When it comes to using seed oils, the United States is the world leader: Americans consume about 20 percent of the world’s oils at a rate of approximately 19.7 million barrels daily. Canada comes in at nearly 2.7 million barrels daily or 2.6 percent, a comparable per capita rate. Some of those seed oils are toxic, while others are healthy. Do you know the difference and which oils are best for you?
What are Seed Oils?
Most seed oils are highly processed polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) substances that are extracted from canola (rapeseed), corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, rice bran, safflower, soy, and sunflower. The seeds are exposed to extremely high heat, which in turn oxidizes the omega-6 fatty acids found in them.
That harmful process makes the oils even more unhealthy when they’re repeatedly reheated, as they often are in restaurants. How long has the oil been reheated that your French fries or onion rings were cooked in? Consuming too many omega-6s can cause the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals and leads to an imbalance of omega-3s to omega-6s, which presents significant health risks.
Those processed seed oils also present other health concerns. Because they’re typically derived from genetically modified crops (GMO), there are significant concerns about health risks, including allergic reactions, greater risk of cancer, and the development of antibacterial resistance. The long-term effects of consuming GMO foods are still being investigated.
What Is the Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio?
The omega-6 to omega-3 ratio reflects the amount of each of those essential acids to each other. Research indicates that a ratio of about 1:1 is ideal. However, the current Western diet most people follow provides a ratio of about 16 to 1. That means there’s a significant deficit of omega-3s and excessive levels of omega-6s, a situation that promotes chronic inflammation and diseases associated with it, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, infertility, and many others. It can also lead to autoimmune diseases.
Which Seed Oils Are Safe to Consume?
Fortunately, the list of safe, healthy oils is long. You want to focus on unrefined and cold-pressed oils whenever possible, as those are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in PUFAs. These include almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, peanut oil, pecan oil, sesame oil, and walnut oil. You can cook with all of those except flaxseed oil and walnut oil, which should only be used for flavor because they become toxic when heated.
One perhaps unlikely addition to that list is Malaysian sustainable palm oil (not to be confused with palm kernel oil). Be sure to choose Malaysian palm oil that has been produced on sustainable plantations. It’s a rich source of vitamin E tocotrienols, pro-vitamin A carotenoids, and provides a balanced fatty acid profile.
Each oil has its own smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oils begin to be damaged and form unhealthy substances, such as trans fats. The damage begins before you actually see smoke.
If you’re wondering about smoke points for healthy oils, here they are in Fahrenheit:
Almond oil 430 degrees
Avocado oil 520 degrees
Avocado (virgin) 400 degrees
Coconut (refined) 400 degrees
Coconut (unrefined) 350 degrees
Hazelnut 430 degrees
Macadamia nut 400 degrees
Olive oil (virgin) 420 degrees
Olive oil (extra virgin) 400 degrees
Pecan 470 degrees
Sesame (unrefined) 350 degrees
Sustainable Malaysian Palm Fruit Oil 455 degrees
Walnut (refined) 400 degrees
Walnut (unrefined) 320 degrees
If you’re like many people, you consume a lot of oils. However, be sure to choose healthy ones and use them properly. Drizzle healthy oils on your vegetable and grain dishes and cook only with those that can withstand the level of heat to which you expose them. When you take those steps, you help to ensure that you’re eating only healthy seed oils.