Vegetable oil has to be good for you because it comes from vegetables, right?
While vegetable oils are typically marketed as “heart-healthy” and often recommended as an alternative to other fat sources, overconsuming them may lead to health problems.
Replacing vegetable oils with healthier options can improve the nutritional value of your recipes and optimize your health.
Keep reading to learn more about the potential health risks associated with vegetable oil consumption and discover the best vegetable oil substitute.
- Most vegetable oils are heavily processed and refined, which means they lack flavor and nutrients.
- Vegetable oils are low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids yet contain an overabundance of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.
- The best substitutes for vegetable oil include animal fats from grass-fed, organic animals, plant-based fats, such as olive oil, and dairy fats, such as grass-fed butter and ghee.
WHAT EXACTLY IS VEGETABLE OIL?
Vegetable oils are oils that have been extracted from plant components, usually seeds. Most of the vegetable oils sold today contain a blend of sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, soy oil, and safflower oil.
Unlike olive or coconut oil, which can be extracted by pressing, vegetable oil is typically extracted using hexane, a harsh chemical solvent. Once the oil is extracted, it usually undergoes additional processing to remove impurities and extend its shelf life.
The hexane is removed from the oil before it is sold, but it may still be present in small quantities in the final product.
The refinement process destroys antioxidants, micronutrients, and beneficial plant compounds that contribute to the health properties of oils.
WHY VEGETABLE OILS ARE GETTING A BAD RAP...
Vegetable oils, commonly called "processed seed oils," are primarily composed of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
The omega-6s from vegetable oils are highly susceptible to oxidation, which causes free radical damage.
Furthermore, a diet high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s potentially contributes to inflammation and chronic disease.
For example, studies have linked higher intakes of omega-6 fats with an increased risk for inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
On the other hand, a diet that includes a balanced ratio of fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and improve total-body health.
Because processed oils are often frequently used in processed foods, many of us are ingesting too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s without realizing it.
It’s important to note that omega-6 fatty acids are not inherently bad. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids. This means your body cannot produce them — they must be obtained from your diet.
However, it becomes an issue when they dominate, and a person does not consume enough omega-3s to keep things balanced.
VEGETABLE OIL IN THE MODERN AMERICAN DIET
In traditional diets throughout history, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats was around 1:1.
Beginning in the 1900s, the intake of omega-6 vegetable oils increased while the consumption of omega-3 fats decreased, resulting in a significant increase in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Because of these dietary changes, studies show that America's current omega-6 to omega-3 ratio has risen to 30:1, much higher than what we are genetically adapted to.
Soybean oil is the primary source of omega-6 fats in the standard American diet because it is affordable. It’s found in fast foods, cakes, cured meats, and processed snack foods.
Vegetable oil is also popular for deep frying because it has a high smoke point - meaning it can withstand high heat.
HEALTHY FATS TO REPLACE VEGETABLE OIL
One simple way to reduce your intake of omega-6 fats is to replace highly refined vegetable oils and processed foods with healthier alternatives.
- Animal Fats
- Dairy Fats
- Plant Fats
We were told for years to stay away from animal fats because they are bad for your heart - fake news.
Newer studies suggest that, for most people, fat may not be as harmful as we once believed.
When cooking, choosing high-quality fats from grass-fed, organic animals is essential. This is because they contain a lot more vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants than fat from grain-fed animals.
Animals that are grass-fed also contain more omega-3 fatty acids and less omega-6 fatty acids.
Tallow is the solidified, rendered fat of a sheep or cow.
Rendering is the process of separating the fat through steaming, boiling, or using dry heat.
Grass-fed beef contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), oleic acid, and other fatty acids that may help increase “good” cholesterol levels, support cognitive health, and promote fat loss.
Beef tallow also contains small amounts of vitamins D and E, choline, and selenium.
One tablespoon of tallow contains approximately:
- 115 calories
- 12.8 grams of total fat
- 6.3 grams of saturated fat
- 5.4 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Studies suggest consuming moderate amounts of saturated fat from animals is unlikely to increase a person’s risk of heart disease. In fact, many health experts now argue that eating saturated fat is beneficial for your overall health.
