Processed vegetables oils such as sunflower oil, soy bean oil and rapeseed oil are commonly used all around us and have long been portrayed as being beneficial to health.
Unfortunately, the situation isn't quite as simple as that.
While some versions of cold-pressed seeds oil may have some merit, their cheap counterparts leave much to be desired.
One of the main reasons why these oils are not optimal for health is the way they have to be processed in order to extract the oils from the seeds.
In order to produce these processed oils in large enough quantities to be economically viable, high pressures and chemical solvents are used to extract the oils from the seeds.
Afterwards, in order to mask the rancidity of the oils, they are often bleached and other chemicals are added as part of the refining process. High pressure means high temperatures and it is this that damages the integrity of the oils.
Fats and oils come in 3 main subcategories: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Most food sources contain a mixture of all three in varying proportions.
These categories describe how many double carbon bonds the oil has in its structure.
Saturated fats have no double carbon bonds. Monounsaturated have one double bond and polyunsaturated have many. It is these double bonds that are unstable in certain conditions and are liable to oxidise.
The reason seed oils are prone to oxidation is because they contain a large proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are methods that consciously cold-press certain seeds such as sunflower or rapeseed at low temperatures and are much less refined.
However, it's important to find a reliable, good quality source. In Europe, there are clear guidelines saying that the oil must not be heated above 50 degrees Celsius in order for it to be labelled cold-pressed. However, in the US there is no legislation for determining what is classed as cold-pressed, so the oil could be labelled cold-pressed and still be heated to 200 degrees Celsius in its manufacturing process.
The way the oils have been stored is also something to consider. Oxygen, heat as well as light can start to degrade sensitive oils. I will provide a list of suggested oils at the end of this article.
Another thing to consider with these oils is that they are often promoted as cooking oils. You will commonly find them in most of the processed or pre-packaged foods available. They are also used in many restaurants around the world.
Even before cooking, these oils have been altered from their natural state. Heating them to cooking temperatures changes the molecular configuration even more to form trans fatty acids as well as carcinogenic by products like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Trans fatty acids have received a lot of attention in the health world and media as a major influencing factor in cardiovascular disease as well as many other degenerative processes.
So what's wrong with oxidised fats and oils?
Consuming oxidised fats and oils creates free radical reactions within the body that can lead to chronic inflammation. As the body tries to quell the inflammation, its reserves of antioxidants are depleted.
This is quite a complex process, but to explain it briefly: a free radical is a molecule that has an electron missing from its subatomic structure, so in order for it to stabilise it steals an electron from your cell membranes and other molecules in your body.
These molecules themselves then become free radicals and a whole chain reaction of damage starts. This is essentially the ageing process.
This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants have an abundance of spare electrons to donate to free radicals in order to stabilise them thus reducing excessive cellular damage.
Oxidised oils can be absorbed into the lymphatic system and the bloodstream directly from the gut. From here they can damage the epithelial lining of our blood vessels. The body then sends out a message to initiate a immune reaction to start healing the wound. As part of this process, white blood cells and cholesterol cover the area. If this process repeats over time, as with continual consumption of oxidised polyunsaturated fatty acids, then the blood vessels start to calcify over the areas of damage into a layer of plaque. This is what sets the stage for atherosclerosis.
NOTE: cholesterol did not cause the damage to the blood vessels, our bodies create it as part of the healing process.
Another factor when consuming damaged oils is that they reduce the efficiency of our bodies ability to use the beneficial essential omega 3 fatty acids like ALA, EPA and DHA. These are needed along with many other phospholipids to build healthy cell membranes.
If there is a deficiency of the optimal fatty acids to build our cells, the body will use whatever else is available for regeneration. When cells are made with damaged fats they do not work as effectively like healthy cells. One reason for this has to do with our cellular voltage.
Without the correct components in the cellular membrane, its function to hold a charge like a capacitor is reduced.
This means oxygen and other nutrients are not transported in and out of the cells as easily, resulting in a metabolic slowdown. This change in cellular terrain sets the stage for many degenerative processes.
The biophysicist Dr. Budwig also found that the correct charge is needed to attract pi electron clouds outside of our cell membranes. These are in turn needed for optimal biophotonic cellular communication.
Biophotons are the quanta of light found within biological systems. Our biophotonic information network enables us to process huge quantities of information and moderate hundreds of thousands of biochemical reactions within each of our cells every second. It may also provide the bridge to more metaphysical levels of our being.
Suggested Fats and Oils
Coconut Oil - by far the best to cook with because of its high saturated fat content and therefore stability. It also has a multitude of other health benefits.
Ghee - cook moderately. Has low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to seed oils and also contains its own antioxidants like vitamin E that preserve the integrity of the oil. Excellent delivery mechanism for flavour and nutrients.
Red Palm Oil - try to source ethically grown palm oil as rainforests are being cut down to farm it.
Organic, Pasture Raised Animal Fat - if you can source good quality animal fats or even the drippings of meat many people find them nourishing and are generally OK to cook with.
After cooking in moderation i.e. in a salad dressing (all ideally organic, unrefined and cold or stone pressed):
Olive Oil - high in monounsaturated fats. If you don't have access to coconut oil, olive oil is the best choice of any liquid oil for cooking with due to its high mono-unsaturated fatty acid content, so is therefore relatively stable. Again, quality is essential here, as testing sometimes shows that some brands of olive oil are being adulterated with cheaper oils like sunflower oil.
Macademia nut oil- high in monounsaturated fats
Hemp Seed Oil - excellent ratio of omega 3 to 6 that is similar to that found in healthy cells.
Flax Oil - excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids ALA, however flax is high in phytoestrogens, so may cause a hormonal imbalance in some men.
Chia Seed Oil - high is Omega 3s.
Organic Butter - ideally grass-fed A2 cows (Jersey/Guernsey) or goat butter.
Fats that heal, fats that kill - Udo Eramus (1993)
Put your heart where your mouth is - Dr Natasha Cambell Mcbride (2007)
Know your fats: The complete primer for understanding the nutrition of fats, oils and cholesterol - Mary G Enig (2000)