So many recipes call for it, and it certainly sounds healthy, but you might be surprised when you discover the truth. Just check out how it’s made.
Don’t be fooled. Just because the name includes “vegetable” does not mean this food is healthy! Vegetable oil is a common ingredient in nearly all American foods today, used in both household and restaurant kitchens, and can also be found in a huge number of processed food products on our grocery shelves. Common “health” foods such as salad dressings, condiments, sauces, and even snacks like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit can contain added vegetable oils! But what’s so wrong with eating something that sounds so healthy?
Vegetable oils are extracted from the seeds from plants such as rapeseed (canola oil), corn, soybean, sunflower, or safflower. These oils are relatively new to the human diet; it wasn’t until the early 1900s that modernized extraction processes were developed to enable manufacturers to isolate the oil. The key difference with vegetable oil, versus other oils such as coconut oil, is that vegetable oils cannot be removed naturally through pressing or separation methods. These vegetable oils have to be chemically removed and then must undergo further deodorization and alteration. Because of this, vegetable oils are some of the most altered foods on our shelves today, and yet, sadly, many consider them a healthy ingredient.
Creating Vegetable Oil
To make vegetable oils, a factory is required. These types of oils are not something that can be made at home, naturally. Almost always, genetically modified crops of corn, rapeseed, safflower, or soybeans that have typically been heavily sprayed with pesticides are used. This reason alone should be enough to avoid consuming them!
Rapeseed oil, more commonly known as canola oil, is not only genetically modified and pesticide treated, but high in erucic acid, which is toxic to the body. High heat is used along with petroleum to remove the oil from vegetables. And as if this wasn’t enough processing, there is a further step to add heat and an acid that helps get rid of any solids, such as wax, that develop during the first round of processing.
At this point, the oil is still not complete. From here, the oil is treated with certain chemicals that act to create a pleasant color and also to separate the different parts of the oil. Finally, there is a chemical process used to deodorize the oil, because all the chemicals used up to this point create a rancid, strong smell. Now, after all of this heavy, harsh processing, the final oil product is complete and packaged and shipped to sit on your grocery shelves.
Surprisingly, many vegetable oils on top of all this also commonly contain health-destroying chemicals like BHA and BHT, artificial antioxidants with the purpose of preventing food from going bad too quickly. Additives such as these pose yet another list of potential dangers from cancer, liver and kidney damage, immune issues, and infertility to behavior problems.
Heating the Oil
A big problem with the processing of vegetable oils, aside from all the chemicals used to treat the oil, is the high temperatures used to process them. Aside from the processing used to create the oil product, high heat is usually introduced again once the finished oil is used in restaurants or homes. The problem with this is vegetable oils aren’t as molecularly stable as other oils, such as butter or coconut oil. This means it takes a lot less heat to change the structures of the fat, essentially turning them into a toxin.
Vegetable oils react with oxygen, which makes these oils damage easily, meaning they quickly go rancid and generate free radicals in the body. Because of this, any polyunsaturated fat that isn’t molecularly stable should either be eaten raw or in a low temperature setting (or not eaten at all, in this case).
Oxidized, rancid fats are a big problem because they not only feed and fuel inflammation (the main contributor to most sickness and disease) but also cause mutation in the cells. When this mutation happens, a number of negative health consequences can be experienced, including skin cancer and inflammation that can cause buildup in the blood vessels and arteries, leading to blockages.
Avoiding the Bad
When you step back and realize that the body is made up of primarily saturated and monounsaturated fats (about 97%), it’s easy to see how polyunsaturated fat should make up the smallest amount of the total fat we’re getting. When polyunsaturated fats are consumed, they should come from fresh, whole food sources and not the highly processed varieties. But for most Americans today the opposite is happening, with most of the fat consumed coming from highly processed vegetable oils!
The main thing to remember is that the more processed the ingredient, the worse it is for your health, and vegetable oil is one of the most harshly processed food ingredients you can get. So from here on out be sure to check the ingredient list for vegetable oils (including canola, rapeseed, sunflower, soybean, or safflower oils), and if you see it listed, avoid it like the plague!