Vegetable oil is a generic term that encompasses oil expelled from soybean, corn, cottonseed, and rapeseed (canola). These highly liquid oils are a relatively new innovation. They emerged on the scene in the 1920s and their level of consumption has since skyrocketed.
This is where things begin to get interesting. Before the advent of vegetable oil, chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer were virtually non-existent. Of course, correlation is not necessarily causation. And one readily admits that chronic disease is caused by a number of factors. However, there is something uniquely toxic about vegetable oil. Consider the observation of Dr. Dudley White, a respected American physician from that era: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921 and I never saw a heart attack patient until 1928. Back in the heart attack free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil.”
The problem with vegetable oil
Corn and soybean have been consumed by man for millennia. Then, how is it that oil extracted from these wholesome foods is suddenly toxic? Well, the problem is not the oil per se, but how that oil is modified to extend shelf life.
You see, highly liquid vegetable oils, also called polyunsatured fats, very quickly become rancid when exposed to air. When you extract these fats from the protective context of a whole food, they break down quite rapidly. That is, polyunsaturated fats are only stable when encased by and associated with proteins, carbohydrates, antioxidants, and other substances found in whole foods. In fact, unmodified vegetable oil becomes rancid in a matter of hours when exposed to air.
This begs a question. How then does commercial vegetable oil have an average shelf life of two years? Vegetable oil is preserved by a process called partial hydrogenation. In which, a fraction of the unstable polyunsaturated fats are converted to much more stable trans fats. And it is these trans fats that give commercial vegetable oil their unnatural shelf life.
The producers of vegetable oil then have the audacity to paste boldly on their labels: CONTAINS NO TRANS FATS. This is a big fat lie. Sadly, this is but one instance of the vicious logic of the processed food industry, whose motto is profit over people.
The negative health effects of hydrogenated oils
Another term for partial hydrogenation is plastic-ization. That is, natural oil is converted into a synthetic plastic-like substance. Of a truth, commercial vegetable oil has more in common with petrochemicals than say naturally stable palm oil or coconut oil. What do I mean? Well, both petrochemicals and hydrogenated oils have no place in animal physiology. They are invariably toxic whenever ingested, a true disadvantage when using vegetable oil.
No wonder that wherever petro-vegetable oil goes, an epidemic of chronic diseases is sure to follow. In sum, the best oils for cooking are those that have been used in ancestral societies; namely palm oil, coconut oil, Shea butter, and animal fats.
M Enig, Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply: A Comprehensive Report Covering 60 Years of Research , 2nd Edition, 1995, Enig Associates, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, pp 4-8
F A Kummerow, “Effects of Isomeric Fats on Animal Tissue, Lipid Classes and Atherosclerosis,” Geometrical and Positional Fatty Acid Isomers, E. A. Emken and H. J. Dutton, eds, American Oil Chemists’ Society, Champaign, IL, 1979, pp151-180
F. A. Kummerow, “Nutritional Effects of Isomeric Fats: Their Possible Influence on Cell Metabolism or Cell Structure,” Dietary Fats and Health, (E. G. Perkins and W. J. Visek, eds), Americna Oil Chemists’ Society, Champaign, IL, 1983, pp 391-402
S Fallon and M Enig, “The Oiling of America”. The Weston A. Price Foundation. 1 January 2000. Web
Ezenwa Onwugbenu is a nutritional healer and public speaker on natural health matters. You can find out more about him and his passion for natural health and living on Creative Juices.