Most people assume that vegetable oil is one of the healthiest oils on the market and why wouldn’t they? After all, vegetable oil comes from vegetables (which as we know, are exceptionally good for us) and it is often marketed as a ‘heart healthy oil’ by its manufacturers. We’re told that vegetable oil will help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, aid in our desire to lose weight and drastically improve our overall health.
It is this constant marketing as a low-fat, healthy oil that has made vegetable oil one of the most over-recommended foods on the market. When it boils down to it, there is no scientific proof to back up the claims made by the manufacturers; so is vegetable oil good for you or is vegetable oil bad for you?
What Is Vegetable Oil?
Vegetable oil is the name given to a variety of oils that all have one thing in common; they are all extracted from seeds. Canola oil (extracted from rapeseeds), Soybean oil (extracted from soybeans) as well as a number of others including sunflower oil, safflower oil and corn oil all fall into the vegetable oil category. Many foods such as margarine and mayonnaise are also usually produced using vegetable oil.
Unlike olive oils, coconut oil or even butter, most vegetable oils have to go through an industrial solvent extraction process as they can’t be separated from pressing naturally. Most commercially sold vegetable oils are usually produced from soybeans, unless otherwise stated on the bottle.
How Are Vegetable Oils Made?
In order to establish whether or not vegetable oils are healthy, we need to look at how they are made. It is a well known fact that highly processed foods which undergo numerous chemical processes are not good for our health and instead, we should stick to real, wholesome food that are produced using simple, natural processes. Bare this in mind when we look at how vegetable oil is made.
Vegetable oils are mass produced in factories and are usually produced from genetically modified crops that are often treated with various pesticides (so a bad start for vegetable oil already then).
Let’s take a look at one of the most heavily marketed oils, Canola oil. Canola oil is essentially a modified version of rapeseed oil and was originally produced in the 1980′s. Rapeseed oil actually contains a high amount of Erucic acid, which is poisonous to humans. Canola oil is the altered version of rapeseed oil that has been genetically modified to contain only very small amounts of Erucic acid.
Canola oil is made by heating the rapeseed and then processing with petroleum in order to extract the oil. After this, it is heated again with an additional acid to remove any wax that occurred during the first processing method. Next, it is treated with chemicals which improve the color and separate the oil. Because Canola oil is quite harsh smelling, it is finally chemically deodorised to make it palatable.
If the vegetable oil is going to be used as an ingredient in margarine, it has to go through an additional process named hydrogenation which makes it solid when cooled. Butters and other saturated fats are naturally solid at these temperatures whereas vegetable oils aren’t.
Below is a video showing the production process of canola oil:
Do all those chemical processes look appetising? We didn’t think so. Let’s compare this production process to that of butter. See the video below:
Sure, this still looks pretty industrial but the process is essentially the same as it was thousands of years ago. Milk the cow, naturally separate the cream, shake the cream until it becomes butter.
Is Vegetable Oil Healthy?
So, back to our original question; is vegetable oil healthy? We are sure that you can see from the points made above that the answer is not really in vegetable oils favor. But why else is vegetable oil bad for you?
We Aren’t Supposed To Consume Vegetable Oil
Believe it or not, vegetable oils were almost non-existent in our diets until the mid-1900′s. Before this time, humans got their fat from natural sources such as fatty meats, butter, creams and lard. Although the amount of fat consumed by humans has not changed much, we are getting our fat from different sources such as vegetable oil, and it is a different kind of fat.
These days, people consume around 70lbs of vegetable oil throughout the year. In the early 1900′s and for the hundreds of years before that, this quantity was basically zero. So for hundreds of years, the human race existed perfectly healthily without vegetable oils or margarine and guess what, heart diseases rates were lower and so were cancer rates.
The reason for the change was that in the 1950′s, there was a government campaign launched which promoted the consumption of vegetable oils and margarine rather than butter and other natural oils so that people could avoid saturated fats, which were thought to be exceptionally harmful.
