Vegetables are (mostly) healthy, (most) vegetable oils are not! While there has been more discussion about how sugars and processed foods are bad for us, there continues to be this notion that vegetable oil is a healthy replacement for saturated fat. But, do we actually need a “healthy” replacement for something that may not be bad for us? We will delve into this as well as the difference between industrial seed oils and traditional fats. Here’s the skinny on fat:
Saturated fat has been vilified for years, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is not as bad as it has been made out to be, and in fact can be helpful in decreasing inflammation and also may aid in lowering body fat. In this article from the American Journal of Medicine, the author suggests that the traditional views of saturated fat are outdated. He discusses how observational studies have led us to the idea that we should decrease our intake of saturated fat to decrease risk of heart disease and cancer, however randomized control studies trying to prove this hypothesis are inconsistent. In this 2010 meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies the authors concluded that there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Despite the growing evidence that saturated fat may not be as bad as it’s been made out to be, many still recommend vegetable oils as a “healthy” alternative – including the American Heart Association and the USDA. If you’re interested, you can read through the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans here, which includes vegetable oils as well as less than 10% of added sugars as recommendations for a healthy diet. Added sugars should not even be on that list! Neither should vegetable oils as we will discuss next.
In 2016, this article in Time Magazine discussed research that vegetables oils, which had been touted as “healthy” fats, were actually not so healthy. Almost 5 years later, nothing has changed. However, nutrition experts will tell you that there is no place for these in our diet and we should instead be eating traditional fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee.
Vegetable oils, or industrial seed oils, are oils extracted from seeds, grains, and legumes, and include soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and canola oil, to name a few. These are highly processed, unstable and when we consume too much, cause inflammation in our bodies which can lead to a whole host of chronic diseases.
Let’s look at some of the research on the deleterious effects of these vegetable oils. One of the largest studies done on the effects of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils high in linoleic acid, was the Minnesota Coronary Experiment, done over 50 years ago. They showed then that while cholesterol was lowered, it did not translate to lower risk of death. In this re-evaluation of the data, the authors note that there has been an overestimation of the benefits of replacing saturated fat with vegetable oil.
This analysis from 2013 looked at The Sydney Diet Heart Study which was started in 1966. The study included 458 men with a recent coronary event in which the intervention was to replace fats such as butter, with margarine or vegetable oil. They concluded that substituting vegetable oil (linoleic acid) in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease.
This article from January of 2020 discusses not only the link between vegetable oil and obesity and diabetes, but also the link with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, autism and depression.
Whether you agree or disagree that saturated fat is not as bad as it was once thought to be, there is very strong and compelling evidence that processed vegetable oils are not good for you and should be avoided at all costs.
What Changes Can We Make?
Replace vegetable oils such as canola, corn, and sunflower oils with traditional fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil or grass fed butter. Stay away from processed foods which are typically made with vegetable oils, and read the labels on your bars, nuts, snacks and salad dressings. These almost always contain industrial seed oils. For a healthy salad dressing stick with vinegar and olive oil, or we love the Primal Kitchen brand which doesn’t contain any seed oils. They have delicious salad dressings, sauces and marinades. Lastly, if you enjoy a nice steak, make sure it’s grass fed and grass finished. Grain fed animals are not healthy for many reasons, including the amount of seed oils in their feed.
For a deeper dive into industrial seed oils, please read this article by Chris Kresser, which is a very comprehensive explanation of the danger of these oils, as well as healthy alternatives.
Some small changes in our diet can make a huge difference in our health. Eat well, live well and be healthy!
*Disclaimer: The information in this blog is for informational purposes only. Please always consult your doctor before considering any new diet, supplementation, or other changes to your normal nutrition and exercise routine.