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Vegetable oil: The harmful truth

Contrary to popular belief, the mere fact that vegetable oil is derived from vegetables does not make it beneficial to your health. Part of the blame for this is attributed to the food companies marketing their products in ways that does not necessarily reveal the whole truth. Today, we explore the puzzling world of vegetable oils to debunk some misconceptions and establish some facts to help you in your health journey.

Vegetable oils are edible oils, harvested from an assortment of plants. Vegetable oils function as preservatives, enhancing the longevity of food products. Although they are frequently used in our culinary pursuits such as cooking and baking, it is through processed foods like fast food, packaged foods, salad dressings and condiments that most of our vegetable oil consumption takes place.

The production and processing of vegetable oils is what we should be questioning. The processing methodology primarily determines whether the oil induces an inflammatory or anti-inflammatory response in our bodies. The challenge then lies in determining which oil variants are beneficial to our health and which are not, so you can focus on the right ones.

Tip No. 1: Opt for unrefined vegetable oils

Digging into the production process of refined vegetable oils, we find that it generally involves a chemical solvent to extract the oil from the plant. The subsequent purification, refinement and occasional chemical alterations can render these oils unsuitable for a healthy body. Refined oil examples include soybean oil, corn oil, canola, hydrogenated oils and grapeseed oil.

Conversely, unrefined vegetable oils, derived from plant or seed crushing or pressing without using harmful chemicals, are healthier. This category includes olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil and coconut oil. Interestingly, grapeseed oil appears on both lists, illustrating that there are unrefined versions of various oils.

Tip No. 2: Exercise discretion with health assertions of vegetable oils

While all vegetable oils carry the “heart healthy” tag attributed to their polyunsaturated fat content (which is healthier than saturated fat), this may not be the entire truth. Corn oil or soybean oil may appear healthier than saturated fats such as coconut oil, but this point of view ignores the oil's plant origin, processing techniques, and consumption quantity. Do not be misguided by simplified health claims. Refined corn oil and refined soybean oil, predominantly used in the food industry, should ideally be excluded from your diet. Begin scrutinizing your food package ingredient lists and note the frequency of canola, corn and soybean oil, all of which are unhealthier options.

Tip No. 3: Prioritize reading ingredients lists and opt for healthier vegetable oils

Identifying vegetable oils on ingredient lists is as crucial as spotting refined sugar. What oil variant is in your “healthier” bag of chips or crackers? It’s imperative to know.

Inflammatory vegetable oils, which should ideally be avoided, include soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed/canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, sesame oil and rice bran oil.

Navigating the complex realm of vegetable oils requires informed decision-making. Do not fall for the misrepresentation that all vegetable oils are healthy. Prioritize unrefined over refined oils, question health claims and pay attention to ingredient lists on food packages. Remember, while marketing campaigns might portray some oils as healthier, the reality is more nuanced. Use these tips to make healthier choices, and remember, when it comes to vegetable oils, they truly aren’t identical.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS is a local registered dietitian, digestive health coach, speaker, and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.