Back when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a new so-called ‘health’ breakthrough that dictated that “saturated fats” should be crossed off the list of foods we should eat. Steaks and hamburgers were bad news, and in order to fight heart disease we were told to avoid all animal fats, or “saturated fats” and only use vegetable oils like Crisco, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oils.
Everyone started using margarine, made from partially hydrogenated seed oils, and vegetable oil for cooking, frying, baking, etc. And there was Crisco—a baking wonder! I even remember doctors telling patients who had had heart attacks to avoid all saturated fats, red meat, eggs and butter; and eat only chicken and fish, vegetable oils and margarine. Foods and cooking oils that were vegetable-based were advertised as ‘heart-healthy’. Including Crisco.
But now, everything has changed. Many health experts are now discovering that vegetable oils are significantly worse for us than sugar and grains. Vegetable seed oils are considered to be one of the primary root causes of many inflammatory degenerative diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even cancer.
I wonder how many people who followed the mistaken advice of eating vegetable seed died too early. This dietary change has likely killed millions of people prematurely and still continues to do so because most people just don’t understand this concept, or blindly buy into the mainstream medical paradigm.
However, there exists a huge disconnect between what nutrition science has found and what official dietary guidelines tell us we should be doing. The nutrition scientists say that vegetable oils, which are a type of omega 6 fatty acids, are extremely toxic because they are connected to many chronic diseases. Meanwhile, the government and the FDA tell us to consume these oils are healthy.
Many people–including many health experts–believe that omega 6 fats are considered an ‘essential fat’ and necessary in our diets. The fact is, omega 6 fats, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids—or PUFA’s, are made up primarily of linoleic acid, which is actually very harmful to our health.
Now stay with me here—although it’s a bit involved, the following information is something I highly recommend you read all the way through. Your life and your health are at stake and it’s important to understand this information on vegetable seed oils.
Omega 6 fats have increased in the human diet from only about 2-3 grams a day, a 150 years ago, to over 30-40 grams a day in current times. Omega 6 fats now make up almost 20% of our diets.
This huge increase in omega 6 fats, combined with the toxic end products from these fats, cause damage that many scientists now believe to be one of the primary causes behind the massive increase in chronic disease including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
By simply lowering your omega 6 intake to what your great-great grandparents used to eat, you may be able to essentially eliminate most chronic disease that are now prematurely killing us.
We used to mistakenly believe that it was the ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats (the anti-inflammatory fats found in fish and grass fed meats) that was healthy or unhealthy. It was thought that you could just eat more omega 3 fats to ‘balance’ out the omega 6 fats, but we are now coming to the realization, through scientific research, that it is the total consumption of omega 6 fats—regardless of the ratio—that damages our health.
Much has been discussed about sugar and processed grains being incredibly harmful, but little is actually known about the dangers of processed omega 6 fatty acids in vegetable oils.
Vegetable oils are considered a processed, industrialized seed oil. Vegetable oils are a fairly new addition to our diets, replacing the traditional fats that have been used for hundreds of years such as ghee, butter, olive oil, coconut oil and lard.
How are Industrial Seed Oils Made?
While these vegetable oils are labeled as ‘natural,’ they are most definitely not natural. I invite you to check out the making of industrial seed oils and watch the process for yourself. It’s not an appetizing operation.
Soy, corn, cotton, safflower and rapeseed (for canola oil) plants are grown (mostly GMO and heavily sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals) for vegetable oil. Once the plants are mature, the seeds are harvested from the plants. Next the seeds are heated to extremely high temperatures, oxidizing the unsaturated fatty acids, and creating harmful byproducts. Then the seeds are processed with a petroleum-based chemical solvent such as hexane, which maximizes the oil that can be extracted from the seeds.
More industrial chemicals are added to deodorize the terrible smell that this chemically extracted oil contains. The deodorizing process yields trans fats (yes, the ones that can kill you). Lastly, the oil has even more chemicals added to it to improve the color. All of this very UN-natural processing creates a high calorie, nutrient-poor, inflammatory GMO oil with leftover pesticides, chemical residue, trans fats and oxidized byproducts.
Because the fatty acids in industrial seed oils are so unstable, synthetic antioxidants are added to help prevent oxidation and rancidity. However, these synthetic antioxidants are not healthy either. Synthetic antioxidants such as BHA, BHT, and TBHQ have endocrine-disrupting, carcinogenic, and immune-disrupting effects. And additionally, TBHQ has been found to trigger an IgE (immunoglobulin E) response to some foods, which may promote the development of food allergies.
