While these oils can be a healthy source of fat, some varieties are better choices than others.
The consumption of vegetable oils has increased dramatically in the past century.
Most mainstream health professionals consider them healthy, but vegetable oils may cause health problems.
Their health effects vary depending on what fatty acids they contain, what plants they are extracted from, and how they are processed.
This article looks at the evidence to determine if vegetable and seed oils are bad for your health.
Edible oils extracted from plants are commonly known as vegetable oils.
In addition to their use in cooking and baking, they’re found in processed foods, including salad dressings, margarine, mayonnaise, and cookies.
Refined vegetable oils were not available until the 20th century, when the technology to extract them became available.
These are extracted from plants using either a chemical solvent or oil mill. Then they are often purified, refined, and sometimes chemically altered.
Health-conscious consumers prefer oils that are made by crushing or pressing plants or seeds, rather than those produced using chemicals.
Edible plant oils are commonly known as vegetable oils. The oil is often extracted with chemical solvents or by crushing or pressing the plants or their seeds.
In the past century, the consumption of vegetable oils has increased at the expense of other fats like butter.
They are often labeled “heart-healthy” and recommended as an alternative to sources of saturated fat, such as butter, lard, and tallow.
The reason vegetable oils are considered heart-healthy is that studies consistently link polyunsaturated fat to a reduced risk of heart problems, compared with saturated fat (
Despite their potential health benefits, some scientists are worried about how much of these oils people are consuming.
These concerns mostly apply to oils that contain a lot of omega-6 fats, as explained in the next chapter.
The consumption of vegetable oils increased drastically in the last century. While some vegetable oils have been linked to health benefits, there are concerns about the excessive intake of omega-6.
It’s important to note that not all plant oils are bad for your health. For example, avocado oil and olive oil are both excellent choices.
Consider limiting plant oils high in omega-6 as well as processed foods that contain these plant oils, which include::
- soybean oil
- corn oil
- cottonseed oil
- sunflower oil
- peanut oil
- sesame oil
- rice bran oil
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, meaning that you need some of them in your diet because your body can’t produce them.
Throughout evolution, humans got omega-3 and omega-6 in a certain ratio. While this ratio differed between populations, it’s estimated to have been about 1:1.
However, in the past century or so, this ratio in the Western diet has shifted dramatically and may be as high as 20:1 (
Scientists have hypothesized that too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 may contribute to chronic inflammation (
Chronic inflammation is an underlying factor in some of the most common Western diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
Observational studies have also associated a high intake of omega-6 fat to an increased risk of heart disease (
However, these associations don’t necessarily imply a causal relationship. In fact, the evidence for omega-6 being detrimental to human health is mixed.
Some studies investigating the effects of omega-6 fat consumption generally do not support the idea that these fats increase inflammation (
Scientists do not fully understand what effects omega-6 fats have on the body, and more human studies are needed.
However, if you are concerned, it is more important to limit processed foods that are high in omega-6 fats like baked treats, chips, deep fried fast foods, or takeout meals, as these have a more direct and proven effect on health.
Current studies remain inconclusive as to how big of an impact avoiding vegetable oils when cooking at home actually has on health..
Some vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Scientists have hypothesized that eating too much omega-6 can lead to increased inflammation in the body and potentially contribute to disease. However, the actual evidence for this is mixed.
Saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fats differ by the number of double bonds their chemical structures contain:
- Saturated fats: no double bonds
- Monounsaturated fats: one double bond
- Polyunsaturated fats: two or more double bonds
The problem with polyunsaturated fats is that all these double bonds make them susceptible to oxidation. The fatty acids react with oxygen in the atmosphere and start deteriorating (
The fat you eat isn’t only stored as fat tissue or burned for energy — it’s also incorporated into cell membranes.
If you have a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids in your body, your cell membranes are more sensitive to oxidation.
In short, you have a very high level of fragile fatty acids that can easily be degraded to form harmful compounds called free radicals which can cause cell damage (
For this reason, it may be best to eat polyunsaturated fats in moderation. Vary your diet by eating a mix of healthy saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
The USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends to aim for 20-35% of total daily calories from fats, with no more than 10% of these calories coming from saturated fat (
Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats are susceptible to oxidation, both on the shelf and inside your body.
Commercial vegetable oils may also contain trans fats, which form when the oils are hydrogenated.
Food producers use hydrogenation to harden vegetable oils, making them solid like butter at room temperature.
Margarines are no longer full of trans fats since the FDA ban on trans fats in 2015, which went into effect in 2018, with an extended deadline of 2020 for some food manufacturers. However, some margarines may still contain a small amount of trans fat, so it’s important to read the nutrition label (
However, non-hydrogenated vegetable oils may also contain some trans fats. However, it’s important to note that naturally occurring trans fats found in non-hydrogenated oils are not as detrimental for health compared to industrial trans fats (
Also, natural trans fats are found in very small amounts when compared to hydrogenated oils. One 2015 study found extremely low amounts of trans fats (less than a quarter of 1%) in vegetable cooking oils (
If a product lists hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, it likely contains trans fats. For optimal health, avoid these products, although with the trans fat ban, this are likely to only be present in very small amounts now.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are high in trans fat, which has been associated with various health problems. Trans fats are now banned in the US, but they may still be found in small amounts in certain types of margarine, ice cream, and cookies.
Health professionals often recommend vegetable oils for those at risk of heart disease.
The reason is that vegetable oils are generally low in saturated fat and high in polyunsaturated fat.
The benefits of reduced saturated fat intake are controversial.
However, studies show that reducing saturated fat intake for at least 2 years reduces the risk of heart problems by 21%, but is has no significant effects on the risk of death from heart disease (
Furthermore, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids appear to have a greater benefit than omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (
The omega-6 linoleic acid has been associated with lower risk of heart disease. However, it is important to be vigilant about avoiding highly refined vegetable oils and processed foods that contain these oils (
Our food environment makes it very easy for us to get more than enough of the omega-6 rich vegetable oils. We can control how we prepare food at home, so in an effort to practice moderation it may be a good idea to choose other oils that are lower in omega-6 content, like olive oil or avocado oil.
There is a lot of evidence on the benefits of olive oil on heart health (
Vegetable oils appear to be heart-friendly. While some nutritionists are worried about the high levels of omega-6 in certain oils, there is currently no evidence that they raise the risk of heart disease.
Vegetable oils generally seem to be healthy sources of fat.
Some nutritionists are also concerned about the high amounts of polyunsaturated omega-6 fats found in certain vegetable oils. However, the evidence we have is not conclusive.
Olive oil is an excellent example of a healthy alternative to vegetable oil that’s low in omega-6. Since omega-6 is alreadyabundant in the American diet, substituting olive oil might be one of your best options.