You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: cut out the butter, switch to vegetable oil. The health mantra of the past several decades has been clear – limit your intake of saturated fats and opt for ‘heart-healthy’ seed oils instead. But what if this prevailing wisdom is misguided?
Seed oils – your regular vegetable, soybean, canola oil, sunflower, grapeseed, cottonseed, safflower, corn, peanut, rice bran, and palm oils, – are not just used in frying and sautéing, but are also in almost every processed food we eat these days. They’re used in baking, in snacks, even in seemingly healthy foods like salad dressings. This wasn’t always the norm, and it begs the question – why did we make the switch, and at what cost to our health?
The Troubling History of Seed Oils
Now, to truly understand this issue, we need to journey back to where it all started. Seed oils, believe it or not, were not initially intended for our dinner tables. Instead, they were born out of an industrial era need for cheap, plentiful lubricants. In the early 20th century, these oils, like cottonseed oil, were created to keep machinery running smoothly. But with some clever marketing and a keen eye for profit, these industrial lubricants transformed into a staple in every kitchen pantry.
The Health Crisis Connection
Fast forward to the present day, and our society is grappling with a full-blown health crisis. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes – these are not rare anomalies but commonplace afflictions. These conditions have ballooned since the 1900s, and this surge corresponds with the period when seed oils began flooding our diets.
While other lifestyle and environmental factors also come into play, there’s no denying that our drastic dietary changes, particularly the introduction and omnipresence of seed oils, contribute significantly to this escalating health crisis.
The Demonization of Saturated Fats and the Media’s Role
Saturated fats – they’ve been the nutritional enemy for decades. We’ve been led to believe that they’re the evil masterminds behind every heart disease, high cholesterol level, and obesity case. But have you ever wondered who, or what, is really behind this narrative?
The “saturated fats are bad” mantra is almost as old as the TV dinners that came along with it. It began in the mid-20th century when a scientist named Ancel Keys published a study that seemingly linked saturated fat consumption to heart disease. His Seven Countries Study became the foundation for our dietary guidelines, turning saturated fats into public enemy number one.
However, what’s not often discussed is that Keys chose his data selectively. There were, in fact, 22 countries available for his study, but he handpicked only seven that supported his hypothesis, discarding those that didn’t fit his narrative. This critical detail was conveniently overlooked, and his conclusions quickly gained traction, shaping dietary guidelines and public perception for generations to come.
The media took these half-truths and ran with them, demonizing saturated fats and glorifying unsaturated fats, particularly seed oils, as the healthier alternative. Television, magazines, websites – every platform echoed the same mantra. The narrative was clear and potent: if you wanted to be healthy, you had to banish saturated fats from your diet.
And as this narrative grew stronger, so did the profits of corporations that produced seed oils and processed foods. The low-cost production of these oils translated to high-profit margins, further fueling the fire. Suddenly, the health of the public was less important than profit margins.
The Truth About Saturated Fats and Traditional Diets
The truth, however, is that humans have thrived on diets rich in saturated fats for thousands of years. Animal fats, full-fat dairy, offal, and seafood were staples of our ancestors’ diets. These foods didn’t just provide them with energy, but also with essential nutrients necessary for optimal health. They didn’t deal with rampant obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These ailments are a modern phenomenon that correlates strikingly with the rise in consumption of seed oils and processed foods.
Saturated fats have been an integral part of human diets because they provide a concentrated source of energy, are building blocks for cell membranes and hormones, aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), and provide a sense of satiety, helping us feel full and satisfied.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief, recent research suggests that there’s not enough evidence to link saturated fat consumption to heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular conditions. In fact, some studies even indicate that saturated fats can increase the level of HDL (good) cholesterol, which helps protect against heart disease.
While this doesn’t mean you should start eating saturated fats by the spoonful, it does suggest that they can have a place in a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. It’s important to source high-quality, minimally processed versions of these fats and to balance them with a variety of other nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and yes, even some unsaturated fats.
The real danger lies not in consuming saturated fats, but in replacing them with refined carbohydrates and processed foods filled with trans fats, sugar, and harmful seed oils. These modern dietary changes, propelled by profit-focused corporations and biased studies, are a far cry from our ancestors’ diets, and our health is paying the price.
Reclaiming Our Health
The reality is, demonizing saturated fats and promoting seed oils hasn’t made us healthier. Instead, we’re dealing with an obesity and chronic disease epidemic. It’s time to critically question the prevailing dietary dogma and consider the role that quality saturated fats can play in a balanced, health-promoting diet.
Returning to a diet that prioritizes whole, nutrient-dense foods, including those rich in healthy saturated fats, may be one of the most effective ways we can reclaim our health from the hands of profit-driven corporations. It’s time to put our health first and question the narratives that have been fed to us for decades.
