For years we were encouraged by the government and the food industry to choose so-called “heart-healthy” vegetable oils and to avoid traditional saturated fats. We were trained by the medical establishment to use vegetable oils including corn, safflower, soybean and canola.
Butter was labeled “fattening” and bad for us and we were given margarine as a “healthy” alternative. The traditional saturated fats—fats like our parents and grandparents had used such as lard, butter and coconut oil—were vilified. They warned eating them would cause high cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease.
The experts insisted we skip the saturated fat and eat more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)—especially omega 6 fats—instead.
Vegetable oils were even pushed by advisory groups we trusted, including The American Heart Association, the National Education Cholesterol Program and the National Institutes of Health. Many well-respected scientists and our doctors told us to stop using saturated fats and use the polyunsaturated fats instead.
As a result many of us grew up eating these so-called healthy “vegetable oils.”
Fast forward to today and you’ll find a ton of these tasteless, clear, highly-refined processed oils lining our grocery store shelves. You can choose from a seemingly endless variety of safflower, soybean, sunflower, corn and canola oils.
It’s just too bad they all couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, they’re the one kind of oil you should NEVER eat because vegetable oils are highly unstable and highly inflammatory.
Why you shouldn’t be eating vegetable oils
If you’re confused about fats you’re far from alone. The experts don’t seem to be able to agree… even with themselves.
Take Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian from Tufts University for example. In a 2010 review he concluded that there’s a clear benefit from cutting out saturated fats and increasing our intake of PUFAs. But then just four years later he did an about face. Suddenly, after reviewing 72 studies Dr. Mozaffarian declared there weren’t any benefits from slashing saturated fats or increasing PUFAs, except for omega 3 fats.
Is it any wonder we’re 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?
Well, allow me to slice through this confusion.
The idea that vegetable oils are better for us than saturated fats (like butter and lard) is built on the belief that they lower total and LDL cholesterol, so they presumably reduce our overall risk of heart disease.
This means, of course, that we’re supposed to trade in our butter, meat, and lard for omega 6-rich, inflammatory polyunsaturated fats such as you’ll find found in those safflower, canola, sunflower, corn and soybean oils.
Yet if we look at human history, we used to eat much more omega 3 fat and much less omega 6 fat than we do today, 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.
Eating more omega 6 fats promotes inflammation & disease
Omega 6 fats not only fuel your body’s inflammatory pathways, but also reduce availability of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats in your tissues, resulting in more inflammation.
In other words, omega 6 fats undo any benefit eating omega 3s would normally give you. They also reduce conversion of plant-based omega 3 fats (called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) into the active forms of omega 3s called EPA and DHA by about 40 percent.
Eating too many omega 6 fats also increases the likelihood of inflammatory diseases and links to mental illness, suicide, and homicide. In fact, studies have shown a connection of mental health with inflammation in the brain.
Dr. Joseph Hibbeln from the National Institutes of Health has researched the impact of omega 6 and omega 3 fats on our health. He explains that over-consuming omega 6 fats and under-consuming omega 3 fats significantly increases:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Macular degeneration (eye damage and blindness)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psychiatric disorders
- Autoimmune disease
Clearly a diet high in omega 6 fats is not ideal for optimal health. We can’t blame ourselves for this catastrophe. Most of us were taught to use these refined oils at a young age. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the worst epidemic of chronic disease in history, with global explosions of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (or what I call diabesity), and cancer.
Bottom line: We’ve got to move away from these inflammatory fats.
Ditch the vegetable oils & choose THESE fats instead
What types of oils and fats should we choose that protect our heart and brain and reduce inflammation? I prefer traditional fats, such as:
- Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic coconut oil – my personal favorite because it is excellent cell fuel, is highly anti-inflammatory, and may help with improving your cholesterol panel
- Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil
- Grass-fed meats
- Grass-fed butter
- Nuts—walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia; not peanuts
- Fatty fish—sardines, mackerel, herring, and wild salmon—that are rich in omega 3 fats
Has your perception of fat changed since learning about which fats are healthy and which fats you should avoid? Do you have a success story you want to share if you’ve switched from a high omega 6 fat intake to more omega 3s? Share your story below.
“Saturated Fat and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors, Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes: a Fresh Look at the Evidence,” Lipids. 2010 Oct; 45(10): 893–905.
“Dietary Guidelines for Americans Shouldn’t Place Limits on Total Fat, Tufts Now, June 23, 2015
“Elevated immune-inflammatory signaling in mood disorders: a new therapeutic target?,” Expert Rev Neurother. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jul 1.
Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field.
He is the Director the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and was a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The View, Katie and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters, Achieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
He is the winner of the Linus Pauling Award, The Nantucket Project Award, and was inducted in the Books for Better Life Hall of Fame, and the Christian Book of the Year Award for The Daniel Plan.
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