August 11, 2021

What’s So Bad About Oil?

Dr Michele Johnson

If you search online about whether vegetable oils are better for regular consumption than butter and other saturated fats, you will see hundreds of articles and blogs on the topic. A lot of this information is contradictory, which can be confusing as well. The common belief is that vegetable oils are healthier than saturated fats. 

This idea stems from the belief that they have lower LDL and total cholesterol, presumably reducing the risk of heart disease. If you follow this type of advice blindly, it means you will swap out lard and butter for oils such as safflower, sunflower, canola, soybean, and corn. All of these vegetable oils are inflammatory polyunsaturated, Omega-6-rich fats. 

How Processed Vegetable Oils Entered the Scene

If we go back into human history, you will see that we consumed fewer Omega-6 fats and more Omega-3 fats than we currently do because wild foods are high Omega-3 content. Today, the primary source of Omega-3s in our diet is fish. Wild plants and wild game used to be a big part of our regular diet and are rich in these essential fats.

Grass-fed beef and wild meat contain approximately seven times more Omega-3 fats than industrially raised animals and almost none of these fats' content. All of the animal products and beef that our ancestors consumed contained no antibiotics or hormones, were organic and pasture-raised as it was the only type of meat available. 

When we started swapping wild animal grass-fed meats and introduced refined vegetable oils into our daily diet, we increased our intake of Omega-6 fats. Canola, cottonseed, soy, and corn oils were part of every pantry, while Omega-3 fats were pushed into the shadows. This trend led to many Americans becoming deficient in Omega-3 fats. 

There is considerable evidence suggesting that regular animal fats aren't the leading cause for the phenomenal rise of heart disease in the US, but vegetable oils. Research indicates that at the turn of the century, on average, the annual butter consumption per person was approximately 18lbs. People almost did not use any vegetable oils, and heart disease and cancer were rare. However, all of that changed, and we started to consume larger quantities of processed vegetable oils. 

The Harmful Effects of Vegetable Oils 

When you over-consume vegetable oils (which have high Omega-6 fat content), it significantly increases:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic syndrome/pre-diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Macular degeneration (blindness/eye damage)
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Psychiatric disorders 

The Calorie Content in Vegetable Oils 

A diet high in Omega-6 fats is detrimental to health. Most people don't realize that even seemingly small quantities of vegetable oil can add to the calories you consume during the day. The oil causes damage to our arteries and weight gain. In general, there are about 40 calories in each tsp. of oil. A tablespoon of it contains 120 calories, and 14% of these calories come from saturated fats. 

For example, if you order a cup of steamed vegetables (50 calories) and drizzle a tbsp of oil on them, a significant portion of the overall calories come from the side of oil and not the veggies. The dish would have a high saturated fat content, which means that even that teaspoon of oil can harm your health. On the other hand, when you include whole foods in your diet, they give you more nutrients, sans the oil. 

Unfortunately, oil is everywhere because it acts as a preservative. You will find oil in all pre-packed foods, crackers, cookies, etc., and a large percentage of other foods on supermarket shelves. Therefore, it is far better to avoid calorie-dense foods like oils that will not satiate your hunger in any case. Eat nutrient-dense foods that give your body the essential fiber, minerals, and vitamins it needs instead. 

Your Body does not Need Refined Vegetable Oils 

Only plants can synthesize Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids, and you can easily get these from various whole plant-based foods such as:

  • Seeds 
  • Buts 
  • Soybeans
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Leafy greens 

Most of these foods have Omega-3 fatty acids and a good amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. Once you include more whole foods in your diet, your body will get the fatty acids it needs to stay healthy, helping you avoid the problems associated with processed oils and animal products. 

Aim for Oil-Free Cooking 

Many people believe they can't cook tasty meals without oil. However, the fact is that once you start cooking with minimal or no oil, you will be able to appreciate and relish the true flavors of various foods and ingredients without the overlay of oil.     

Living healthy takes some effort, and making the right food choices is part of that effort. It's where we come in. For tips on shifting to a healthier lifestyle, contact Michele Johnson MD through this online form. My team and I are happy to answer questions about our program.

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