Industrial seed oils, more commonly known as vegetable oils, are highly processed extracts of plants such as rapeseed, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and corn. These oils have been promoted to the American people as 'health foods' for the better part of forty years. However, these substances do not even meet the requirements to be classified as food, per the definition from Merriam Webster Dictionary:
Material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes to furnish energy
Industrial seed oils do the exact opposite of sustaining growth, repair, and maintaining energy levels. In fact, they have been documented to impair growth and destroy the body's natural healing mechanisms by maintaining a constant state of inflammation within the body, which significantly contributes to the onslaught of modern chronic and degenerative disease. Despite this, these seed oils can be found in the majority of products on supermarket shelves, with glaring labels promoting the supposed 'health benefits' of these foods.
Originally, seed oils were classified as a toxic waste and were only used for industrial purposes such as lubricating mechanical parts and other purposes. Eventually, they replaced the tallow and lard that were once used in soap products, and then they found their way into the American food system.
Industrialized Seed Oils: From toxic waste to nutritional component
In the early 1900s, the primary type of fat consumed by Americans was animal-based, such as lard and butterfat. However, a physiologist who studied the relationship between diet and disease, namely Ancel Keys, was one of the first professionals in the scientific community to promote a diet low in animal fats.1 This was in response to an increase in heart disease causing premature death, which Keys believed was caused by raised blood-cholesterol levels due to high animal fat intake. Because of this, Keys promoted the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet "low in saturated fat (less than equal to 7-8% of energy) with total fat ranging from less than 25% to greater than 35% of energy."2 The primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat and was believed to lower cholesterol levels. When researchers found that other forms of unsaturated fats, mainly from seed oils, reduced blood-cholesterol levels, those oils were quickly promoted as well. This led to the advent of the 1980 USDA guidelines, which demonized the consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, and promoted the consumption of polyunsaturated fats.3 Unfortunately, these guidelines—and the lofty science backing them—has almost certainly caused the current health epidemic we are facing in this country today:
As a result of [the U.S. dietary guidelines], dietary fat decreased to near the recommended limit of 30% total energy. But contrary to prediction, total calorie intake increased substantially, the prevalence of obesity tripled, the incidence of type 2 diabetes increased many-fold, and the decades-long decrease in cardiovascular disease plateaued and may reverse, despite greater use of preventative drugs and surgical procedures. However, other change sin diet (such as meals away from home) and lifestyle (such as physical activity level) may have influenced these trends.
Recent research suggests that the focus on dietary fat reduction has directly contributed to this growing burden of chronic disease.4
There is an abundance of evidence supporting the concept that seed oils are playing a significant role in the America's chronic disease epidemic, although this does not negate the consumption of other foods such as white flour and sugar, which will be covered later on. In fact, the combination of these processed foods poses a grave threat to the health of our nation, especially since these substances are shrouded within foods that well-meaning Americans believe are healthy. The nation-wide impact is hardly deniable.
The Manufacturing Process
In order to truly understand the negative impact seed oils have on the human system, we must first understand their processing method and interaction with the human body.
The processing method used to create seed oils is the complete opposite of natural, and the end-product is something that has never been consumed by humans throughout our evolution.
This is the process used for the products that are marketed to Americans as health foods, and these products are now included in most of the foods on the supermarket shelves.5
Seed Oils vs Animal Fats
The manufacturing process, as shown above, indicates that these oils do not belong in the human body. Unfortunately, the American public has been led to believe that these oils are healthy, and that animal fats are the most prominent cause of chronic disease, when this is very clearly not the case when examining the composition of seed oils in comparison to animal fats.
In nature, all fats are a mixture of various fatty acids. These fatty acids can be defined by their degree of saturation, which is directly dependent on temperature. The number of double bonds between carbon atoms in a specific fatty acid will make it more or less likely to be structurally influenced by certain temperatures. The molecular structure of saturated fatty acids contain no double bonds between carbon atoms, monounsaturated fats have one double bond, and unsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds. The amount of double bonds determines the stability and melting point of the given fatty acid. This is why saturated fats are stable and solid at room temperature, and unsaturated fats are unstable and liquid. If the composition of a particular fat is more unsaturated (i.e. unstable) the fat is more likely to go rancid at higher temperatures, which in turn will create harmful free radicals. Recall the processing method for industrial seed oils. Seed oils are predominately unsaturated, making them more likely to go rancid when exposed to oxygen and higher temperatures, yet high temperatures is the exact method used to process them. Furthermore, these oils are then used at high temperatures to cook food, adding to their toxins. Lastly, these oils are ingested into the human body, where they become further toxic due to the body's naturally high temperatures.
