Let’s face it, health and fitness go hand in hand! You cannot improve your strength and endurance if your health is going south, and we know by now that diet is a major contributor to health and well-being.
While everyone in the fitness community is arguing on whether high carb or low carb is better for health and fitness, I would like to warn you about something that is potentially worse for your health than carbs and fat: seed oils.
Now, if you read the ingredients list of any packaged food item at the grocery store, you’ll likely find some kind of artificially-processed seed oil in there. In this article, I’ll tell you why this may be problematic for your health and what alternatives you can choose for optimal health…
What are seed oils?
Seed oils can refer to any of the following:
- Canola oil (one of the most common!)
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Soybean oil
- Rice bran oil
- Vegetable oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Grapeseed oil
- and many others.
Essentially, the term “seed oils” can refer to any vegetable oil that is extracted using high heat, solvents and/or other chemical processes.
The problems with seed oils
The main concerns about seed oils typically revolve around the following factors:
- Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio: Seed oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids. An imbalance in the consumption of these fatty acids can lead to an increased risk of inflammation, heart disease, and other health issues. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is around 4:1 or lower, but the modern Western diet has a ratio closer to 15:1 or higher, primarily due to the prevalence of seed oils.
- Processing and refinement: Most seed oils undergo extensive processing, which involves high heat, chemical solvents, and deodorization to extract and purify the oil. This processing can lead to the formation of trans fats, which are harmful to health, and the degradation of some beneficial nutrients.
- Oxidative stability: Seed oils are generally high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are more prone to oxidation than other types of fats. Oxidation can produce harmful compounds, such as free radicals, contributing to inflammation, cellular damage, and various health issues.
- Pesticide residues: Some seed oils, particularly those produced from conventionally grown crops, may contain pesticide residues. These residues can have harmful effects on health when consumed over time.
The relatively “recent” history of seed oils
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s only in the last hundred years that seed oils took over our shelves. Before these oils came into existence, humans were mainly using olive oil, butter, tallow and other healthier and more natural options for cooking and baking.
Here’s a brief history lesson on each of the most popular seed oils in the market today:
- Canola oil: Canola oil was developed in the 1970s in Canada as a more healthful alternative to traditional rapeseed oil. The name “canola” is derived from “Canadian oil, low acid,” referring to the low levels of erucic acid in the oil. Canola oil gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s due to its low levels of saturated fat and balanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, making it a more heart-healthy option.
- Soybean oil: The rise of soybean oil can be attributed to the expansion of the soybean industry in the United States in the early-to-mid 20th century. As soybean production increased, so did the production of soybean oil. By the mid-20th century, soybean oil became a staple in American households, used for frying, baking, and as an ingredient in processed foods.
- Sunflower oil: Sunflower oil has its origins in Russia, where it was first cultivated for oil production in the 18th century. The commercial production of sunflower oil began in the late 19th century in Russia and expanded to Europe and the United States in the 20th century. Its high smoke point and mild flavor made it suitable for various cooking applications, and it gained popularity in households worldwide.
- Safflower oil: The cultivation of safflower dates back thousands of years, but its use as a cooking oil became more common in the mid-20th century. The development of high-oleic safflower oil in the 1960s, with its higher monounsaturated fat content, made it a more attractive option for cooking and as an ingredient in processed foods.
- Cottonseed oil: The commercial production of cottonseed oil began in the late 19th century in the United States. By the early 20th century, cottonseed oil was widely used in processed foods, such as margarine and shortening, and as a cooking oil.
- Grapeseed oil: Grapeseed oil gained popularity in the late 20th century as a byproduct of the wine industry. Its high smoke point and mild flavor made it an attractive option for salad dressings, sautéing, and other cooking applications.
Seed oil alternatives to choose
You want to consume oils that are as close as possible to their natural form, and that haven’t been extracted using high heat, chemicals, or any other artificial process. Some of the healthiest alternatives include:
- Extra-Virgin Olive oil: Rich in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, extra-virgin olive oil has been associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and improved blood sugar control. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed and most nutrient-dense form of olive oil, making it a healthier choice for dressings and low-heat cooking. Also, look for “cold pressed” or even “first cold pressed“-tagged oils to ensure no form of heating was involved. However, note that olive oil isn’t ideal for cooking as it burns at 350 degrees. It’s much better to use it in salads. For cooking, consider the next options on this list…
- Avocado oil: High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, avocado oil has an advantage over olive oil in that it has a much higher smoke point, making it suitable for various cooking methods, including sautéing, grilling, and baking. Its mild flavor also makes it an excellent choice for dressings and dips.
- Coconut oil: While high in saturated fats, coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are more easily metabolized by the body and can provide a quick energy source. Coconut oil is heat-stable, just like avocado oil, and can be used for frying, baking, and sautéing. However, due to its high saturated fat content, it’s essential to consume coconut oil in moderation.
- Ghee: Ghee, a form of clarified butter, has been used for centuries in Indian and South Asian cuisines. It has a high smoke point and is rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Ghee also contains butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that may benefit gut health.
- Grass-fed butter: Butter from grass-fed cows is a more nutrient-dense choice compared to conventional butter, as it contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and fat-soluble vitamins. Grass-fed butter can be used for cooking, baking, and as a spread.
- Cold-pressed seed oils: Cold-pressed seed oils, such as flaxseed oil and chia seed oil, are extracted without the use of high heat or chemical solvents, preserving their nutrients and beneficial properties. These oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, making them a healthy choice for salad dressings and drizzling over cooked foods. However, they are not suitable for high-heat cooking due to their low smoke point and sensitivity to oxidation.
Note that some of the above alternatives may increase your LDL Cholesterol levels, but some experts argue that cholesterol alone doesn’t directly cause heart disease. It’s the combination of high cholesterol, inflammation and other factors that can contribute to heart disease, obesity and many other health issues.
That’s it, folks! Try to keep seed oils out of your diet and include healthier alternatives instead. Also, remember that this content isn’t medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare professional if you have any health issues or before starting a new diet. Also, read this article to learn more about the ideal diet for calisthenics, according to our lead trainer Pat Chadwick. Also, check out our reviews section where we frequently cover popular fitness supplements and other products that may help you in your fitness journey.
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.