My favorite thing about the holidays is, I’ll admit, the eating! Food made with love nourishes us body and spirit, don’t you think?
It’s also a way to remember those who have gone before us. Preparing one of my late sister’s favorite recipes for the holiday table helps me to celebrate her life and the holiday memories of her that I hold in my heart.
With so much food-centered celebrating, I still do what I can to make it as healthy as possible. This is because when I eat junk. I feel like junk. I want to enjoy this special time, with energy and free from pain. My chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia act up if I eat poorly, so I focus on creating my treasured holiday favorites with the healthiest ingredients possible. For instance I never use toxic laden canned foods like canned pumpkin or stock and I never use vegetable oil. Here’s why:
What is Vegetable Oil?
Vegetable oils consist of one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, safflower, etc. Sounds healthy right? Unfortunately, these oils are not necessarily good for you. The majority of these oils are genetically modified and dangerously high in Omega 6s. Because it is made primarily with polyunsaturated fats, vegetable oil oxidizes easily, thus causing inflammation and cell mutation. Unless you are buying these oils individually and organically, and only using them sporadically, you are harming your body1. You can read more about why GMOs are bad here.
Vegetable oil is extracted chemically which is not only unnatural, but unhealthy to the body. These chemical processes make a cheap substitute for fats. Inopportunely, making this substitution causes more harm than people realize. Insanely enough, the average consumption of vegetable oil is 70 pounds per year per person!
Vegetable Oil and Omega 6s
The body cannot produce Omega 3s and Omega 6s, so supplementing them into the diet is essential. However, when you supplement these, you must do so in balance. Excessive consumption of vegetable oil creates an imbalance of Omega 6s and leads to structural changes within our fat storage and cell membranes.
These structural changes create a series of unhealthy chain reactions. Basically, by ingesting too many Omega 6 fatty acids, we undo any benefits Omega 3s can give us. “Unbalanced levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats have been linked to many types of cancers and a host of other problems.”2
Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institute of Health has concluded that “over-consuming omega 6 fats and under-consuming omega 3 fats significantly increases: Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel syndrome, macular degeneration (eye damage and blindness), rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, cancer, psychiatric disorders, and autoimmune disease.”3
Vegetable Oil and Inflammation
Omega 3s and Omega 6s make eicosanoids in the body. Eicosanoids assist in functions like cellular messaging, immunity and inflammation4. Eicosanoids from Omega 3s reduce inflammation in the body, while eicosanoids from Omega 6s promote inflammation in the body. Maintaining a balance of these two omegas means that you can maintain acute inflammation which helps the body heal itself.
However, when you ingest more Omega 6s, your body becomes excessively inflamed, and chronic inflammation is linked to a wide amount of health issues. Chronic inflammation causes serious diseases like cardiovascular disease, arthritis, depression, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis and possibly cancer.
In a recent article, John Stein, Oxford professor of neuroscience, explains that vegetable oils are causing the brain to unhealthily change. He states, “If you eat too much corn oil or sunflower oil, the brain is absorbing too much omega 6, and that effectively forces out omega 3…I believe the lack of omega 3 is a powerful contributory factor to such problems as increasing mental health issues and various cancers.”5
Vegetable Oil and Trans Fat
We all see the craze about avoiding trans fats. So why are we still allowing vegetable oils into our kitchens? Vegetable oil contains massive amounts of trans fats. Most of the trans-fat we eat is fashioned through a manufacturing procedure that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. Trans fats are highly toxic, and ingesting trans fats increases the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world. Avoiding vegetable oil is crucial in reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. “Partially hydrogenated oils are the major source of artificial trans fats in the food supply, and removing PHOs from processed foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.”6
Which Oils Should I Cook With?
Although vegetable oil is an inexpensive cooking option, we have determined that saving pennies isn’t worth it in this case. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy cooking oils for you to choose from. When choosing an oil, always choose cold-pressed or expeller-pressed when possible. Cold-pressed oils are pressed at low temperatures, so they retain more flavor, nutrients and aromas. Expeller-pressed refers to when an oil is extracted through squeezing, not chemically7.
