Most of us are aware of the dangers of trans fats, sugars, and generally over processed junk food. But what if one of the most unhealthy foods was still turning up in 25 to 45 percent of our diet without us even realizing that it was bad? That’s exactly what Dr. Catherine Shanahan, author of the book "Deep Nutrition," says is happening right under our noses. She says that vegetable oil, a food that most people still consume in large quantities, is having a negative impact on our overall health.
Dr. Shanahan felt compelled to write this book because she noticed that her healthiest patients had a few things in common and not consuming vegetable oil was one of them. But there’s much more to this story that just the vegetable oil that we keep in our pantry. In fact, these body stressors are in just about all processed, frozen, and restaurant food. Like high fructose corn syrup, they’re cheap and easy to use and they’re also dangerous to your health.
What’s So Bad About Vegetable Oil?
According to Dr. Shanahan, vegetable oils—which consist of soy, sunflower, canola, cottonseed, corn, and refined palm oil—can play such a negative role in the body that they cause all sorts of symptoms, from acne to stomach issues, dementia to high cholesterol. This is because they cause oxidative stress in the body. She even contends that in some cases, they seem to negatively impact the body on a cellular level even worse than cigarettes.
“It’s not the oil itself that’s the problem, it’s that when you refine the oil it creates molecules that weren’t there initially and some of the molecules formed can cause oxidative stress,” says Dr. Shanahan. "During processing other carcinogens like solvents and deodorants are also added to the final product.”
Why are Americans Eating So Much Vegetable Oil?
For starters, it’s in everything. We used to eat saturated fats, found in butter, cream, and other unprocessed animal products. But now we eat artificial fats, which according to Dr. Shanahan has a lot to do with the fact that heart disease sky rocketed in the 1950s. While she asserts that this was actually a result of high smoking rates, the cigarette lobby wanted the blame to fall somewhere else. And it just so happened to land an saturated fats. Even though saturated fats are much less processed than what we ended up consuming. Cream and butter, for example, are never refined. They're also less processed and it's easy to find local, organic varieties.
Once saturated fats were removed, artificial fats and sugars were added to keep the flavor intact. Now, these artificial fats are added to just about everything including most processed and frozen foods. When you eat out, you’re also likely to be eating vegetable oils because they’re much cheaper to cook with than more natural fat sources.
What Should We Be Eating Instead?
Butter, cream, and cocoa butter do not contain these artificial fats. High quality olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are also good options. These oils are also more stable when you cook with them. Dr. Shanahan also recommends learning to cook as much from scratch as you possibly have time for instead of eating out or choosing frozen meals. Read the labels on the processed foods that you buy and always avoid soy, sunflower, canola, cottonseed, corn, and refined palm oil.
What Do Dr. Shanahan’s Healthiest Patients Have in Common?
One of the reasons Dr. Shanahan wrote the book is because she wanted to pay homage to her healthiest patients. In her practice on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, she noticed four main tenets of excellent health. Starting of course, with cooking traditional food.
Many of her patients also grew much of their own food in an organic garden and lived much more sufficiently than the average American.
Additionally, they enjoy the freshest foods possible along with meat on the bone, organ meats, and fermented foods. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, she recommends the least processed fermented tofu that you can find. It's all about eating as unprocessed as you possibly can and choosing the most high quality foods that you can afford.
By eating this way you may experience benefits including:
- Better skin
- Improved mood and fewer mood swings
- Reduced food allergies and other allergies such as hay fever
- Fewer cravings
- Boost in fertility
- Decreased brain fog
- Joint and bone health
Stop Buying These Foods
I was surprised to find out that many brands of peanut butter, and many nut butters for that matter, contain these oils. This is upsetting considering that I regularly feed my young son peanut butter sandwiches. The only one that I could find at Whole Foods that doesn’t contain palm oil was the peanut butter that was made with the in-store grinder using fresh peanuts. Other foods to watch out for include:
- Salad dressings
- Frozen meals
- Processed cheeses
- Store made dough
If you want to avoid them, your best option is to ride the outside of the grocery store. The middle section of the grocery store contains pricey junk food that, although it may seem appealing (especially if you go to the store hungry!), usually contains these artificial oils because they’re more shelf stable. I guess this is one more example of the fact that there's no short cuts in life. Cook from scratch using high quality oils and you end up healthier.
Do you avoid vegetable oils? Have you found this difficult? What other places do vegetable oils hide that surprised you? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit.