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“Dr. Hyman, I grew up in a house where we used vegetable oil every day to cook with,” writes this week’s house call. “My mom still uses these oils and I’m trying to convince her to switch to coconut or olive oil. Any advice?”
We were all trained that vegetable oils were good and butter was bad. We were told, even by government and medical associations, to use more vegetable, seed and bean oils (like soybean, corn, safflower, canola). Chances are, this reader’s mom (like most of us) was convinced by the government and food industries that vegetable oils are safe to use as a heart-healthy alternative over traditional saturated fats.
We were told that traditional fats like butter, lard and coconut oil caused high cholesterol and clogged arteries, leading to heart disease. Experts advised us to avoid saturated fat and eat more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially omega 6 fats.
These are the so-called “vegetable” oils many of us grew up on. Found at your typical grocery store, these clear, tasteless, highly refined and processed oils include corn, soybean, canola, safflower and sunflower oils.
These highly unstable, highly inflammatory oils were given a gigantic push by advisory groups we trusted, including the American Heart Association, the National Education Cholesterol Program, the National Institutes of Health and even our government’s own dietary guidelines. Many well-respected scientists and our doctors told us to stop using saturated fats and use the polyunsaturated fats instead.
Turns out they were completely wrong.
Why Vegetable Oils Should Not Be Part of Your Diet
In a 2010 review at Tufts University, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian concluded there is a clear benefit from cutting out saturated fats and increasing our intake of PUFAs. However in 2014, the very same scientist reviewed all of the literature again. This meta-analysis, which reviewed 72 studies, found no benefit to reducing saturated fats or increasing PUFAs, except for omega 3 fats.
Is it any wonder we are so confused? If the experts can’t even agree and they change their perspective every few years, what are the rest of us to do?
Let me cut through this confusion. The very idea that vegetable oils are better than saturated fats (like butter and lard) comes from the belief that they lower total and LDL cholesterol, so they presumably reduce our overall risk of heart disease.
Following this type of advice means swapping out butter, meat and lard for vegetable oils including corn, soybean, sunflower, canola and safflower oils, which are all omega 6-rich, inflammatory polyunsaturated fats.
Yet if we look at human history, we consumed much more omega 3 fats and much less omega 6 fats than we currently do, since wild foods are very rich in omega 3 fats. The main source of omega 3’s today is fish, yet wild game and wild plants, which are very high in omega 3s, used to be a much bigger part of our diet.
Wild meat and grass-fed beef contain about 7 times as much omega 3 fats as industrially raised animals, which have almost none. Virtually all of the beef and animal products your great grandparents ate were pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed and contained no hormones or antibiotics. There was simply no other kind of meat to eat.
Introducing refined oils into our diet and moving away from grass-fed and wild animals increased our omega 6 fat intake. Corn, soy, cottonseed and canola oils skyrocketed, while omega 3 fats have dramatically declined. In that surge, many Americans sadly became deficient in these essential omega 3 fats.
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