How is this oil considered ‘healthy’???
The History of Vegetable Oil
Before the turn of the century, two soap makers named William Procter and James Gamble, created a new type of soap from cottonseed oil, which at the time, was considered a toxic waste product that no one wanted. Previous to this, soap was usually made from lard or beef tallow. The breakthrough came when it was discovered that when cottonseed oil was chemically altered and hydrogenated, it became a solid fat that resembled lard (a.k.a. Crisco). A new market for vegetable ‘lard’ was created.
Soybeans became a popular crop in the United States in the 30’s, and soon much of it was made into soybean oil. Canola, corn and safflower oil came soon after. These cooking oils were very popular due to an excellent marketing and advertising campaign.
In the 1940’s, the newly formed America Heart Association received a large donation from Procter & Gamble and then endorsed vegetable oils as a healthier alternative to animal fats. The icing on the cake, however, was when scientist Ancel Keys presented his flawed “lipid hypothesis”, suggesting a link between animal fat, cholesterol and heart disease. Keys of course, pushed vegetable oils as the preferable choice to use, and the medical society and the public soon followed.
As we now know, Keys’ hypothesis was flawed, he cherry-picked the studies he wanted to use, and his ties to the sugar industry helped to further exaggerate his claims against saturated fat. Soon the entire industrialized world was using vegetable oils and demonizing animal fats.
How Are Different Types of Fats Classified?
For the purposes of this discussion, we will be talking primarily about omega 6 fats, linoleic acid, and PUFA’s. All of these are components found in industrial seed vegetable oils.
Other healthier choices of oils include monounsaturated fats like olive oil and saturated fats such as lard, butter and coconut oil. Fish oil contains healthy omega 3 fats including DHA and EPA.
For an in-depth discussion on how fats are classified, I recommend you click here.
Discussing fats can get somewhat complicated, but generally fats are divided up into these three groups:
- Saturated fats— have a full complement of hydrogen atoms. Examples of these types of fats include coconut oil and animal fats like butter, beef tallow and lard.
- Monounsaturated fats—are missing a single hydrogen atom. Examples include olive oil, avocado oil and nuts.
- Polyunsaturated fats or PUFA’s–are missing multiple hydrogen atoms. Examples include vegetable oils like canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, cottonseed, safflower, etc.
These missing hydrogen atoms make PUFAs much more likely to oxidize, and the fat breaks down into harmful metabolites. Omega 6 vegetable oils contain a large portion of linoleic acid. OXLAMS (oxidized linoleic acid metabolites) have a profoundly negative impact on human health. When you hear of oxidization in your blood vessels or plaque buildup that causes heart attacks, OXLAMS are often a contributing cause.
Note: Do not confuse linoleic acid (LA) with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is found mostly in grass fed beef, while linoleic acid is found in vegetable seed oils. Many people think CLA and LA are interchangeable, but they are definitely not. CLA has many potent health benefits and will not cause any of the problems that LA does.
The truth is that the TOTAL amount of omega 6 you eat is detrimental to your health and as long as you eat fish a 2-3 times a week, you will get plenty of omega-3. So, you mostly want to pay attention to your omega 6/PUFA/linoleic acid intake.
Paul Saladino, author of “The Carnivore Code”, also discusses a lot of research that shows that it’s the ratio of saturated fat to omega 6’s that he thinks is actually MORE important than the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, with higher saturated fat being protective, and higher polyunsaturated omega 6 fats causing the majority of health problems.
Why are seed oils so bad for us?
First and foremost, highly processed industrial seed oils are something our bodies do not recognize. As Chris Kresser states, industrial seed oils are an “evolutionary mismatch.” Up until the 1900’s humans never consumed industrial seed oil. However, beginning in the 70’s, the average consumption of just soybean oil went from 4 pounds per person a year to 26 pounds per person! As a result, these high levels of industrial seed oil consumption are ruining our health.
The primary reason seed oils are so detrimental, however is that they contain large amounts of linoleic acid. When we talk about omega 6 fats, we are referring primarily to the linoleic acid, or LA in those fats. LA makes up about 60% to 80% of omega 6 and is the primary ingredient that appears to spark the disease process.
Seed Oils, Covid-19 and ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)
Seed oils are suspected to play a role in the development of ARDS, especially in Covid-19. One of the primary causes of death in Covid-19 is the development of acute respiratory distress, often brought on by an overreaction of cytokines, an inflammatory immune reaction of the body.
