Not surprisingly, a large majority of the vegetable oils in which we use in the Standard American Diet (SAD) are highly destructive to our bodies. A seismic shift occurred about 60 years ago when we veered away from the age-old usage of lard and butter to industrial-grade vegetable oils.
Ancel Keyes, the iconic purveyor of misinformation of 1950’s nutrition partly impelled this movement. He pushed the idea that high intake of foods high in saturated fats, such as animal products, led to heart disease and high cholesterol. He advocated for high consumption of grains and carbohydrates and demonized fats. This paradigm of low-fat/high carbs stubbornly persists to this day concomitant to the rise of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Also, contributing was Big Food’s post-WWII massive industrialization of food production, and marketing of vegetable-byproducts (think of high fructose corn syrup) and their oils.
In today’s submission to Items To Purge From Your Pantry Now, we will focus on fats in general, and in particular, vegetable oils.
To discuss which cooking oils are pernicious and which are beneficial let’s review fats in general. Dietary fats come in all shapes and sizes. The most common, saturated and unsaturated, deal with their bonding on the molecular level. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature whereas the unsaturated are not. Most foods and oils have a combination of different types of fats (e.g. almonds have 90% unsaturated fat and 10% saturated composition).
Tranfats and Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils-
These guys you need to avoid at all costs! Unfortunately, they occupy a large majority of aisles in the supermarket, from snacks (cookies, chips, crackers et al) and frozen foods to fried foods and cooking oils. Partially hydrogenated fats are created by chemically treating vegetable and seed oils at high temperature to make them solid. This action is done to increase shelf life and enhance flavor. Perusing the back of your pre-packaged processed foods will illustrate the ubiquity of partially hydrogenated fats. For example, the majority of peanut butters have hydrogenated oil in it. Moreover, fried foods are fried in rancid vegetable oil which turn them into transfats.
These oils oxidize to wreak havoc on the body. They damage cell membranes and tissues in the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Eating foods high in transfats and hydrogenated fats have been linked to heart disease, obesity, systematic inflammation, and cancer. It is sobering to think that 40% of processed foods in the market contain these ingredients. Note: all partially hydrogenated oils are transfats, but some transfats occur naturally and should NOT be avoided (e.g. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) found in animal products).
Read our article on 4 high fat/low carb snacks perfect for your children.
Saturated Fats (SAFAs)
Saturated fats are stable; as a result, they may withstand high temperature. Keyes gave saturated fats a bad name connecting them to all the cardiovascular maladies, but there was never a proven link between high intake of dietary cholesterol (seen in animal products) and high cholesterol in the body. But people still believe this erroneous assertion. This misconception is unfortunate since it causes people to eschew the SAFAs when they should be ingesting them. Even the FDA recommends that adult men consume 25 grams of SAFAs (and women 20 grams).
SAFAs help fight against oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as hormone production, metabolic function, and immune system regulation. They are commonly seen in animal products (meat, butter, eggs, etc.) and tropical fruits, such as coconuts. Saturated fats are only very detrimental when consumed with an obscene amount of carbohydrates, as seen in the Standard American diet.
Going back to cooking oils. The key is cooking with oils that don’t oxidize at high temperatures. These would be the saturated fat ones. Upon purging all the processed foods that are laden in trans and hydrogenated fats, opt to cook with high saturated fat items such as butter and lard.
Read our article on 4 Superfoods You Should be Eating Right Now.
The unsaturated fats are divided into Monounsaturated (MUFAs) and Polyunsaturated (PUFAs) fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs)
PUFAs tend to be liquid in their natural state. The problem is that PUFAs begin to breakdown from minimal stress to light, heat, and oxygen. All of which occurs during the processing of foods, and of course, frying. As a result, when PUFAs are heated they become much more prone to oxidation and causing free-radical damage in the body. The most famous type of PUFA are Omega 3-fatty acids, which are quite healthy to the body. They reduce inflammation, improve insulin resistance, and reduce cardiovascular maladies among other things. Omega 3’s may be found in eggs, leafy greens, and oily fish, such as salmon .
The lesser known cousin of the Omega 3’s are the Omega 6’s. Omega 6-fatty acids are found in industrial-grade vegetable oil, as well as nuts, legumes, and seeds. We hear so much about the beneficial Omega-3 and not enough of the 6’s. The balance is the key. We should have high Omega 3 and low Omega 6 levels and the Omega 6’s should come from the natural sources mentioned above. The problem is that approximately 70% of our PUFA intake comes from industrial-grade vegetable oils, shortening, margarine. You might think you are not consuming a lot of these items, but you are since they are commonplace in processed foods. Chronic inflammation in the body results when the Omega 6: Omega 3 ratio is disproportionately imbalanced.
Read our article on Toxin Drinks You Must Purge From Panty now.
These fats are great for the body. Studies show they help raise HDL “good” cholesterol, prevent heart disease, and strengthen the immune system. MUFAs may be found in many of the superfoods we have been encouraged to eat: Avocados, Coconuts, Nuts, and Olives, among other foods. Their only issue, vis-à-vis cooking, is that they begin to oxidize under heat. Olive Oil has a very high ratio of MUFAs so if cooking in olive oil you must cook at a low temperature at best.
We at Naturopathic Earth recommend avoiding foods that are full of transfats, partially hydrogenated fats and the PUFA oils. These include:
- Vegetable shortening (Crisco)
- Canola (Rapeseed) Oil
- Corn Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
We recommend cooking in the following foods:
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (Don’t cook it over 350 degrees) is better suited for dipping foods, salads, or dipping breads. Veer away from the large jugs of olive oils as those are likely inferior. Choose high quality locally-grown smaller bottles that come in glass.
- Avocado Oil
- Refined Coconut oil may be used for cooking in high temperatures. It is full of Medium-Chain-Fatty Acids which are great for the body. A gluten-free option is to use coconut flour for baking.
- Organic Butter or Ghee (clarified butter, great for the lactose-sensitive people) are great for spreading, cooking, or frying.
- Age-old lard, tallow, and recycled bacon grease may be used for trying
- SAFAs procure from pure animal sources only. Not processed foods.
- PUFAs from animal sources, nuts, grains, and legumes.
- MUFAs from all sources.
- Transfats only from CLA-heavy foods like animal products.
- Limit or eliminate your processed foods. Stick to my adage “If God didn’t make it, don’t eat!”
Last thing: when you go to restaurants ask to have your dish cooked in butter. Most places will opt for the cheap industrial-grade inflammatory-laden vegetable oils. Any place with a decent reputation will gladly honor your request.
Subscribe to our Naturopathic Earth podcast here.
(We would greatly appreciate your comments below.)