Are Seed Oils Really Bad For You?

seed oils
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In my last podcast about the secrets of flavoring your healthy food,  I talked about using oils/fats as a flavor enhancer and not to worry about the controversy surrounding seed oils. Why? Because there is no hard evidence against using seed oils and because the wellness industry is always looking to stir up the pot, using scare tactics to get you to buy things like books, supplements, workshops, and all the other ways they make money off of you. As a nutritionist and a chef who has specialized in health-supportive eating for almost half my life, I got intrigued when I started seeing the warning signs for ingesting seed oils.

What Are Seed Oils?

Seed oils, also known as vegetable oils, are oils that are extracted from the seeds of various plants. These oils are commonly used in cooking, food processing, and as ingredients in a wide range of products. Some examples of seed oils include soybean oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, and sesame oil.

These oils are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are considered healthier fats compared to saturated fats. They are also a source of essential fatty acids, including omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for various physiological functions in the body.

Seed oils have a wide range of culinary uses due to their neutral flavor, high smoke point, and versatility in different cooking methods. They are commonly used in sauteeing, salad dressings, frying, baking, and as a base for sauces and marinades.

What’s The Controversy With Seed Oils?

Omega-6 Fatty Acids. Seed oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6 fatty acids are essential for various physiological processes, including inflammation regulation, an excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids may lead to an imbalance. Some wellness gurus suggest that a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in the diet may promote inflammation, potentially increasing the risk of chronic diseases. But there are simply too many well-researched studies proving that omega-6 fats actually help with heart health. 

Processing and Oxidation. The processing methods used to extract seed oils, such as high heat and chemical solvents, have raised concerns about the potential formation of harmful compounds and oxidative damage to the oils. Oxidized oils can release free radicals and oxidized lipid byproducts, which may have detrimental effects on health. However, it’s important to note that not all seed oils undergo the same processing methods, and cold-pressed or minimally processed options may have fewer concerns in this regard.

Nutrient Profile. While seed oils are a concentrated source of calories and essential fatty acids, they lack the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds found in whole seeds. Some argue that consuming whole seeds, nuts, or avocados as a source of healthy fats, rather than relying solely on their extracted oils, provides a more complete nutrient profile. Seed oils are also found in abundance in highly processed junk foods, but highly processed foods also contain other suspicious ingredients like refined grains, sugar, and salt. It becomes hard to discern whether processed foods are unhealthy because of the seed oils or because of the other ingredients. 

What Are The Best, and Safest Oils, to Cook With?

If you still feel on the fence about using seed oils, like canola oil (one of my go-to oils for cooking and baking because of its health profile and its neutral taste), definitely try these:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine and is known for its health benefits. It is rich in monounsaturated fats and contains antioxidants that may have anti-inflammatory properties. EVOO is ideal for low to medium-heat cooking, such as sautéing and light frying. It also adds a distinct flavor to dressings, marinades, and finishing drizzles. Extra-virgin olive oil is my #1 pick for cooking oils!

Avocado Oil. Avocado oil is another excellent choice for both health and culinary reasons. It has a high smoke point, making it suitable for high-heat cooking methods like grilling and stir-frying. Avocado oil contains monounsaturated fats and is rich in vitamin E and antioxidants.

Canola Oil. Canola oil is a versatile and widely available option. It contains low levels of saturated fat and is rich in monounsaturated fats. Canola oil has a neutral flavor, making it suitable for a variety of cooking methods, including frying, baking, and salad dressings.

Grapeseed Oil. Grapeseed oil is extracted from the seeds of grapes and has a high smoke point. It is relatively neutral in flavor, making it suitable for high-heat cooking, such as frying and searing. Grapeseed oil is also often used in salad dressings and marinades.

What Oils Should I Steer Clear Of?

Coconut Oil. This one is baffling to me: health gurus warn of the dangers of seed oils and then promote coconut oil, which is through the roof in saturated fat. Saturated fat is well known to be linked to high cholesterol and heart disease, even plant-based saturated fat. While it’s well-suited for baking, roasting, and sautéing, and adds a hint of coconut flavor to dishes I would use this oil sparingly and not as your main cooking oil.

Light Olive Oil. Light olive oil or just olive oil is a refined oil that has filtered all the good properties of the olives out of it to create a higher smoke point and neutral taste. There is really no benefit to using this oil. Think of light olive oil as a marketing gimmick – it sounds healthier but there is nothing too healthy to this oil.

The Takeaway

Stick with what you know. It is well established that extra virgin olive oil is a very safe and healthy oil, that highly processed foods are inflammatory, that saturated fats found in foods like coconut oil are unhealthy and that seed oils do have many healthy properties. If you want to take charge of your health and are looking for guidance, reach out to me and we can set up a time to discuss your health and cooking goals.

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