After decades of misinformation and blatant lies about saturated fat, we have been convinced that vegetable and seed oils are a healthier choice. However, fats from non-animal sources are often made by industrious processes that result in chemically unstable, toxic oils – not such a healthy alternative after all! Today I want to show you why this misinformation is dangerous and why avoiding processed vegetable oils is critical for good health.

We fear natural fats

After decades of studies that supposedly proved a link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease many people believe that saturated fats will raise their cholesterol and kill them.  I cover the flaws in these studies and how we have been totally misled by “science” and big food industry in great detail here.

Beef, eggs, butter. These are all foods that are pretty much the same as how they began when they finally arrive on our plate. They have not undergone any crazy manufacturing process and they are full of nutrient dense, stable saturated fat. Yet many of us will still opt for vegetable and seed based oils over animal products, because we are continuously told by official bodies, like the NHS, that they are a healthier choice and will help to lower cholesterol. 

The fear of naturally occurring saturated fat has helped to generate a huge industry that uses heavy industrial processes, similar to those used to make crude oil, to create the vegetable oils that we consume in place of saturated fat. Vegetable and seed oils started as the waste products from crops and other manufacturing and over a period of fifty years of industry manipulating and the false tirade against animal fats, the vegetable oil industry is now worth billions of pounds around the world. This Guardian article actually talks about the transition of rapeseed oil to a so-called “trendy” fat.

Vegetable oils are now used in the vast majority of industrial food supplies, if you go to a restaurant you can be pretty certain they will be using at least some cheap vegetable oils. Furthermore, most people who have heeded government advice to cut back on saturated fat dutifully fill their pans with rapeseed or soybean oil before they cook in the hope of improving their health.

But the truth is we’ve got it all very, very wrong and vegetable oils are toxic.

Industry is now funding studies and doing all it can to keep us fearing saturated fat and thinking that vegetable oils and other man-made products are a healthy alternative. Take a look at some of the more heavily processed products in the supermarket. Crisps for example now have packaging that points to the fact they are “lower in saturated fat.” But this compromises our health and product flavour. Our governments and nutrition bodies are complicit, so to overcome the lies we need to understand the science ourselves. Here I am going to provide you with the key information to make informed choices.

Double bonds make vegetable oils dangerous and unstable 

Vegetable and seed oils are made up of predominantly polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Poly (many) + unsaturated (double bonds in the fatty acid chain) means that these oils contain more than one double bond.

All fats or fatty acids are made up of chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Those that have no double bonds are saturated fats, and those with one double bond are monounsaturated fats. The presence of a double bond makes the oil less stable because the hydrogen atom is not fully bound to the molecule.

These oils are highly prone to oxidation as a result of heat, oxygen or moisture – they are very unstable. Oxidised oils release free radicals, which are individual or clusters of atoms with an unpaired electron in outer orbit, which makes them highly reactive. These electrons are highly charged and looking for somewhere to deposit their energy, they usually react with somewhere in our bodies which causes oxidative damage.

Free radicals in the body can attack our cell membranes and red blood cells, which in turn causes damage to DNA strands that can cause downstream mutations in our tissue, blood vessels and skin. These impacts are very serious. Additionally, ageing is also thought to be the result of ongoing oxidation in the body, so ideally we don’t want to be speeding this process up!

Another problem caused by the presence of double bonds in polyunsaturated fats is that these fats are not malleable like fully saturated fats. The double bonds form kinks in the fatty acid chain so these fats cannot pack together easily and will always remain liquid. If you watch coconut oil in hot weather it melts and then once it cools again it returns to its solidified form. Butter is the same. However, the your yellowy bottle of rapeseed oil doesn’t simply harden and soften with the temperature, it goes rancid.

If we stop and really think about these so-called healthier oils and where they come from then you will soon realise that vegetable oils are NOT a healthier choice. In fact once you understand the manufacturing process you will see that not only are they less healthy, vegetable oils are dangerous, volatile, highly toxic and severely damaging to our health.

How are vegetable oils made?  

Here is a brief snapshot of the process used to make vegetable oils:

  • Corn, soybean, rapeseed/canola, sunflower plants are genetically modified to resist the huge variety of pesticides used on the crops;
  • The seeds are crushed, heated at temperatures up to 180°C and then put through a high heat and friction press to extract the oil. During this process they are exposed to damaging light and oxygen;
  • The seeds are also put through a solvent bath, usually hexane (produced by refining crude oil) to extract further oil. The solvent is boiled off, but up to 100 parts per million can remain in the oil and the nature of the solvents means that toxic pesticides also remain bound to the grains;
  • The seeds and oil, which are still mixed is put through a centrifuge to separate them. Phosphate is added to assist this;
  • A number of refining processes including adding of water, treatment with sodium hydroxide (for colour neutralisation) and bleaching are used to remove coloured materials;
  • Finally the oil is deodorised to further refine it and remove any volatile compounds that may cause the oil to taste or smell off. Viola you have a shiny bottle of yellowy liquid that is touted as healthy.