When looking for a cooking oil, pay attention to smoking point. The smoking point is the temperature where the oil breaks down and loses its nutrients. Making sure you don’t cook an oil at a higher temperature than its smoking point ensures that you get the most nutrients from the oil. It’s also important to use monounsaturated fats, as they are less sensitive to heat and oxidation.
Olive oil is almost entirely monounsaturated, and it has a smoke point of anywhere from 375-470 degrees. A recent study compared vegetable oil and olive oil after frying to see which one had more nutrients. The results found that “the vegetable oil, despite containing significantly higher amounts of vitamin E, was highly susceptible to oxidation under frying conditions when compared to all olive oils. The results also show that the chemical composition of olive oils is clearly resistant to frying conditions.”8
Olive oils are rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s best to use extra-virgin olive oil for dressings, as it usually has a lower smoke point. Virgin or pure olive oils are best for pan-frying, roasting and baking. Olive oil has always been a classic choice for cooking oils, and it remains one of the healthiest options for us to choose.
Avocado oil is also made primarily made of monounsaturated fats and has a higher smoke point of 400 degrees. It is very healthy as it is rich in Vitamin E, which strengthens your skin and immune system. “Nutritionally, avocado oil ranks comparably to olive oil with a copious amount monounsaturated fats. It is also loaded with proteins, lecithin, beta-carotene and vitamins A, D and E.”9 Avocado oil has tons of health benefits as it is known to boost nutrient absorption, lower blood pressure, relieve arthritis symptoms, treat periodontal disease, and help psoriasis.10
The only downside to purchasing avocado oil is that it can be expensive.
Coconut oil is made from the meat of mature coconuts and has a smoke point of 350 degrees. Although it is mainly saturated fat, it is healthy as it is a special saturated fat, MCFA or medium-chain fatty acid. MCFAs are burned rapidly by the liver and are used as an energy source, instead of being stored in the body as fat. “Of particular interest is lauric acid, found in large quantities in both coconut oil and in mother’s milk. This fatty acid has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties.”11
Coconut oil has been known to provide amazing support for those at risk of or suffering from cardiovascular disease. In a recent study, it was found that “unrefined coconut oil actually improves blood lipid profiles. In two separate rat studies, virgin coconut oil was compared against copra oil (refined coconut oil) and corn oil. The virgin coconut oil significantly reduced Total and LDL cholesterol, oxidized LDL, triglycerides and increased HDL (the good) cholesterol.”12
Other benefits of coconut oil include weight loss support, increased number of ketone bodies (great for brain energy), and protecting against various infections. Bonus – coconut oil has a long shelf life!
I hope your holidays are filled with nourishing traditions that are filled with love, and that allow you to feel your best as you enjoy them!
Razi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.
- Sircar S, Kansra U., 1998. Choice of cooking oils–myths and realities. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10063298
- Robin Konie, 2015. The Ugly Truth About Vegetable Oils. http://www.thankyourbody.com/vegetable-oils/
- Dr. Mark Hyman, 2016. Dr. Mark Hyman: Why Vegetable Oils Should Not Be Part of Your Diet. http://www.ecowatch.com/dr-mark-hyman-why-vegetable-oils-should-not-be-part-of-your-diet-1882164589.html
- Kris Gunnars, 2013. 6 Reasons Why Vegetable Oils Can be Harmful. https://authoritynutrition.com/6-reasons-why-vegetable-oils-are-toxic/
- Robert Mendick, 2015. Cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic cancer-causing chemicals, say experts. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11981884/Cooking-with-vegetable-oils-releases-toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals-say-experts.html
- Caroline Praderio, 2015. We Researched and Ranked 14 Cooking Oils. Which One Should You Buy? http://www.prevention.com/eatclean/best-cooking-oils
- Casal S, Malheiro R, Sendas A, Oliveira B, Pereira J., 2010. Olive oil stability under deep-frying conditions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20678538
- Sequoia, 2015. 5 Health Benefits of Avocado Oil. http://www.3fatchicks.com/5-health-benefits-of-avocado-oil/
- Tracey Roizman, 2016. What are the Benefits of Avocado Oil? http://www.livestrong.com/article/130211-many-grams-fat-avocados/
- Sally Fallon and Mary G Enig, 2000. The Skinny on Fats. http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/the-skinny-on-fats/#composition
- Nevin KG, Rajamohan T., 2004. Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15329324