Is Vegetable Oil More Harmful Than Sugar?

If you know your stuff, you’ll know that healthy oil is almost non-existent in the UAE. In this article, we lay out the basics on what you should know about harmful oils and which ones get our seal of approval.

28-Sep 2018, by Bronwyn MacRitchie

What's this oil about?

So… The oil story is not pretty and as more and more research emerges on these oils it just seems to get uglier.

I’m not going to go into the scientific details of why… But here are just a few peer-reviewed journal articles to bring the story home before we even get started. Oxidized vegetable oils are now linked increasingly to the development of atherosclerosis (1), insulin-related gene expression (2), alzheimers (3), and a wide range over overall health and disease markers ( 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

So which oils are we talking about here?

It would be far easier to answer the question, ‘Which oils AREN’T we talking about here?’ Basically it’s every oil bottled in plastic or light glass, it’s every oil with a high PUFA (polyunsaturated fat) content, it’s every partially hydrogenated fat of any kind… We are talking sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, rapeseed, canola, soy… the list continues! Scroll down to the infographic for a more comprehensive list.

What is oxidization and why is it bad?

Oxidization is the alteration of a molecule or particle when oxygen is bound to it. When the molecules in an oil become oxidized they lose any nutritious value and become harmful to the body. In fact, oxidization is the first step in the decomposition process (9) We are only just learning exactly HOW harmful (check out those studies referenced above)

Doesn’t oxidization only happen when we heat oils?

No! How easily the oil oxidizes is entirely dependant on how high the PUFA (polyunsaturated fat) content of the oil in question is. These PUFAs are so susceptible to oxidization that they can become oxidized WAY before they even enter your kitchen, let alone after you heat them (10, 11, 12) !  

The first place they are likely to have been oxidized is during the manufacturing process, where most of these oils have to be heavily processed to be removed from the vegetable or seed they were originally encased in.

Then… simply being exposed to light (being stored in light glass, or even worse, plastic), air (not entirely sealed properly) or water (who knows what happened in the factory). Can cause these oils to oxidize, making them a severe health hazard for you!

If by some miracle the oil does in fact make it into your kitchen without being oxidized, one you open the bottle and the oil is exposed to high temperatures and air there is virtually no chance that the molecules are still in tact.  

Why are vegetable oils like sunflower and canola more dangerous than olive or avocado oil?

It is the high PUFA count in these oils that make them so unstable and prone to oxidization. In fact, they are used in varnish because they polymerize when applied to the surface of the wood to create that protective hard coating (13, 14, 15). NOT what you want to be happening in your precious body! And yet… these are the oils lining whole aisles here in the UAE! The main three types of fats oils are made up of are:

  • Saturated (solid at room temperature, very stable)
  • Monounsaturated (MUFA), also a stable fat and unlikely to oxidize as easily
  • Polyunsaturated (PUFA), highly unstable, highly likely to oxidize

When choosing oils it is advisable to go for oils made up of the first two as they are the least likely to cause DNA damage and wreak havoc with your body’s inflammatory system.

They are in fact so dangerous that Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint for optimal genetic expression has moved removing sugar from your diet to number two on the most important actions you could take for your health list, behind removing all vegetable oils.  

But what if it’s cold pressed? Like a cold pressed sunflower or rapeseed oil?

Well it may have gone through the manufacturing process without being oxidized, but the PUFA content remains the same and the likelihood of it being oxidized before it finds its space in your cupboard is still prohibitively high (16)!

Not a chance worth taking at the best of times!

Is this about the Omega 3:6 Ratio?

No! In fact emerging research is showing that in fact the inflammatory issue with high levels of Omega 6 reported in the past is far more likely to be as a result of the fact that these Omega 6s were coming from unhealthy sources such as oxidized vegetable oils and all of the processed foods that use these oils in their ingredients.  

HEALTHY Omega 6s (such as those found in whole, raw nuts and seeds) are vital to our health and in fact show no signs of causing the proinflammatory effects of these oils.

Aren’t these articles only talking about partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated trans fats?

No! Those were the articles that started coming out over 10 years ago (17,  18, 19, 20, 21, 22) and guess what? We have only started to recognized that those fats are deleterious to our health! To this day there are still many households buying spreadable butter or margarine and cooking with shortening!

Don’t shake your head though, next time you buy a bag of roasted nuts take a look at the oil they have been roasted in, and it is highly likely to be a partially hydrogenated oil of some kind.

Today science is finally catching up with what is actually going on inside those rows and rows of light yellow oil in the supermarket! And it is very clear that consuming ANY vegetable oils with a high PUFA count is taking a seriously unnecessary gamble with your health.

So what should I do then? It’s all so confusing!

That’s easy. KEEP IT SIMPLE! There is absolutely no reason to take any chances with these oils. Stick to the list exactly as shown below. No compromises for any reason. Ever.

So what are my best and safest options here in Dubai and the UAE then?

At Ingfit our number 1 advice, again, is to keep it as simple as possible… so stick to the list. Don’t be fooled by the fact that an organic store or ‘health’ store is stocking the oil. You need to trust the information you have learned from the increasing scientific evidence, take your health (and that of your children) into your own hands!  

Only buy oils from the above acceptable list bottled in dark glass or tin, and if you are buying butter or ghee ensure it says ‘grass-fed’ on the packaging to ensure it’s free of harmful antibiotics, pesticides and hormones. In the UAE the ghee shelves are lined with tins of ghee, but it’s very few and far between that we have actually come across one that is grassfed.

So if I only use these oils for cooking and dressing am I safe?

Well no! And that’s because these vegetable oils and processed fats are found in SO many products! You need to carefully check the ingredients on the foods you buy! We recommend watching out for these two major players on the bad oils ingredients list in the UAE!

  • Roasted nuts
  • Mayonnaise

Two major ones to watch out for are roasted nuts here in the UAE, as mentioned before, a frightening majority of them use partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, OR sunflower oil. STAY AWAY! Rather roast your own nuts at home or choose a brand that uses one of the approved oils for heating.

The second is even more worrying because of the sheer volume of oil it uses. Mayonnaise and salad dressings. We have yet to come across a mayonnaise in the Dubai or the UAE that uses an approved oil. Even ones sold and labelled as organic are still loaded with sunflower oil! Even those which state ‘Extra-Virgin Olive Oil’ on the front list other vegetable oils as their primary ingredient with only 5% olive oil! It’s frightening! It’s criminal even, that is completely deceptive labelling and it relies on us consumers not being informed of what choices are optimal for our own health!

The best choices for mayonnaise and dressings are either to make your own, which is actually quite simple and rewarding, or purchase a brand that uses an approved oil from the list.      

Our top two recommendations would be Primal Kitchen (who we hope to stock in the future) and Hunter and Gather, which we have recently begun stocking. We have sourced these brands out of personal health concerns as well as concern for the Dubai community.

We couldn’t stand the lack of healthy options and needed to ensure we had something that wasn’t inducing sickness in our own kitchens! These brands use avocado oil as their SOLE oil, and you can freely consume them with the peace that knowing you are making the highest choice for your health brings.  

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Bronwyn MacRitchie

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