Are seed oils to blame for increased inflammation, weight gain and poor health? Social media is slathered with critic-oil opinions of specific seed oils recently, so we greased up and slid down the rabbit hole on the topic to help you decide if you need an oil change or not.
What are seed oils and what is the controversy?
There are eight specific oils, nicknamed the “Hateful Eight”, derived from vegetables, grains and seeds that fall under this umbrella, including canola (rapeseed) oil, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, ricebran oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. The buzz around these oils is that the fats they contain are toxic, contributing to inflammation that leads to disease in the body.
Are seed oils really toxic?
As you peruse the oil aisle at Nature’s Fare Markets, your choices are abundant. How do you determine if one oil is healthier than another? The answer: not all oils are equal. The whole grain or seed that these oils in question are derived from might not necessarily be the problem. The process by which these oils are produced and extracted—along with how they are used in cooking methods and then balanced, or not, in the diet—rank higher for concern.
Seed oils contain various amounts of an essential omega-6 fatty acid, called linoleic acid. This fatty acid is not toxic, but a small proportion of it is converted to arachidonic acid in the body, which can have both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects. This is not often an issue in a diet that is balanced with another important fatty acid, omega-3. Research suggests that a majority of the population consumes a diet heavy in omega-6 and little of its anti-inflammatory omega-3 counterpart. This imbalance is what can contribute to inflammation and increased health risks, along with how omega-6-rich foods are prepared.
Seed oils are inexpensive, shelf stable, and are often used in restaurants to deep fry foods. These oils, when heated to extremely high temperatures over and over again, can oxidize and release harmful free radicals. They often undergo chemical processing, deodorizing and bleaching, which leaves them lacking nutritious benefits. For this reason, one would want to limit their use.
Are there benefits to seed oils?
- Because linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, meaning the body cannot produce it on its own, we must obtain it from our diet. It is a critical component for skin health, the heart, circulation and the production of our cell membranes.
- Seed oils are not a saturated fat, as butter, lard and margarine are, so this makes them a more heart-healthy choice. Plant-based seed oils do have proven benefits of reducing LDL cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar balance.
- They are more economical than some other oils, such as olive and avocado oils, so you are just fine to keep a variety in your pantry and rotate them for different cooking methods.
- Since seed oils, especially canola oil, are more stable at an extremely high smoke point, they do make a good choice for deep frying.
- How to include seed oils in a healthy way
- As heard in most dietary advice, use in moderation. Before you clear your pantry from all the seed oils, try these steps:
- Balance your essential fatty acids by increasing your omega-3s. Omega-6 fatty acids, like those found in seed oils, whole nuts, seeds and eggs, should be an essential component of any diet, but in moderation and best when you increase your omega-3 foods alongside them.
- Limit fried foods, particularly in restaurants that use seed oils. When choosing seed oils to use at home, limit their use and rotate them with more nutritious oils that are less refined.
- Choose organic and non-GMO oils to ensure your seed oil is of the best possible quality.
Do you need an oil change? Some alternatives to seed oils
Extra virgin olive oil, flax seed oil, coconut oil and avocado oil are nutritious oils to keep on rotation with seed oils. Olive, flax and avocado oils are my choice for salad dressings; coconut oil works well for frying as it can withstand high heat; and grass-fed butter is perfectly fine for baking.
You are just fine to occasionally order and enjoy French fries from your favourite restaurant. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to a balanced diet, particularly if you are putting into action what you read on social media. Be wary of these so-called experts, choose to follow sources that have credibility and always do your own research.
Improve your omega-6 and -3 ratio by increasing your intake of whole nuts, seeds and fatty fish, while reducing processed, fried and refined foods.
Choose the right oil for the type of food you are preparing. Before you become too critic-oil, let’s not put all the blame on seed oils for the rise in inflammation and global health problems. The best we can do for our wellness is to stay informed, read labels, make the healthiest choices possible and not be afraid to enjoy a variety of foods in moderation.
Jen Casey is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner. She focuses on holistic, diet-free approaches to weight loss and balancing hormones through nutrition and lifestyle.
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