Vegetable oil has been a common ingredient in the heated debate of “healthy or not?” — the reason for this is because it was once a commodity that was quite favoured by nutritionists, but in the past few years, has fallen out of grace.
To make sense of this, here’s a little backstory: Since the beginning of time, people have relied on animal fat and butter for their dishes. The invention of vegetable oil is quite recent — mostly because the invention of vegetable oil is purely based on the advancements of manufacturing capabilities.
According to the studies of that time, vegetable oil did turn out to be a more suitable substitute for the kind of fat people had been eating in the past. However, as many studies have now proved, it’s nowhere near the kind of “superfood” that it was once labelled to be.
A major reason why people believed in the myth that vegetable oils were “heart-healthy” was due to the marketing efforts of Procter & Gamble, who wanted to increase the sales of Crisco (which is a type of shortening made from vegetable oil), and hence promoted unregulated health claims and paid off doctors for biased research. With the growth of the paleo and keto markets – this belief has started to change.
People bought this theory because vegetable oil had recently been launched and there was little understanding of it. As more people started consuming vegetable oil as part of their daily diet, more data on just how harmful it can be was discovered and people have been cutting it out of their weekly meal planning routines as much as possible..
So let’s dive in to understand the harmful effects of vegetable oil and what substitutes can you use instead of them.
What is vegetable oil?
Before we begin, let’s preface the article with what vegetable oil exactly is. Surely, after reading the name, you must picture a factory where vegetables are being cold-pressed to attain their oils. And you would be right — to a certain extent.
Simply put, vegetable oil is nothing but the oil derived from the nuts or seeds of a vegetable, rather than the vegetable itself. You’re probably acquainted with some of the famous types of vegetable oils (canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, etc). However, even if you want something like a carrot seed oil or a lettuce seed oil, then that’s available in the market too.
Why should you avoid vegetable oils?
The American Heart Association (AHA), along with many other organisations promote the importance of having polyunsaturated facts, or PUFA, in your diet. So PUFA would be Omega-6, Omega-3, etc.
Vegetable oil has PUFA, which is why we imagine it was considered to be a holy grail product in the past. Now the problem with PUFA is that it is double bonded, meaning that anytime you heat it, it oxidises. Many chefs like to term this occurrence as the product becoming “rancid.”
But that’s just the tip of it, here’s the bigger issue: when you consume oxidised oil, it becomes a part of lipoprotein (which is a type of protein that carries cholesterol which is to be taken into the bloodstream). Because of the unnatural nature of lipoprotein, it then triggers inflammation, changes DNA structure, and accelerates arteriosclerosis. So, cooking with vegetable oil can be bad. Like, really bad.
How Can You Best Use Vegetable oil?
Simply put, not really. But here’s some good news: although cooking with vegetable oil can result in hazardous results, different types of cooking oils have different levels of oxidation. So the effects can be minimised based on the type of oil you use.
That being said, if you keep your cooking temperatures low (and hopefully below the smoking point), then PUFA doesn’t oxidise as much. So reducing cook times and heating temperatures definitely helps your case.
On the flip side, it also means all those fast food munchies will have to go for a toss because they’re lathered and cooked in PUFA-will-oxidise-into-oblivion temperatures.
Top 3 vegetable oil substitutes
To stay on the safe side of things, we suggest using products that are PUFA free (and are basically not susceptible to all the bad things that PUFA-oxidation brings). So let’s dive in and explore all the options on hand to keep your foods just as delicious, minus all the harmful effects.
1. Olive oil
Unlike vegetable oil, olive oil has proved to be a healthy product time and again, study after study. And here’s a statistic that’ll prove just how beneficial olive oil can be to our diet: according to a randomised and controlled Spanish Predimed study, women who ate olive oil as part of their Mediterranean diet, showed a 62% lower risk of breast cancer.
