In case you didn’t know: Seed oils are bad. Bad news. Bad for your health. Bad for the environment.
I get a lot of questions about what fats and oils I use for cooking. It makes sense; after all, there is a lot of confusion about fat in general. And with the increasing hype over “heart-healthy” seed oils also known as vegetable oils and their sky-rocketed consumption level, it’s no wonder people have questions about these highly over-recommended products. It’s hard to eat healthily. It’s also hard to know what ‘wellness trends’ should be followed or ignored.
In This Article
In this article, I’m going to give you the seed oil facts that you need to know, including why you should be avoiding these oils altogether. I’m going to outline the manufacturing process, and what goes into these oils that makes them so bad. Then, I’ll go over some alternatives to seed oils, so you don’t have to sacrifice your culinary skills on behalf of your diet.
Ready? Let’s do this.
Seed Oils: What are they really?
Seed 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 which can be extracted by pressing, these new-fangled oils have to be extracted in very unnatural ways.
A non-traditional food with a questionable short history
Unlike traditional fats (butter, tallow, lard, olive oil, etc.) our industrial seed oils are a very new addition to the “food” world. In fact, they were practically non-existent until the early 1900s. But with the invention of certain chemical processes and a need for “cheap” fat substitutions, the world of fat hasn’t been the same since.
Consider that at the turn of the 20th century the amount of seed oils consumed was practically zero. Today, the average consumption is 70 lbs a year per person. (And since I know plenty of people who took it out of their diet entirely, that means lots of people are consuming even more!)
Even today, despite the fact that cardiovascular disease and cancer continue to rise at an alarming rate while butter consumption is down (and seed oil consumption is at an all-time high), people are still believing the hype and buying this very non-traditional, non-healthy food-like product.
So perhaps the name would lead you to believe that these oils are good for you. But they are definitely far from it.
(Want to see more disturbing charts? Check this article out.)
Seed Oils are Bad: an unnatural process from the start.
Lets compare the process of butter to the unnatural process of seed oils. Butter naturally is created one cream and milk have separated. Skim off the cream, shake it for 5 minutes, and you have butter!
Now let’s compare that to the production of canola oil.
Step 1: Find some “canola seeds.” Oh wait, they don’t exist. Canola oil is actually made from a hybrid version of rapeseed … most likely genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
Step 2: Heat the rapeseeds at unnaturally high temperatures so that they oxidize and are rancid before you ever buy them.
Step 3: Process with a petroleum solvent to extract the oils.
Step 4: Heat some more and add some acid to remove any nasty wax solids that formed during the first processing.
Step 5: Treat the oil with more chemicals to improve the color.
Step 6: Deodorize the oil to mask the horrific smell from the chemical processing.
They say about a lot of foods that you wouldn’t want to eat it if you knew how they were made, and seed oils are a perfect example. Often, a highly unnatural process results in a highly unnatural food, and that is definitely the case here. Perhaps if more people knew this process, then it wouldn’t be such a staple of the American diet.
So why are seed oils bad?
Hopefully, at this point, you can see how NOT real these oils are. And in my book, “not real” is reason enough to avoid them. So how can they continue to be marketed as “heart healthy”?
Along with the continued myth about saturated fats and cholesterol, these oils are promoted as healthy because they contain monounsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids. And that’s what advertisers focus on to draw you into fake health claims. But it definitely doesn’t paint the whole picture.
Without going into extreme detail (although I’ll link up to more reading if you want all the gruesome details), here are the many problems with seed oils:
The polyunsaturated fat issue
Vegetable oils are bad because they contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). But did you know that the fat content of the human body is about 97% saturated and monounsaturated fat? Our body needs fat for rebuilding cells and hormone production. And it can only use what we give it. The goal is to give your body healthy fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable. These types of fats oxidize easily. These oxidized fats cause inflammation and mutation in cells. That oxidation is linked to all sorts of health problems from cancer, heart disease, endometriosis, PCOS, etc. PUFAs are bad news.
Read more about PUFAS here.
Omega 6 issue
There’s a lot of hype about Omega-3’s and how healthy they are. But what often gets neglected is the fact that it’s more about the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that is critical to good health.
Seed 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 types of cancers and a host of other problems. And, as you’ve probably guessed, most Americans are high in Omega-6 fatty acids and low in Omega-3’s. But people keep buying into labels on seed oils that say “a good source of Omega-3’s” without realizing that they are really just making the imbalance even worse.