One of the key toxins that contributes to the development of symptoms of ARDS is called leukotoxin, and leukotoxin is made from linoleic acid by the white blood cells to kill off pathogens. However, leukotoxin is toxic to humans as well as pathogens. Leukotoxin is toxic enough to kill animals in minutes if you inject high amounts of it.
ARDS can brought on by many different pathogens, including viruses like influenza or pneumonia. You can also get ARDS from smoke inhalation or other toxic substances in the atmosphere as well.
Doctors started noticing that patients being fed liquid diets in the hospital (which are high in seed oils such as soybean oil) were developing ARDS. While the fatality rate from ARDS is generally 30% to 60%, according to one researcher, Tucker Goodrich, feeding seed oil-based liquid diets increases the rate of ARDS in patients 700%.
Seed Oils and Cancer
Each of the cells in our body contain a tiny powerhouse that generates energy, called the “mitochondria”. On this cellular level, excess linoleic acid consumption impedes the body’s ability to generate energy in our mitochondria. But, energy is necessary for most all body processes.
Depending on the body part, the cell’s mitochondria work best with specific types of fatty acids. These fatty acids can include LA, palmitic acid (another type of fat) or the fatty acid components from fish oil, such as DHA and EPA.
The appropriate fatty acids in cells can be compared to a cellular alarm system that triggers cell death when something goes wrong with the cell. If those fatty acids are full of linoleic acid, they are unable to signal, and the damaged cell is not killed. As a result, dysfunctional cells continue to grow, which then turn into cancerous cells or tumors.
Animals typically develop cancer once the omega 6 fats in their diet reaches 4% to 10% of their energy intake, depending on the cancer. In fact, scientists can actually induce cancer in animal models by feeding them seed oils.
Most humans today are eating 15% to 20% of their calories from omega 6, so you can see there can be a correlation. Our ancestral human diet is believed to be made up of only about 2% to 3% omega 6 fats, and when intake increases above that level, you will see significant health problems start to happen.
When you consume too many omega 6 fats, you make it far more susceptible to oxidative damage, which damages the cells, and in turn relates to higher risks of cancer. However there is some research showing that when the omega 6 linoleic acid is replaced with the oleic acid from olive oil, the cells become resistant to oxidative damage.
Seed Oils and Diabetes
Other research shows that mice fed a diet high in omega 6 fats, versus a high carbohydrate diet, developed diabetes. The mice became insulin resistant, leptin resistant and obese. Contrast this with mice who were fed a diet high in carbohydrates–which we generally associate with the development of diabetes. These mice did okay. On the other hand, the mice whose diet was high in omega 6 fats had a breakdown in the mitochondria in their hearts. So, the conclusion one can make here is that just by adding in seed oils, heart damage occurs because of a change in the fatty acids of the cells.
Seed Oils Age Your Skin and Increase Risk of Skin Cancer
There is even plenty of evidence showing eliminating seed oils from your diet will dramatically reduce your risk of sunburn and premature aging. People with a high intake of seed oils and omega 6 fats have increased inflammation which in turns shows up as sunburn and sun damage.
Susceptibility to UV radiation damage is controlled by the amount of omega 6 consumption in the diet. Higher omega 3 consumption and lower omega 6 consumption has been shown to control how fast or slowly one can get skin cancer. High omega 3 consumption slows down or eliminates skin cancer, while high omega 6 intake increases the risk of skin cancer.
In addition, the inflammation and oxidation from sun exposure and high omega 6 intake also increases the breakdown of collagen and speeds up the aging in the skin. Studies show people with a higher intake of saturated animal fat have less photoaging of the skin, compared to those who have a higher intake of vegetable oils in their diets.
Chronic Disease and Vegetable Oils
One of the most notable takeaways is that seed oils are especially harmful to the brain. Too much omega 6 fats can make people much more susceptible to depression, anxiety and dementia, due to the increased inflammation in the brain. Canola oil, which we’ve been told is ‘healthy’ is linked to poor memory, cognitive decline and a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
The trans fats in vegetable oils, which are a result of the heat and processing, are also associated with a higher chance of dementia, as well as increased aggression.
Other research in mice shows that high levels of linoleic acid increases food consumption and encourages weight gain and obesity. Further research shows a diet with high intake of soybean oil in particular, brings on obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and fatty liver disease.
Even a mother’s diet high in omega 6 fats is associated with a higher risk of obesity in her children. And children who eat high levels of omega 6’s often have insulin resistance, prediabetes, and obesity when they grow up.
What About Heart Disease?