Now, the natural fat content of a human body is around 97% saturated and monounsaturated fats and around 3% Polyunsaturated fats. Around half of those Polyunsaturated fats are Omega-3 fats too, which are extremely important for our health. The problem is that vegetable oils contain a large percentage of Polyunsaturated fats and because our bodies regularly require fats for rebuilding cells, they have no choice but to use these Polyunsaturated fats for cell creation and repair if that’s what we’re giving them.
This means that the natural balance of mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats (97%) has been replaced with Polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are very unstable and can easily oxidise in the body. This oxidisation process causes inflammation and mutation in our cells. If this process occurs in the arterial cells, it can clog arteries and if the process occurs in skin cells, it can cause skin cancer.
So is vegetable oil bad for you or is vegetable oil healthy? Well to put it nicely, too much vegetable oil and/or margarine is going to be exceptionally unhealthy for you. Not just in terms of obesity but also in terms of your general health.
Vegetable Oils Contain High Amounts Of Omega-6 Fatty Acids
The human body needs both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, but it needs them in balance. In fact, it is usually a 50/50 ratio, with the body needing equal amounts of both. The problem with vegetable oils is that they have a much higher percentage of Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3 which can cause serious problems if consumed in excess.
Because vegetable oils are higher in Omega-6 fats than Omega-3 fats, an imbalance is caused within the body. As mentioned before, Omega-6 fatty acids oxidise easily and therefore, can cause a variety of problems including skin cancer. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and actually protect against cancer, so this 50/50 balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids is important. The overconsumption of vegetable oils does not help this.
The imbalance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 can also lead to intestine damage and a number of other problems such as food allergies.
Vegetable Oils Can Cause Reproductive Problems
Vegetable oils can be extremely damaging to the reproductive system due to the fact that the reproductive system is constantly producing new cells. If these cells are created using the wrong kinds of fatty acids (Polyunsaturated), it could lead to the mutations.
This is something that should also be taken into account with children. Children’s cells divide at higher rates meaning that there is a higher potential for mutation as well as hormone production problems when vegetable oils are consumed in excess.
Note: Margarine is particularly harmful due to the hydrogenation process.
There Are Harmful Chemicals In Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils go through an extremely industrial process filled with chemicals as we have mentioned above. This means that most vegetable oils have their fair share of harmful chemicals with most containing BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene). These are antioxidants that are designed to stop food from oxidising too quickly.
The problem with these chemicals is that a number of tests have found them to produce cancer causing compounds in the body. They can also cause problems such as liver and kidney damage as well as immune system problems and even infertility.
Because the crops used to create vegetable oils are usually sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals, vegetable oils can sometimes also contain small quantities of these chemicals. Definitely not healthy!
Vegetable Oils Can Lead To Vitamin Deficiencies
As mentioned previously, vegetable oils oxidise easily and because of this, they can deplete the body of natural antioxidants. The body uses antioxidants to try and neutralise the oxidisation process meaning that consuming too much vegetable oil can cause Vitamin E deficiencies.
Vitamin E is an extremely important vitamin and needs to be maintained within the body. You can view more about Vitamin E and it’s importance here: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-QuickFacts/
The Final Word
Is vegetable oil healthy? Definitely not! In an ideal world, vegetable oils should be totally avoided. There is absolutely no use for high quantities of these fats in the human body and you would be much better off getting your fat from other sources such as butter, meat, cream and lard. Here are some of the oils and fats you could avoid at all costs:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Any Other Vegetable Oils
Avoiding these oils is relatively simple, you just need to substitute them for a more healthy oil or fat. Although it is pretty easy to substitute your cooking oil for one of the healthier alternatives, it is quite hard to avoid vegetable oils in everyday foods as most processed foods contain them in some shape or form. Here are a few common foods that you should check the labels on before purchasing:
- Another Other Snacks