You can watch a video on how rapeseed oil (canola oil in the US and Australia) is made here.

As a result of this long industrious process and high temperatures, the final polyunsaturated oil product is very unstable can easily go rancid – simply by being exposed to a bit too much heat can trigger this. This means that there is an abundance of free radicals that are dangerous to the body. To further compound this problem BHT and BHA are preservatives added to the oils to replace the vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) that is destroyed. These preservatives have been linked to causing brain damage and cancer, yet are somehow still allowed in our food chain!

This chemically complex, highly industrialised manufacturing process is about as far from natural as you can get. Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Omega-3/Omega-6 imbalances

To add further detrimental effects to an already long list of negative health consequences these kinds of polyunsaturated vegetable oils contain an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Our body needs both of these types of fatty acids and we should be consuming a ratio of about 1:1. The problem with modern Western diets is that due to too many polyunsaturated vegetable oils and grain fed animals, we are consuming a ratio of up to 1:20!

This is far too many Omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to be pro-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is another form of stress and if your body is constantly stressed then it can’t do its other jobs like make correct hormones, regulate your metabolism and produce your happy neurotransmitters (serotonin) for good moods. This is why a host of mental and physical conditions are now being linked to our out-of-control consumption of Omega-6s. This in itself is a reason not to consume vegetable oils!

Empirical evidence against vegetable oils

There is more and more hard scientific data emerging to say that refined, polyunsaturated vegetable oils that are one of the key causes of heart disease, cancer, hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues, depression, ADHD and more. This is because of the high inflammation and oxidative damage caused by consumption of these oils, which are ubiquitous in our food supply. Big food manufacturers find these oils cheap and convenient however, so despite this evidence existing for a long time, it doesn’t receive mainstream press. Here are a few studies that have been around a long time.

– 1940 studies highlighted to scientists that compounds from vegetable oils including linseed, corm and soybean oil were toxic to rats and caused growth stunting, diarrhoea, heart damage and gastric ulcers.

– 1972 a Japanese study on mice found that heated soybean oil was “highly toxic”; around the same time a pathologist at Columbia University found that rats that were fed “mildly oxidised” oils suffered liver damage and heart lesions compared to those fed animal which showed no damage.

– 2010 report by the International Agency for Cancer (Part of WHO) suggested emissions from heated vegetable oils are “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The impact of these oxidation products are certainly more dangerous when the fats are ingested.

My favourite studies, which were funded to prove just how dangerous saturated fat is, obviously failed to do so. In fact control groups who were fed diets of margarine and vegetable oils over saturated fats showed increased risk of of homocide and suicide. Although scientists put this down to coincidence, this further adds to the hypothosis that these oils increase our risk of depression and even schizophrenia. 

Unfortunately organisations like the British Heart Association still tout polyunsaturated oils as a healthier alternative to natural, saturated fats. It’s always interesting to look at where the funding for these organisations comes from. However, scepticism aside the lack of interest in investigating the negative health consequences of vegetable oils means we are reliant on data from America.

Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions explains that science says up to 4% of calories from toxic polyunsaturated oils could be considered safe. However, Americans are consuming as much as 30% of calories from these source! I only hope that the UK’s long traditions of beef dripping chips and roasted potatoes means we are not there yet!

Final words

It is a huge shame that we have been put off the nutrient rich, naturally occuring fats found in animal products, and encouraged to use vegetable oils made by highly industrious and unnatural processes. We now shy away from cooked breakfasts and instead go for carbohydrate heavy cereals topped with low fat (that means sugar laden) yoghurts or low fat milk, or toast with margarine. Replacing fat with carbohydrate dense, nutrient poor, processed foods means you are bound to miss out on so many essential nutrients.

I hope this article has illustrated just how detrimental consumption of vegetable oils can be to your health.

Stop listening to industry sponsored and totally misguided health advice and just stick to REAL FOOD!

If you’ve eaten vegetable oils for a long time and are concerned about the impact, then working with a nutritional therapist to correct imbalances in the body can help. Make a time to chat with me about how you can nourish yourself better via the contact page.

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