Using the right oils for cooking and consumption is one of the easiest way to improve your overall health. Oils and fats are not all created equal. Some are natural and nutrient dense. Others are man made and toxic to our bodies. Some are robust and can stand up to high heat, others are fragile and breakdown easily, causing them to lose all of their nutritional properties.
In the U.S., butter, lard and tallow were the primary cooking fats for generations. In the early twentieth century, this all changed when artificial trans fats were invented for mass-production and the convenience market. One hundred years later, when trans fats were finally deemed unsafe, industrially processed seed oils (also known as vegetable oils) took their place in processed foods given their mass-production appeal. These oils are even worse for us than their predecessors.
These man made oils, including canola (or rapeseed), soybean, sunflower safflower, corn and cottonseed do not easily convert to an oil form. They come from tough seeds and legumes that were originally grown for industrial use. Their consumable form is only achieved through an incredible amount of processing, often times using harsh, petroleum-based chemicals to bring them to a consumable form and to extend their shelf life. They are toxic and inflammatory to the human body, especially when heated, as they degrade and release volatile toxic compounds into the air and our food. Consumption of these compounds has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, digestive distress, kidney and liver issues, cancer, neurological problems and more.
As a society, we are consuming so many of these oils (which are higher in omega-6 fatty acids) that our ratios of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids are out of balance. While both sources are important for optimal health, most of us don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids. These are the fats which promote healthy cells and hormones, are anti-inflammatory and decrease risk of stroke and heart attack. Although we do need omega-6 fatty acids to maintain cell wall integrity, for brain function, muscle growth and hormone production, too much omega-6 fatty acids over omega-3 can increase inflammation in the body.
By reducing your reliance of processed foods you will automatically avoid many of these oils and help to bring your omega-3 / omega-6 ratio closer to balance. I know this is easier said than done given they are in countless processed and packaged foods and even in freshly prepared foods at the most high end grocery stores and restaurants. Almost all brands of bottled salad dressings and jarred mayonnaise contain at least one of these notorious oils as do chips, crackers, breads, baked goods and beyond. At home, try making your own vinaigrette or look for the Primal Kitchen brand or others that contain only olive or avocado oil listed in the ingredient list.
What else can you do? Cooking at home is the best way to control the oils you are consuming. Check out my Fats & Oils Cheat Sheet here (link coming soon). If you eat out regularly, it will be a bit more challenging to reduce your exposure to industrial seed oils, but it is not impossible. Avoid fast food restaurants, and especially fried foods as often as possible and don’t be shy about inquiring about how things are cooked or prepped. You can always ask to have your meal prepared without cooking oils or with olive oil or butter instead. I often times will bring along a small (travel sized) bottle of high quality olive oil with me and ask for vinegar or lemons to dress salads. Depending on where you live, you may find that more restaurants are cooking with better quality oils as people become more educated about this topic. Do some research and find some go to healthy spots in your neighborhood or town or a place that you are travelling to. Your body will thank you.