Want to know the easiest, quickest way to improve your nutrition? Here’s the single best tip I know.
Go home today and throw away all of your margarine and “vegetable oils.”
Why? Corn oil, soybean oil, and other “vegetable oils” contain a large amount of omega-6 fatty acids, and almost no omega-3. (I put “vegetable” in quotes because these are really industrially produced seed oils. “Vegetable” makes it sound healthy, which it’s not!)
You may have heard of the health benefits of eating foods like salmon and walnuts — foods that are high in omega-3.
Omega-6 is a kind of sister fat to omega-3. We actually need both in our diets, but most Americans get WAY too much omega-6 and way too little omega-3.
This is because a modern American diet is typically high in processed foods, which often contain cheap oils like soybean oil. The average American also doesn’t eat a lot of fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, or salmon, either.
The average American’s consumption of soybean oil increased over 1,000-fold between 1909 and 1999. Thanks to modern refining techniques, we are able to chemically extract oil out of things like corn and soybean, which we weren’t able to do before around 1880. So every time you consume seed oils, you are consuming something that human beings weren’t able to consume before about 130 years ago. This is typically a bad idea, and when that new thing is a whopping dose of omega-6, it’s really bad.
The problem with too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 is that they compete in the body for absorption. So if you have too much omega-6, your body can’t process omega-3 very well. And we know that too much omega-6 causes inflammation, while omega-3 tends to be anti-inflammatory. So too much omega-6 = chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is linked with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and just about every chronic disease you can think of. So do yourself a favor and stop cooking things in soybean oil and corn oil, please.
But the most compelling argument I can muster doesn’t rest on an analysis of omega-6 vs omega-3, or chronic inflammation. It’s the fact that seed oils simply aren’t food. They’re technically edible, and they provide calories, but they don’t resemble any kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized. Anything that requires processing with petroleum products is not food, okay?
I’ve said this numerous times on the IFAST blog — if you want to lose weight, or just get healthier, or improve your performance, one of the first things you should do is shift your nutrition from processed foodlike products to real food.
What should you cook with instead?
Believe it or not, butter is far healthier for you than margarine or vegetable oils. And butter has the advantage of (technically) being a real food. (Modern dairy production techniques make this a questionable claim in many cases, but you can find pretty decent butter like Kerrygold in many stores, including Costco and Trader Joe’s. It is pretty expensive, though.)
Olive oil has consistently been shown to be healthy compared to vegetable oils in clinical trials (but stay tuned next week for a post that may surprise you — why olive oil isn’t as healthy as you think!).
Coconut oil is my favorite oil to cook in. If you don’t like the taste of coconut oil, you can get refined coconut oil, which is pretty odorless. If the saturated fat freaks you out, then please take a look at this peer-reviewed study, which found that there is no evidence to suggest that saturated fat is associated with heart disease. At some point we’ll have to do a real blog post on saturated fat, but for now let’s just say that it is a very misunderstood substance that has been unfairly accused of causing heart disease and other illnesses.
I love this tip because it’s super, super easy. It doesn’t require a big behavior change or commitment on your part. All you have to do is throw away your industrial seed oils (soybean, corn, safflower, cottonseed, canola) and switch to healthier fats, like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil. It doesn’t meet with a lot of resistance, because really, who likes the taste of soybean oil? Nobody (it’s tasteless, by design — actually it’s chemically deodorized, because the initial product smells so terrible).
So go ahead, throw out your corn oil, and enjoy the taste of your butter-cooked foods! 🙂