Not all plant-based oils are liquid at room temperature. Coconut oil and palm oil are perfect examples of this because both are highly saturated, even more than animal fats. Again, this can be directly correlated with temperature. Coconut and palm grow closer to the equator, so the fats tend to be more saturated due to the high temperatures in that location. Olives and other seeds contain primarily unsaturated oils, and are found in cooler climates. This same concept applies to animals as well. Cold blooded animals, such as fish, contain more unsaturated fats due to their cool body temperatures. If these animals contained more saturated fat, they would be immobile because the fat would be hardened at the cooler temperatures. On the other hand, warm-blooded animals contain more saturated fats because they are liquid at warmer temperatures, so the animals are mobile.
If unsaturated fats are less stable, then why do all fats found in nature contain a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fats?
Most animal foods contain approximately 40-60% saturated fats, 30-40% monounsaturated fats, and less than 10% polyunsaturated fats. There is reason to suspect that the high amount of saturated fat provides protection to the unsaturated fats, preventing rancidity. This is likely why populations surrounding the equator who eat plenty of fish (polyunsaturated fat), are not suffering from any chronic disease related to high polyunsaturated fat intake, because they eat plenty of coconut (saturated fat) to balance out the polyunsaturated fat. If the polyunsaturated fat is not combined with saturated fat in the diet, the body can experience intense inflammation, leading to the onset of chronic disease.
The most optimal way to ensure you are getting the correct ratio between polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats is to simply remove the seed oils. Seed oils have an incredibly high ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats that is simply not found in nature. Instead, eat whole foods and cook with animal fats in order to avoid eating too much polyunsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated Fats: Balance is Key
Given the high amounts of rancid seed oils found in most modern foods, it is clear we are eating too much polyunsaturated fat. However, polyunsaturated fat is still a necessary component of the diet when eaten with the proper amount of saturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats contains two very important essential fatty acids: Omega 6 (linoleic acid) and omega 3 (alpha-linoleic acid). Just like polyunsaturated and saturated fats should be consumed at a proper ratio, omega 6 and omega 3 are the equivalent. The recommended omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is a 2:1, although today average consumption it is closer to a 20:1 due to high consumption of seed oils. Too much of either of these fatty acids can lead to serious health consequences, and it is unfortunate that today we are seeing such health problems almost certainly linked to overconsumption of omega 6 fatty acid via industrialized seed oils, and the public is still being mislead regarding the supposed 'health benefits.'
Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are commonly considered 'parent fatty acids' because the body needs to convert these into other essential fatty acids in order to function properly. Omega 6 converts into gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (AA), while omega 3 converts into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
When either of these nutrients is consumed in excess, it can cause a deficiency in both nutrients. For example, a study analyzing the DHA and AA outcomes in infants supplemented with both nutrients found that upon higher dosages of these nutrients, the blood-indicators actually decreased.6 This indicates that although Omega 6 and Omega 3 make up a very small amount of the diet, a deficiency or surplus can wreak havoc on the human system, especially since adequate GLA and EPA intake is directly dependent on the balance between these nutrients, which then directly relates to DHA and AA intake.
Although the roles of the nutrients described above is incredibly important and complex, ensuring adequate intake is simple. The first step is to eliminate processed foods, especially seed oils, and the replacement shall be nutrient dense animal foods such as fatty cuts of meat, seafood, eggs, raw dairy, and organ meats. These are the foods that our ancestors ate in plenty, and they did not suffer from any of the symptoms outlined above. Eliminating the foods that cause these deficiencies is the first step to achieving optimal human performance and living a vibrant life.
1. Ancel Keys, “Coronary heart disease in seven countries,” Circulation, 1970 41, (Suppl.1)
2. W C Willett, et al, “Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition June 1995 61(6S):1402S-1406S
3. “Dietary Guidelines 1980.” USDA, www.fns.usda.gov/dietary-guidelines-1980.
4. Ludwig DS. Lowering the Bar on the Low-Fat Diet. JAMA. 2016;316(20):2087–2088. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.15473
5. Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):950-962. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.006643
6. Colombo J, Jill Shaddy D, Kerling EH, Gustafson KM, Carlson SE. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) balance in developmental outcomes. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2017;121:52-56. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2017.05.005
Tori is the founder and CEO of Gym Rats Only LLC. She is an expert in holistic nutrition and has a passion for helping others achieve their physical fitness and nutrition goals.
DISCLAIMER: THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. Nothing on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor is anything contained herein a guarantee of any outcome or result. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have and before undertaking a new health care regimen. If you have a medical condition please see medical attention immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it or any recommended treatment because of something you read on this website. Any links to other websites or educational material posted on this website are for informational purposes only, and Gym Rats only LLC. does not guarantee the accuracy of any of the contents. Gym Rats Only LLC. shall not be held liable for any advice, suggested course of treatment, or any other information, products, or services included on this Website.