In the past few years, many other studies in niche fields have proven the capabilities of olive oil in that niche. Case in point: olive oil has also proven to be effective for people who have diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cognitive problems, and cardiovascular disease. It’s also beneficial for the people who are trying to watch their weight.
The reason for this is because olive oil is a cold-pressed oil that has MUFA, which is a single bonded unsaturated fat type, as opposed to PUFA, which is also an unsaturated fat but is double bonded.
2. Avocado oil
Much like olive oil, avocado oil is also rich in MUFA and hence serves to be a highly beneficial ingredient to add to your dishes. Here are some of the benefits that avocado oil offers:
- Avocado oil has high amounts of Omega-3, Omega-6, and Omega-9.
- 70% of avocado oil is oleic acid, which is a type of healthy fat.
- It improves heart function by lowering triglycerides, inflammatory cytokines, and bad cholesterol.
- It enhances the capabilities of other nutrients being absorbed.
- It’s rich in antioxidants.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The benefits are far too many and far too vast to be covered in a single article. This topic will probably need an entire piece for itself.
3. Coconut Oil
Sure, coconut oil has a considerable amount of saturated fat, and you must wonder why are they promoting coconut oil if it does? Well, sorry to burst the age-old myth, but there’s no evidence showing that saturated fat is bad for you.
And Dr. Glen D. Lawrence would agree, as her research paper concluded that “Saturated fats are benign with regard to inflammatory effects. The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing.”
So here are a bunch of reasons why coconut oil is good for you:
- It’s highly resistant to oxidation.
- It helps with good cholesterol.
- It can be used as a cosmetic too.
- It can assist with weight loss.
- Some studies say it aids in better brain function.
4. Applesauce (Bonus One!)
We agree that this one may sound a bit weird after discussing a whole article on oils but applesauce can make for a great substitute for vegetable oil, especially when it comes to baked goods.
Perhaps the best part of using applesauce instead of oil in your baked goods is that it can enhance the flavours of the food much better than oil can while remaining healthier than vegetable oil. Brownie points for having fewer calories than oil too.
The product is readily available at an affordable price in many grocery stores. Along with that, it also comes with a long list of health benefits, some of them being:
- It helps maintain the blood-sugar balance.
- It creates good bacteria which results in a healthy gut.
- It helps retain calcium levels in your body.
- Some studies say that it can help in preventing cancer.
So, all in all, it makes for a pretty great substitute — at least, in our opinion.
Final thoughts on vegetable oils & healthy substitutes
These options are only a few amongst the vast ocean of substitutes that you can use. With the aim of improving your health, try to focus on buying food products that are structured without PUFA, so that irrespective of how long you cook your dishes, or rather, at whichever temperature, they’re still healthy enough to consume.
- Drew Ramsey & Tyler Graham (The Atlantic): How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet
- Linda Joyce Forristal (The Weston A Price Foundation): The Rise and Fall of Crisco
- Katie (Integrum Living): What the heck are PUFAs?
- About Olive Oil (North American Olive Oil Association): Cooking Oil and Oxidative Stability
- Estefanía Toledo et al. JAMA Intern Med (PubMed): Mediterranean Diet and Invasive Breast Cancer Risk Among Women at High Cardiovascular Risk in the PREDIMED Trial: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- Katherine Zeratsky (Mayo Clinic): What are MUFAs, and should I include them in my diet?
- Annie Price (Dr. Axe): Avocado Oil: Healthiest Oil on the Planet?
- Dr. Glen D. Lawrence (Advances In Nutrition): Dietary Fats and Health: Dietary Recommendations in the Context of Scientific Evidence
- José Enrique De la Rubia Ortí et al. (PubMed): How does coconut oil affect cognitive performance in Alzheimer patients?
- Lacey Muinos & Jill Corleone (Livestrong): 5 Major Health Benefits of Applesauce
- Jeanelle Boyer & Rui Hai Liu (Nutrition Journal): Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits
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