After all, our wellbeing isn’t a matter of black and white, good and bad, saturated and unsaturated. It’s a complex mosaic of choices that involves prioritizing nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods, balanced lifestyle practices, and a proactive, informed approach to our health.
Hidden Seed Oils: Processed Foods’ Secret Ingredient
When we think about seed oils, it’s easy to imagine a bottle of vegetable oil used for frying or salad dressings. But the truth is far more pervasive. Seed oils have seeped their way into an astonishing number of processed foods that we consume daily, often without us even realizing it.
Let’s pull back the curtain and reveal some of the many processed foods where seed oils are hiding:
Prepared Meals and Frozen Foods
From frozen pizzas to microwave dinners, these convenient foods are often laden with seed oils. Manufacturers use these oils due to their long shelf-life and cost-effectiveness.
Cakes, cookies, pastries, donuts, and bread often contain seed oils. They contribute to the texture and extend the shelf life of these baked goods.
Snacks and Chips
Those crispy chips and savory snacks that are so hard to resist? They’re usually fried or baked with seed oils.
Spreads and Condiments
Mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressings, and other spreads are often made with seed oils. Even ketchup and BBQ sauce can contain these oils.
Seed oils are used in canned foods, including soups and stews, to help extend shelf life.
Non-dairy Creamers and Some Dairy Products
Non-dairy creamers often use seed oils as a primary ingredient. Even certain types of margarine and whipped toppings can contain these oils.
Breakfast Cereals and Granola Bars
Many breakfast cereals and granola bars include seed oils, both for flavor and as a preservative.
Microwave popcorn is typically coated with a layer of seed oil for flavor and to facilitate popping.
This one might surprise you, but yes, many almond, soy, and oat milks contain seed oils. They’re added to improve texture and taste.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The unfortunate reality is that seed oils are hiding in many more places than we realize. They’re cheap, versatile, and increase the shelf life of products, making them a go-to for many food manufacturers.
The omnipresence of seed oils in our food supply makes them hard to avoid. However, by being aware and making conscious food choices, we can minimize our intake. Reading ingredient labels, opting for whole foods over processed ones, and choosing brands committed to healthier cooking oils can help us escape the seed oil trap and take a step towards improved health.
Omega 3 vs Omega 6: The Battle Inside Our Bodies
Among the primary concerns with seed oils is the substantial imbalance they introduce in our omega fatty acid ratios. These oils are teeming with omega 6 fatty acids, which, while not inherently bad, can be problematic in excess. They promote inflammation, an underlying factor in many chronic diseases. On the flip side, omega 3 fatty acids, which are vital for our overall health and well-being, are virtually absent in these oils. The more seed oils we consume, the more our omega balance skews towards the inflammatory side, potentially ushering in a host of health issues.
Cooking with Chemicals
And as if throwing our omega balance out of whack wasn’t enough, the processing methods employed to extract these oils from their seeds raise further health concerns. This is not a simple, natural process. Instead, it involves heavy refining, the use of harsh chemicals, and high heat exposure, leading to oxidation. In essence, we’re introducing chemically-altered, oxidized oils into our bodies – a far cry from the nutrient-rich, wholesome foods we should be prioritizing.
Back to Basics: The Healthy Alternatives
Thankfully, all is not lost. We can make conscious decisions to improve our health, and it starts right in our kitchens. Instead of reaching for that bottle of vegetable oil, consider these healthier, more traditional alternatives:
Not only is coconut oil a great source of healthy saturated fats, but it’s also rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are quickly used by our bodies for energy and brain function. A great option is Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. This oil is unrefined, organic, and cold-pressed, ensuring you get all the health benefits in its purest form. It’s an ideal choice for sautéing, baking, or even as a dairy-free replacement for butter. Its richness in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) provides quick energy to your body and brain, a perk that many other cooking oils don’t offer.
Grass-fed beef tallow
This often overlooked gem is rich in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a fatty acid that’s been linked to heart health and weight management. Fatworks Premium Grass-Fed Beef Tallow is a top-notch option. It’s made from 100% grass-fed cows and is rendered using traditional methods, ensuring the highest quality. Besides being a heart-healthy choice due to its Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) content, using tallow in your kitchen can take your frying and sautéing to new flavorful heights.
Fun fact, beef tallow makes for a great natural skincare product too. Check out the one we sell here.
Packed with monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, avocado oil supports heart health, and its high smoke point makes it versatile in cooking. When it comes to avocado oil, Chosen Foods 100% Pure Avocado Oil is a standout choice. Many brands mix avocado with cheaper oils, but not Chosen Foods. Their oil is pure, non-GMO, and has a high smoke point, making it an incredibly versatile cooking oil. Plus, its monounsaturated fat content contributes to heart health.
