Vegetable oils sound healthy. They bring to mind broccoli and other healthy choices – but they’re actually made from seeds and beans.
Soybean oil, corn oil, palm oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and safflower oil are examples of common vegetable oils we see in most processed food production – and many kitchens. They’re inexpensive, common, and generally unhealthy choices.
Many of these are hydrogenated vegetable oils – found often in margarine, vegetable shortening, coffee creamers, fried foods and many processed foods.
What Is A Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil?
Here’s what Wikipedia tells us:
“Unsaturated vegetable oils can be transformed through partial or complete “hydrogenation” into oils of higher melting point. The hydrogenation process involves “sparging” the oil at high temperature and pressure with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst, typically a powdered nickel compound. As each carbon-carbon double-bond is chemically reduced to a single bond, two hydrogen atoms each form single bonds with the two carbon atoms. The elimination of double bonds by adding hydrogen atoms is called saturation; as the degree of saturation increases, the oil progresses toward being fully hydrogenated.”
Generally, hydrogenation is used to increase the shelf life of the oil and the products made from it. It prevents the oil from going rancid for a much longer time. It also lightens the appearance of the oil and deodorizes it. Hydrogenated vegetable oils may also have a higher melting point, or other physical characteristics desired by food manufacturers – more spreadable margarine would be an example.
Hydrogenation also increases the amount of trans fats in the oil, up to 40%. There is increasing evidence that trans fats are an unhealthy choice, raising LDH (bad) cholesterol but also lowering HDL (good) cholesterol. These trans-fatty acids increase inflammation and are strongly linked with heart disease and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Why Should I Avoid These Vegetable Oils?
Here’s the thing – vegetable oils are great for making alternative fuels such as biodiesel. They’re not so great for fueling human bodies. Their trans fats upset the ratio between the good and bad cholesterol levels in your body, raising the bad and lowering the good. This has been linked to several serious lifestyle diseases, including heart disease, stroke, metabolic disease, and type 2 diabetes.
How Do I Choose A Healthy Cooking Oil?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about choosing a cooking oil – because there are a lot of vested interests pushing bad nutrition. Here are some of the factors you look for when choosing a good cooking oil, which will probably not be vegetable oils. Your choice of cooking oil should be:
- have a high smoke point (if it will be heated)
- low to moderate in omega 6 (linoleic acid – LA)
- high in omega 3 (alpha-linolenic acid – ALA)
- low in trans fat (trans fatty acids)
There are a couple of vegetable oils that are good choices. Cold-pressed coconut oil is an ideal cooking oil, and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great in low-heat applications such as salad dressing.
Or just choose animal fats instead, such as butter, ghee, lard, tallow or duck fat. Good fats are good for your brain health too! As always, the more you eat real food and avoid processed food, the more you’ll be able to avoid unhealthy vegetable oils that contribute to inflammation, heart issues, and metabolic disease, among other health issues.