One of the benefits of the decentralization of the internet is that people can and will discuss topics outside of the 3 to 5 current trendy events. While browsing the World Wide Web to pass the time, I came across something that can change the way everyone thinks about nutrition: the seed oil hypothesis. This hypothesis describes the harmful effects of commonly-used vegetable oils. While nutritional chemistry and human physiology are very complex fields, from what I have read, there is a lot to this theory. It’s a lot more interesting and impactful than Will Smith slapping Chris Rock ever will be. But enough hype, let’s just jump into it.
First off, we should consider what makes food good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. This depends on the chemical composition of the food itself. Foods that contain various nutrients that the body requires are healthy; foods that contain less of these nutrients or chemicals that wreck the body are unhealthy. If you found out that your favorite cereal contains cyanide, you’d probably stop eating it. Fortunately, most firms are ethical enough to keep cyanide out of their products. However, there is one set of common ingredients that have been linked to a number of health disorders according to the hypothesis: seed oils. Canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, etc., are, as it turns out, not that good for you.
The use of seed oils began in the 20th century as a cheaper alternative to butter, lard and other animal fats used for cooking. Since then, these oils have exploded in popularity, being used in almost every processed food item and restaurant. If you go to the grocery store you’ll probably find that at least 7 out of 10 items contain one of these seed oils. Endorsement of these oils by organizations such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Heart Association have also contributed to their widespread use in cooking. The seed oil hypothesis paints a different picture.
But why are seed oils unhealthy? As I mentioned before, it’s all about the chemical composition. High concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in these seed oils. Fats or lipids are important biomolecules used for energy storage, insulation, and other important functions inside cells as well as body tissues. If you paid attention in your high school biology class, you would know that unsaturated fatty acids contain double-bonded carbon atoms, unlike saturated fatty acids, which are, on a baseline level, worse for you. While this may seem to be a minute difference, it turns out that fatty acids which contain more double bonds are easier to oxidize or change their chemical composition. When these unsaturated fatty acids are oxidized, their chemical composition is altered to not only be useless, but harmful to the body. Compared to other fats, seed oils typically contain over 90% of unsaturated fats. So the continual use of seed oils will change your body’s composition of lipids to include much more unsaturated fatty acids.
It’s important to reiterate that unsaturated fats are not harmful on their own, they only become harmful when they oxidize into toxic products. These oxidation reactions generally happen over time, so the older unsaturated fats are more likely to have undergone oxidation. Environmental factors such as high temperature also cause oxidation. So how do we know whether the unsaturated fats in seed oils have been oxidized or not? Well during industrial processing, as well as cooking, the oils are heated continuously, which, as mentioned before, encourages oxidation of these unsaturated fatty acids. That’s why virgin olive oil, which is generally kept in conditions that prevent oxidation, is a safer alternative. Therefore, it’s more likely than not that the fatty acids within the seed oils have oxidized into toxic byproducts
I’ve spoken a lot about the chemistry of seed oils, but what do they do once inside the body? If the past two paragraphs weren’t enough to catch your attention, maybe this list of scary diseases will: consumption of these toxins has been correlated with fatigue, obesity, diabetes, sunburn, blood clots, inflammation, muscle dysfunction, neurological diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimers, and heart failure. It may seem strange that such a common ingredient is responsible for all of these disorders, but keep in mind that these diseases are a result of years of unsaturated fatty acid oxidation product buildup; hence why many see them as safe. I should probably also mention my sources for all of this information. In an article by Dr. Cate Shanahan titled: “PUFA-project: Scientific References on Seed Oil Toxicity”, you can find a plethora of sources that detail the consumption and effects of the polyunsaturated fats within seed oils. If you are a millennial or Gen Zer with a Tik Tok addiction and no attention span, then you can watch a video by What I’ve Learned titled “The $100 Billion Dollar Ingredient making your food toxic”, An informative and entertaining video. This article would not have been written had I not watched the video. To summarize, as consumption of seed oils has increased in the last century, heart disease along with other ailments have increased alongside it. If this topic interests you, go ahead and check out these sources. You may even come to a better conclusion than I have.
It’s clear that the seed oil hypothesis has scientific credibility given the research attached to it. If you also feel the need to cut out seed oils from your diet, consider alternatives such as olive oil, butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, avocado oil, and other unprocessed oils and fats. While it may be very difficult to cut out the seed oils considering their prevalence, consider gradually cutting them out. Any step towards improvement is a step towards improvement.