Extra virgin olive oil
Loaded with antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, it’s an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest eating patterns recognized globally. If you’re looking for a robust, flavorful, and healthy olive oil, try Graza’s 100% Pure Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It’s authentic, full-bodied, and rich in antioxidants. A whiff and a taste will transport you to an Italian olive grove. This oil doesn’t just make your food taste better; it also provides a dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Butter and ghee
Both are rich in fat-soluble vitamins and provide beneficial fatty acids. Remember, it’s better to opt for organic and grass-fed versions for higher nutrient content. For butter, Kerrygold’s Pure Irish Butter is a stellar choice. It’s made from the milk of grass-fed cows, making it richer in nutrients compared to conventional butter. If you’re looking for ghee, try 4th & Heart’s Original Grass-Fed Ghee. Ghee, like butter, is packed with fat-soluble vitamins and beneficial fatty acids, but with the added benefit of having the milk proteins removed, making it suitable for those with dairy sensitivities.
Lard and suet
Contrary to popular belief, these traditional animal fats can be part of a healthy diet. They are full of fat-soluble vitamins and provide a good balance of fatty acids. Consider using Fatworks Premium Pasture-Raised Non-GMO Lard or their Premium Grass-Fed Beef Suet for a healthier alternative to vegetable oils. These traditional fats, full of fat-soluble vitamins and a good balance of fatty acids, will not only nourish your body but also bring an unparalleled depth of flavor to your cooking.
Our shift from traditional, nutrient-rich fats to processed seed oils has been more than just a change in dietary habits. It’s been a radical experiment that has coincided with a surge in chronic diseases. These oils, which were initially conceived as an industrial solution, have found their way into our meals and snacks, despite their questionable impact on our health.
Seed oils are rich in omega 6 fatty acids, leading to an imbalance with omega 3s in our bodies. This imbalance can result in chronic inflammation, a known contributor to various health problems. The way these oils are produced is another cause for concern. They’re extracted through a heavy chemical process and then subjected to high heat, causing oxidation.
Luckily, we’re not doomed to this fate. We can revert to healthier, more natural alternatives. Substituting seed oils with the likes of coconut oil, grass-fed beef tallow, avocado oil, olive oil, butter, ghee, and lard can provide us with necessary nutrients without the adverse health effects. Some are also switching to animal-based diets like Paul Saladino promotes online which makes avoiding seed oils infinitely easier.
Using brands like Viva Naturals for coconut oil, Fatworks for tallow and lard, Chosen Foods for avocado oil, Graza for olive oil, Kerrygold for butter, and 4th & Heart for ghee, guarantees quality and authenticity. These fats are not just healthier; they can also elevate the flavor profiles of our meals, making the switch a win-win.
In sum, our detour into seed oils has been a perilous journey. But by rediscovering and embracing the natural fats our ancestors thrived on, we can get back on the path to better health. So let’s start making smarter, healthier choices in our kitchens – our bodies will certainly thank us for it!
- DiNicolantonio, J. J., & OKeefe, J. H. (2018). Importance of maintaining a low omega–6/omega–3 ratio for reducing inflammation. Open Heart, 5(2), e000946. This study discusses the inflammatory properties of a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, often resulting from diets high in seed oils.
- Simopoulos, A. P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(8), 365-379. This paper discusses the effects of the modern Western diet’s imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3.
- Ramsden, C. E., Zamora, D., Leelarthaepin, B., Majchrzak-Hong, S. F., Faurot, K. R., Suchindran, C. M., … & Hibbeln, J. R. (2013). Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis. BMJ, 346, e8707. This study found that replacing saturated fats (like butter) with linoleic acid (found in seed oils) led to increased risk of death from heart disease.
- Felton, C. V., Crook, D., Davies, M. J., & Oliver, M. F. (1994). Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and composition of human aortic plaques. The Lancet, 344(8931), 1195-1196. This study suggests a link between polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in many seed oils) and aortic plaques, which are associated with heart disease.
- Deol, P., Evans, J. R., Dhahbi, J., Chellappa, K., Han, D. S., Spindler, S., & Sladek, F. M. (2015). Soybean oil is more obesogenic and diabetogenic than coconut oil and fructose in mouse: potential role for the liver. PloS one, 10(7), e0132672. This mouse study found that a diet high in soybean oil resulted in more obesity and diabetes than a diet high in coconut oil or fructose.
- Ramsden, C. E., Zamora, D., Majchrzak-Hong, S., Faurot, K. R., Broste, S. K., Frantz, R. P., … & Hibbeln, J. R. (2016). Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73). BMJ, 353, i1246. This study challenges the conventional wisdom of replacing saturated fats with vegetable oils to reduce heart disease risk.