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The truth about seed oils: The good and the bad

Sometimes, it's hard to keep up with what food is good for you and what is bad for you; it's almost as if the answer consistently changes. On one hand, healthy fats and oils are good for you, and on the other, seed oils are bad. So what's the truth? That's what we'll be deep-diving into right now with you. 

For years, seed oils like canola, sunflower, and grapeseed have been a staple in kitchens worldwide. But lately, they've been linked to everything from weight gain to heart disease. This can be nerve-wracking, and you might be tempted to banish them from the pantry. But before you do that, let's separate fact from fiction, and you get the real scoop on seed oils.

First things first, what are seed oils? Seed oils are exactly what they sound like: oils extracted from the seeds of various plants. Common types include canola, corn, grapeseed, sunflower, and soybean. You probably remember these oils being praised for their neutral taste and high smoke point, making them ideal for baking and high-heat cooking – us too. 

Now, oils are fats, an essential part of a healthy diet, and seed oils provide a good source of unsaturated fats, which can benefit your heart health. But here's where things get a little more complicated. Unsaturated fats come in two main categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Seed oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6s are essential for our body, the concern lies in the balance with omega-3s, another type of polyunsaturated fat. Ideally, the dream combo is close to a 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in our diet. However, the modern diet tends to be much higher in omega-6s, thanks partly to the seed oils used in processed foods (you've probably seen corn and canola oil in your favorite treats). This imbalance is what many health experts believe can lead to inflammation in the body, something linked to various chronic diseases.

But wait. Does this mean we should ditch seed oils entirely? No, not necessarily. Here's what to remember: the demonization of seed oils often overlooks the bigger picture. The real culprit behind potential health problems is likely the overconsumption of ultra-processed foods, most of which are loaded with seed oils and unhealthy amounts of sugar, sodium, and refined carbohydrates. 

What to do instead: 

  • Focus on whole, unprocessed foods when you can; this naturally reduces your intake of seed oils while providing a wealth of essential nutrients. That way, if you want to add a little canola oil when cooking, it won't affect your health as much. 
  • Limit processed foods. The less ingredients, the better. Opt for products with minimal processing and lower use of seed oils in their ingredient list.
  • Prioritize omega-3s when possible; foods like fatty fish (salmon, tuna), flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds are all omega-3-rich.
  • Use seed oils in moderation. If you cook with seed oils at home, choose high-quality, unrefined varieties and use them sparingly. If you can, use olive or avocado oil instead. 

High Oleic vs. Regular Seed Oils

If you're still nervous about choosing the "right" seed oil, our suggestion is to go with neutral high oleic sunflower oil. Sunflower oil, especially high-oleic sunflower oil, is a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can help raise your good cholesterol levels (HDL) without increasing your bad cholesterol (LDL), potentially reducing your risk of heart disease. High oleic sunflower oil means that it has 80% of oleic acid (versus 20% in regular sunflower oil).

The real issue with seed oils is their ratio of oleic to linoleic acid (oleic is good, linoleic is bad) so if you’re looking for a neutral oil with a high smoking point that is less expensive than olive or avocado, don’t be afraid of high oleic sunflower oil. 

And remember, seed oils aren't inherently bad for you. The more significant concern lies in their overuse of processed foods and the potential imbalance they create with omega-3s in our diets. By focusing on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, limiting processed options, and using seed oils judiciously, you can ensure you get the healthy fats your body needs without the unnecessary downsides.


https://www.chhs.colostate.edu/krnc/monthly-blog/should-i-be-concerned-about-seed-oils/#:~:text=What%20we%20know%20so%20far,to%20keep%20in%20your%20diet!; https://health.clevelandclinic.org/seed-oils-are-they-actually-toxic; https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/scientists-debunk-seed-oil-health-risks/; https://www.zeroacre.com/blog/are-seed-oils-toxic; https://zoe.com/learn/are-seed-oils-bad-for-you; https://www.sunflowernsa.com/oil/High-Oleic-Sunflower-Oil/

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