Since 1961, the American Heart Association has recommended we eat more vegetable oil because it lowers cholesterol. But how much do doctors actually know about this oil?
As a family physician, and I can tell you that, back in 2002, I had no idea what vegetable oil — or corn, soy, canola, or other factory-refined oils — were or how much of it I was eating. I had no idea that they were in most of the foods I didn’t make from scratch. I didn’t care to know because they were supposed to be healthy. What could be bad about oil made from vegetables? The name itself is intentionally misleading, since these oils are not made from broccoli or tomatoes, as sometimes depicted on the labels.
They’re made from eight different types of seeds, including soy and canola, but two of them – cottonseed and safflower – are both byproducts of the textile industry. So they’re more properly called seed oils.
I was not the only one living in ignorance; none of the doctors I knew had a clue about them either — nor did any of my patients. But by 2003, I’d grown convinced that, in spite of their cholesterol-lowering effects, these oils promote heart attacks. By 2015, I’d discovered that cutting these oils is the first — and sometimes the only — necessary step to lasting weight loss.
We all hear that junk food is supposedly unhealthy because it’s high in saturated fat, but if you check the ingredients list on your favorite sack of chips, chances are you’ll find vegetable oil early in the list, hiding somewhere in tiny print, often below the nutrition label. Vegetable oil has very little saturated fat and an abundance of polyunsaturated fat — although, you wouldn’t know that either. Nutrition labels do not usually list polyunsaturated fat. Suffice it to say that if you don’t know how much of these oils you’re eating, neither does your doctor.
I can tell you that, if you eat like the typical person, constantly on-the-go, then you might be dining out once or twice a week, making some of your dinners from scratch and, for the other meals, grabbing a mix of leftovers, ready-to-eat foods, or takeout. If that lifestyle is anything similar to yours, then you’re probably consuming about a quarter of all your calories from vegetable oils.
The First Calories You Should Cut
There are experts who do know quite a bit about these oils; they are the scientists studying how something called oxidation chemically alters our food. This group of scientists has been trying to warn doctors about vegetable oils for many decades. These experts use high-tech equipment and speak in highly technical terms about how polyunsaturated fats react with oxygen to form “highly significant” concentrations of toxic compounds, like acrolein, crotonaldehyde, malonaldehyde, and 4-Hydroxynonenal, in our foods. These toxins are also found in cigarette smoke, Hazmat management manuals, and the World Health Organization’s list of known carcinogens. Additionally, they are found in tissues of people with complications of obesity as well as inflammatory and degenerating diseases like fatty liver, peripheral neuropathy, diabetic kidney disease, retinal disease, heart disease, psoriasis, Parkinson’s, and chronic pain — and that’s just the short list.
The medical community really should know that eating foods cooked in seed oils means consuming myriad “highly significant” toxins, but most have no clue what constitutes a “vegetable oil.” It’s not that doctors don’t care about nutrition. It’s that they’re not hearing the right message. Doctors read articles published in medical journals, many of which are published by the American Heart Association, Harvard, and the Ivys, a small group of elites with ties to the edible oil industry and who also have a lockdown on the nutrition conversation as well as plenty of media access. In contrast, these experts publish in journals doctors do not read, they lecture at conferences doctors do not attend, and they often speak in technical terms that doctors do not understand — neither do members of the media who might help to bridge the gap.
Because of this disconnect, doctors have no idea that eating foods cooked in vegetable oils is the most logical answer to the mystery of what’s causing our obesity and inflammatory disease epidemics. They’ve not even considered these oils as part of the equation.
I say mystery because, while it’s not mysterious to those of us who have decided to think for ourselves on this subject and actually talk with our patients about their diets, it’s still a mystery to medical authorities. A recent article by one of these figurehead MDs started out with a surprising confession, “It is time to share a striking, and not widely appreciated, secret: we do not have a clear explanation for the obesity epidemic.” His article went on to explain that people have been consistently eating around 2400 calories per day for each of the last 20 years. Yet in that time, adult obesity ballooned from just 14% to 42%. I checked his numbers, and they are correct. He offers a few thoughts on what might be making people seemingly defy the laws of physics, but he never once mentions that, during the years 2000 through 2020, Americans nearly doubled their vegetable oil consumption while cutting down refined sugar and carbs.
Modern Obesity Is Different From 100 Years Ago
You may not know this, but sugar and carb are stored as body fat, normal body fat. Thanks to a steady diet of foods made with vegetable oil, modern body fat is hardly normal. Today, the average person’s body fat is six times higher in polyunsaturated fat, a remarkable chemical difference compared to generations ago. This change in our diet and the composition of our body fat has made obesity itself an inflammatory disease. For reasons that have to do with the fact that cells can’t always convert these polyunsaturated fatty acids into energy, our sixfold-increased polyunsaturated body fat makes our cells crave an alternative fuel. In other words, when your cells can’t use your body fat for energy, they need sugar. When they need sugar, it makes it harder to burn the body fat one desires to lose, and sugar cravings become difficult to control. This was not true 100 years ago.
Modern obesity is a new kind of disease, and that means people who want to lose weight need a new strategy. Cutting back on calories in a general way does not work — neither does cutting carbs, if your cells are now metabolically addicted to sugar. (You can download my free FATBURN quiz to help figure this out.) If you want to lose weight, or if you’re a professional wanting to help others, focus on cutting the calories doing the most harm first: the foods made with inflammation-promoting, toxic-laden heated vegetable oils.
It’s more important to cut down on seed oils than it is to cut down on sugar. I’m actually a big fan of the keto diet, but if keto feels too limited to you, don’t bother with it. You don’t need to go keto to burn your body fat, and, besides, your cells may still be metabolically addicted to sugar. Start with this simple, common sense approach: don’t eat foods full of toxins; do eat foods full of nutrition. It’s worked for my patients and thousands of others who’ve read my work.
So does it even matter that these oils lower cholesterol?
Thats the topic for next week’s article.
Dr. Cate Shanahan is a board-certified Family Physician whose revolutionary approach to nutrition targets the underlying problems causing metabolic damage and inflammation. She is the NY Times bestselling author of The FatBurn Fix, Deep Nutrition and Food Rules. Her work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, and Prevention Magazine among others and she’s been a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher and The Megyn Kelly Show. Follow her at @DrCateShanahan
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.