If you begin to peruse the isles of your local supermarket and begin reading the ingredient list of everyday food products, you will likely notice that ‘vegetable oil’ is listed as an ingredient in many of these packaged foods.
Vegetable oils are found in practically every processed food, from salad dressings, nuts and seeds, chocolate, ice-cream, cakes, chewing gum to skin products and much more. A lot of people have been misled by the clever marketing of these vegetable oils and believe that they are healthy. But the truth is, they are far from it. The reason these companies use these oils in so many food products is because it’s cheap.
Vegetable oils include canola, safflower, soy, sunflower, corn and cottonseed.
How are vegetable oils made?
- Oil is squeezed from the seeds at a high pressure leaving behind the seeds oil and the protein portion which is called ‘seed cakes’. Some of them can also be processed at unnaturally high heats which oxidises the oil so they go rancid before you even buy them.
- The ‘seed cakes’ are then washed in a vat of chemical solvent (usually petroleum) to extract the remaining oil from the protein portion of the seed.
- The oil is sent through a refining process where it’s washed in sodium hydroxide (or lye which is an extremely harsh, corrosive and destructive chemical used in soap making).
- While bathing in sodium hydroxide it’s spun in a vat so the centrifugal force separates the impurities, and the by-products of it are sold to soap manufacturers
- As the oil contains natural waxes from the seeds giving it a cloudy appearance, it receives further treatment. The wax is used to make vegetable shortening or margarine by chilling the oil so the wax solidifies. To do this they use a process called hydrogenation, during which trans fats are created.
- The newly created oil is treated with more chemicals to improve the colour.
- Finally the oil is washed and filtered before it’s bleached.
- After all of these refining processes it has such a harsh, rancid smell and it has to be chemically deodorised by using a steam injected heating process for it to be palatable.
- The oil is funnelled into plastic containers, many of which contain chemical additives that give the plastic products a more desirable performance. These plastic bottles also have negative environmental and human health effects such as endocrine disruption and immune system suppression just to name a few.
So basically, these colourless, flavourless and odourless vegetable oils hit the grocery stores after a very lengthy refining process that includes extraction, chemical solvents, sodium hydroxide (lye), high pressure and heat, filtration, bleaching, chemical treatment and deodorising.
If that’s not enough to scare you away from these oils then let’s begin by debunking some of those health marketing claims.
Debunking vegetable oil health claims
Vegetable oils are one of the most harmful substances you can put into your body, and here’s why:
- Vegetables oils are primarily Omega-6 fats and when too much is consumed, it can lead to inflammation and increased cancer risks. You can read more about that here and here.
- The high heat processing denatures the delicate Omega-3 fats which causes them to go rancid and turn into transfat! As a result they no longer fight inflammation in the body, but cause it instead.
- Many people believe that because vegetables oils are low in saturated fats that they are heart healthy. However, there are numerous studies showing that vegetable oils actually contribute to disease while saturated fats do not.
- Mary Enig explains in her books why the cholesterol-lowering effect of canola oil may actually be incredibly damaging to our health.
- Vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats – they will oxidise easily and are also not heat stable.
- Since vegetable oils are chemically produced, it’s no surprise they contain harmful chemicals. Many have artificial antioxidants such as BHA and BHT which help to prevent the oils from spoiling too quickly and extend the shelf life.
- They also contain pesticide residues.
- Excess consumption can lead to hormonal imbalances.
- Vegetable oils oxidise easily so they deplete the body of antioxidants due to the body’s attempt to neutralise this oxidation.
- Many of these vegetables oils are made from genetically modified sources.
Oils and fats to avoid
Vegetables oils and their fats should be avoided completely. The main culprits to look out for are:
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Vegetable oil
- Peanut oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Rice bran oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Vegetable spreads or any fake butter alternative.
Where to from here – alternative oils
- Look in your pantry and fridge and remove all vegetable oils.
- Avoid any cheap refined, processed oils as they are dangerous to your health and bad for the environment.
- There are so many traditional fats that are found in nature that are actually beneficial and healthy for our bodies. These are:
- coconut oil
- avocado oil
- macadamia oil
- olive oil
- walnut oil
- inca inchi oil and other cold-pressed organic oils
- Alternative good fats: butter, ghee, quality cream and animal fats such as lard, tallow, and duck fat.
With this choice of alternative oils, there is no need to consume the unhealthy and harmful vegetable oils.
Also check out our recipes section on our website for some more ideas of using healthy oils in your food.
Happy changing habits. Jordan Pie,
Changing Habits Nutritionist