So be wary of deceptive marketing like this, just because something is high in Omega-3s does not mean it doesn’t also contain harmful ingredients. Having a “big picture” of the ingredients in the foods you are eating is crucial for a healthy diet.
All the other bad “stuff”
Beyond the unnatural levels of polyunsaturated fats and Omega-6 fatty acids, there are all the additives, pesticides, and chemicals involved in processing. Many seed oils contain BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These artificial antioxidants keep the food from spoiling too quickly, but they have also been shown to produce potential cancer compounds in the body. And they have been linked to things like immune system issues, infertility, behavioral problems, and liver and kidney damage, and other chronic diseases.
Oh yeah, and many seed oils come from genetically modified sources. Not sure why that’s bad? Check this out.
Seed Oils: The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, these oils are extremely unhealthy. They’ve been linked to reproductive problems, low birth rates, hormonal issues, obesity, mental decline, liver problems, and the big problems of our day: cancer and heart disease.
I know, this has all been pretty negative news, especially if you like to use seed oil as cooking oil or in other parts of your diet. But don’t worry, I’m here to help with that as well!
Read on for some healthy alternatives to seed oil that you can swap into your diet today.
So what is safe to use?
In a world that seems overrun with these highly unnatural and toxic fats, it can seem overwhelming when you are looking for better solutions. And if you try to keep up on the latest “scientific” findings you may be even more confused. Luckily, you don’t have to be a nutritionist to know the best fats to use. Look to your ancestors. Look what food was before the chemical and industrial age came in and made a mega-mart of imposters.
Basically, sometimes the best way to find all-natural foods is to look at what people were eating before these foods existed.
To help you, here are some guidelines when it comes to fats and oil.
Good fats for cooking
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 don’t get overwhelmed by all the choices.
Here are some great alternatives that you can use in your cooking, and you won’t find yourself missing seed oil at all:
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 seed oil.
One tip with coconut oil is to 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, this a much more natural process than seed oils. Avocado oil is high in oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat that is healthy (depending on how much you consume of course). Avocado oil is also great for fending off free radicals.
Avocado oil is great for dishes that you don’t have to heat up as well, as it tastes pretty great on its own. All these features make avocado oil another great alternative to seed oils.
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 most healthy oils you can find, as it contains mostly monounsaturated fats.
Of course, olive oil is also one of the most flexible ingredients out there. It’s awesome for many dishes that don’t need to be heated – like for salad dressing, mayo, hummus, and more. 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 seed oils, it doesn’t stop there. Here are even more oils and fats you can use that will help you kick seed oils to the curb for good:
Palm Oil (Although, please find from a sustainable source as so much palm oil today is being harvested in horrific ways. When in doubt just 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).
Oils to be used sparingly
The following oils are okay in moderation. Most contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids,, so they shouldn’t be consumed freely. However, they are considered natural fats and do have health benefits. . They are not great for high-heat cooking, but acceptable in dressings, mayos, and other non-heat foods.
Macadamia Nut Oil
Oils to avoid completely
Here’s the big list I avoid as much as possible. They are simply not natural, and many are made with a similar process to vegetable oil. Skip these:
- Canola Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
Any fake butter substitutes
Simply passing by these oils in the grocery store isn’t too hard. But keep in mind that most processed foods contain these oils, too. Salad dressing, condiments, crackers, chips… check your ingredients. Don’t buy them. In fact, just skip processed foods and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
Want to eat healthier, but are confused by all the information out there? You’re not alone!
It took me years to figure out this whole “healthy” eating thing, and that’s because the world is full of confusing information. Every “expert” is telling us something different, and it seems our lists of “shoulds” and “should not” eats are changing faster than we can keep up with.
If you’re like me and wish there was a simple, stress-free way approach to healthy living then you’re in the right place. My guide Processed Free will help you easily navigate real food no matter where you are on your path to healthier living. Click here to check it out.
We sometimes have to face some hard truths about our diet in order to make positive changes. And it can be hard to stay educated about what is truly healthy for your body. The most important part is being informed and knowing which ingredients you should and shouldn’t be eating.
But it isn’t all bad news, there are plenty of options out there that you can sub into your diet for seed oils and you won’t even notice the difference. So experiment with a few of the options from this article and let me know how it goes!
I’d love to hear about any recipes or any other alternatives that you have to seed oils.