Our intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils has tripled in the last 50 years, about the same time Americans started getting fatter and sicker. It turns out that vegetable oils like canola, safflower, soy, and sunflower are not the health foods we’ve been led to believe.
What’s Wrong with “Vegetable” Oils
These vegetable oils (which are really seed oils) are unstable and, when heated, turn into trans fats. Trans fats have been shown to cause brain atrophy as well as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Trans fats are also found in processed foods that say “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the label.
They are so detrimental to overall health that they have been banned in some areas and even some countries (Iceland, Sweden, Austria). Last year, they were banned in New York City and in November the FDA announced that they are considering banning trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oils.
They are a main source of unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids which contribute to chronic inflammation. If you have allergies or anything that ends in “itis” (i.e., arthritis, dermatitis, colitis), you have inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a contributor to seven of the top ten causes of death: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and nephritis.
Currently we consume an average of 9% of our calories from these oils. Omega-6 toxicity begins at 4% intake. So most of us need to cut back their intake by at least 60% to be in the healthy range of 2-3%.
The Truth About Canola Oil
Many consumers believe canola oil is healthy because it is monounsaturated like olive oil, but few people realize exactly what they are consuming. There is no “canola plant”. Canola stands for “Canadian oil low acid” and comes from a genetically engineered form of rapeseed subsidized by the Canadian government. The name change was a PR move due to the bad connotation of the word rapeseed.
A major way canola differs from olive oil is that it’s not cold-pressed. It’s typically extracted with high heat, pressure, and chemical solvents which lead to the formation of trans fats. This ubiquitous oil is one you should definitely avoid.
Still not convinced? Here’s a quick look at how canola oil is manufactured. You’ll see the process is anything but “natural”.
Avoiding unhealthy vegetable oils is harder than it sounds. Look at the labels on processed or prepared foods, condiments, baked goods, and snack items. You’ll find these fats lurk in almost everything, even many foods from the health food store.
While avoiding unhealthy oils will be tough, I think you’ll like what I’m going to tell you next. There are three healthy fats you should stock in your kitchen – extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and, of all things, butter!
Olive Oil – Buyer Beware
Olive oil has been used medicinally for over 5,000 years. Its health benefits are legendary. Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and is believed to be a factor why people in that part of the world are some of the healthiest and long-lived.
Olive oil has been found to boost the immune system, increase bone density, prevent cancer, strokes, and heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of diabetes. There’s evidence that olive oil can improve memory and increase overall cognitive function.
There is a caveat about using olive oil, however. Much of the store-bought extra virgin olive oil is fake! Cheap and unhealthy soy or canola oils are colored with industrial chlorophyll and flavored with artificial flavorings.
Fake olive oil is a huge business around the world – in the Europe, Australia, the US, and even China.
Olive oil is great to use “as is” but should not be heated. It burns at a very low temperature producing trans fats.
Coconut – the Healthy Oil with a Bad Reputation
Coconut oil is a very healthy fat that has an undeserved bad reputation. While it does contain saturated fat, that’s actually not a bad thing. This makes it extremely stable for cooking.
Coconut oil contains 50% lauric acid. This fatty acid is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It lowers risk of heart disease by increasing good cholesterol and boosts the immune system. Lauric acid naturally occurs in human breast milk, but coconut is the only way to get it in your diet.
Coconut oil contains medium chain fats which can supply energy directly to the brain with no insulin spike. It’s this property that makes it a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
Butter is Better
Butter, like coconut oil, has gotten a bad rap but is actually a healthy fat. So trade in your faux butter spread for the real thing.
Butter contains all of the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins D, E and K), and is a particularly good source of vitamin A. It’s rich in trace minerals and, if you buy grass-fed butter, is a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
But the real key to butter’s health benefits lies in its high butyrate content. Butyrate is a fatty acid that offers several health benefits. It’s very healing to the digestive tract. It reduces chronic inflammation. It counters neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Butter can actually help you lose weight by improving insulin sensitivity and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Eating butter with carbohydrates (on bread or potatoes, for example) lowers the glycemic index preventing blood sugar spikes and keeping you full longer.
When butter comes from cows that graze on grass, it contains high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound that protects against cancer, reduces inflammation, and makes it easier to burn fat and retain muscle mass.
It should be no surprise that the healthiest butter comes from the healthiest cows. Don’t expect ordinary grocery store butter to provide the same benefits as butter from grass-fed cows.
Your “New & Improved” Shopping List
Now that you know better, don’t be one of those people who gets 9% of calories from unhealthy vegetable oils! Here are four steps to take to transition from unhealthy to healthy oils.
- Put extra virgin olive oil and organic coconut oil on your shopping list today! Do your homework and make sure your olive oil is the “real deal”. Then switch from whatever cooking oils you are using to these healthy oils.
- Avoid any processed foods that say “hydrogenated” on the label.
- Get rid of any fake fats like margarine and replace with butter. Be sure to get grass-fed butter to get the full health benefits.
- Start reading labels on things like frozen potatoes, waffles, snacks, baked goods, prepared foods, and condiments. You’ll be dismayed by how many so-called “healthy” foods contain canola, soy, safflower, and sunflower oils. While you probably won’t be able to completely eliminate them from your diet, awareness if the first step towards minimizing them from your diet.
FDA Takes Step to Further Reduce Trans Fats in Processed Foods at FDA.com
Adulteration Risk as Olive Oil Gains Ground in China at OliveOilTimes.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eating the wrong fats is just one of the many ways the modern lifestyle takes a toll on your brain.
What will you do when you notice the first signs of mental decline — memory lapses, brain fog, poor focus, fuzzy thinking?
Will you ignore it and hope for the best? Or will you treat it like you would any other health problem? Read our story here.
Deane Alban is the co-founder of BeBrainFit.com, along with her husband Dr. Patrick Alban. Together they’ll show how to keep your brain young, healthy, and fully-functioning for life.