We’ve had it drilled into our heads for the past 50 or more years that vegetable oils are “heart healthy” and help us prevent heart disease. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In fact, oxidized fatty acids from industrial seed oils appear to play a pivotal role in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Researcher James DiNicolantonio has been working on a theory called the “oxidized linoleic acid theory of coronary heart disease” that presents a link between consumption of linoleic acid-rich industrial seed oils and cardiovascular disease. His theory includes these points:
- Linoleic acid from our diets from gets into blood lipoproteins (triglycerides and cholesterol).
- The instability of linoleic acid causes oxidization.
- Oxidized lipoproteins activate macrophages which initiate foam cell formation, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease.
Industrial seed oils are also a causative factor in cardiovascular disease by increasing the omega 6-to-omega 3 ratio. This high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio creates excess inflammation and dangerous clotting effects in the heart and blood vessels. And LDL, the part of cholesterol which we’ve all been taught is the ‘bad cholesterol’ is only dangerous when it is exposed to high levels of omega 6 fats, which cause it to oxidize in blood vessels.
Industrial seed oils are also harmful to our gut health, making conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) much more likely. This information leads us to the conclusion that high levels of omega 6 fats can alter our gut microbiome and increase GI inflammation, contributing to the development of IBS and IBD.
Anyone with any type of inflammatory or autoimmune disease should avoid processed vegetable oils and instead consume only natural fats from olive oil, coconut oil, wild seafood, nuts and seeds, and healthy animal fats.
How to Avoid Linoleic Acid and Omega 6’s
The difficult task is to avoid omega 6’s altogether. Omega 6 fats are not just in the vegetable oil you buy in a bottle at the store. These harmful fats are in most all processed foods, salad dressings, sauces, chips of all kinds, crackers, cookies, bread and more.
Most all fried food—unless it is specifically labeled, is fried in vegetable oil (strike one!) and repeatedly heated (strike two!). Restaurants and even home cooks often reuse vegetable oil to fry foods. When vegetable oils are heated over and over again, it further magnifies the toxicity of the oil.
Repeated heating also depletes vitamin E which is a natural antioxidant. It dramatically increases the free radicals that damage DNA, proteins and lipids in the body. This helps to explain why fried foods are associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, and liver damage.
Even meat, such as commercially-raised chicken which is fed high LA grains is high in this dangerous fat. And eating more foods high in omega 3 fats may help but will not avoid the problem. As noted researcher, Tucker Goodrich states, “The ratio is not really what’s important. What’s important is [totally] avoiding the omega 6 fats…”
Avoiding all processed foods, especially fried foods and chips and only eating saturated fats or monounsaturated fats like olive oil is the best way to avoid omega 6’s.
What About Olive Oil?
Yes, olive oil also contains LA, but it also has other healthy fats that help to offset this. Olive oil contains oleic acid, which is one of the best fats for your body. Oleic acid is highly resistant to oxidation, which is why olive oil is much healthier to cook with. However, olive oil can contain varying amounts of linoleic acid, and many olive oils are cut with cheaper seed oils, raising the LA content even more. So just be aware of how much olive oil you are consuming. It can be detrimental in higher amounts.
Other Healthy Fats
Beef fat—even conventionally-raised beef — is a combination of monounsaturated and saturated fats, and only has trace amounts of PUFA’s. Grass fed beef is higher in CLA (a healthy fat) and DHA (an omega 3 fat). On the other hand, chicken and pork have ten times as much omega 6/LA content of beef, bison or lamb, so if you want to be as healthy as possible, choose grass-fed RED meat instead of chicken or pork.
Coconut oil is another healthy saturated fat, and olive oil is monounsaturated, as is avocado oil and the oil from nuts. And butter, my favorite, is mostly all saturated fat, some monounsaturated fat and very little polyunsaturated fat. Grass fed butter is also very high in vitamin K-2, another essential nutrient valuable for heart health.
I hope you stuck with me on this important article. Many people underestimate the tremendous value a healthy diet has on every aspect of their lives. From health, to energy, to body composition, to your moods—diet matters. Making sense of conflicting information is the hardest part, so following the science is what matters most.
As my colleague Mike Geary says,
“…many people make statements like “just live a little and eat a donut”. And, honestly, I don’t equate “living a little” with eating donuts or chips or any other stuff that harms my quality of life. I’d rather eat a delicious steak or grass fed burger, and know I’m nourishing my body instead!
I’d rather have amazing energy, brain clarity, and LOOK & FEEL great every day instead of whatever 10 seconds of pleasure that a donut or chips might give to you. Plus, there are always better alternatives for a treat that doesn’t contain vegetable oil.”
I am 100% in agreement!