases. The same goes for olive, avocado and coconut oil, as they contain a distinct makeup of fatty acids as well.
- Consider the smoking points of your oils, as this indicates the temperature at which the contents of the fat will begin to breakdown into toxic byproducts. For higher heats, such as in the oven or on the grill, ghee, tallow and avocado oil are probably your best bets. For more moderate heats, like on the stovetop, butter, olive or coconut oil would be good options.
There is a plethora of nutrition information going around these days, so knowing what to do or even just where to start when making nutritional transformations can be very challenging. I believe one of the best places for any human to begin would be with removing seed oils from your diet. Start reducing the intake or even completely eliminating if possible by following the blueprint above, and you will likely begin to notice positive changes!
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