Tallow has a mild, beefy flavor and a high smoking point, which makes it an excellent choice for cooking at high heat.
It is one of the best fats you can use when deep frying foods if you’re looking for a crispy result.
Lard is a semi-solid cooking fat made from melted pork fat.
It is lower in saturated fat than other animal fats like tallow and butter, yet still high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Plus, lard is an excellent source of vitamin D. A tablespoon of lard from a pasture-raised pig provides around 1,000 IU of vitamin D, a nutrient many American diets fall short in.
One tablespoon of lard contains around:
- 115 calories
- 12.8 grams of total fat
- 5 grams of saturated fat
- 5.8 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 1.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Lard has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. Behind tallow, it is the best oil for deep frying.
Duck fat is rendered from the abdominal fat, skin, and meat of ducks.
It contains low levels of saturated fat and high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic acid, compared to other animal fats.
One recent 2022 study noted that duck fat consumption might decrease cardiovascular disease risk.
Duck fat also contains omega-3s, which can help reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol.
Another study found that ducks fed with flaxseed and fish oil had better omega-3 and omega-6 ratios (compatible with our ancestors) than those fed other diets.
One tablespoon of duck fat provides around:
- 112 calories
- 12 grams of total fat
- 4 grams of saturated fat
- 6 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Dairy fats from grass-fed dairy and organic dairy cows have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids yet are low in omega-6 fatty acids.
Butter is a popular dairy fat made by churning cow’s milk until the butterfat comes together and is separated from the buttermilk.
Cows fed their natural grass diet produce milk with more fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and K2. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision and immunity, and vitamin K is important for heart and bone health.
Grass-fed dairy also contains a healthier omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
People also tend to prefer the taste of grass-fed butter over regular butter. One 2016 study noted that grass-fed butter has higher consumer ratings than regular butter in appearance, flavor, and color.
One tablespoon of grass-fed butter provides around:
- 100 calories
- 11.4 grams of total fat
- 7.2 grams of saturated fat
- 500 international units (IU) of Vitamin A (10% DV)
You can use grass-fed butter in the same way you would use regular butter, including cooking at lower temperatures and in any baking recipe.
Ghee is clarified butter made by skimming the milk solids out of melted butter.
Because its milk solids have been removed, it is stable at room temperature and does not require refrigeration.
While organic, grass-fed ghee has a similar nutrient content to grass-fed butter, it has a higher fat concentration. Ghee is also higher in short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which studies suggest plays an important role in gut health and fighting inflammation throughout the body.
One tablespoon of ghee provides around:
- 123 calories
- 13.9 grams of total fat
- 8.7 grams of saturated fat
- 4 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Unlike regular butter, ghee is free of lactose and casein, making it an excellent choice for those with allergies or sensitivities to either component.
Ghee also has a high smoke point, meaning it can cook at higher temperatures without smoking or burning.
All plant-based oils are not harmful to your health. Plant fats, such as avocados, olives, and coconuts, tend to contain more beneficial nutrients than highly processed vegetable oil.
Avocado oil is the natural oil produced by extracting the fat from the pulp of an avocado. Unrefined extra virgin avocado oil is cold-pressed to preserve its natural color and mild, nutty flavor. It also retains more antioxidants and nutrients than refined avocado oil.
Avocado oil is predominantly made up of oleic acid, which can protect against heart disease and reduce cholesterol.
Studies have linked avocado oil to many health benefits, including reduced triglyceride and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. It also protects against inflammation.
One tablespoon of extra virgin avocado oil contains around:
- 120 calories
- 14 grams of fat
- 1.5 grams of saturated fat
- 10.5 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 1.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat
- 23% of the DV for vitamin E
Avocado oil has a high smoke point, which makes it perfect for pan-frying, baking, grilling, sautéing, and searing. You can also use it in salads or smoothies.
Coconut oil is made by pressing fresh or dried coconut meat. It has a sweet, nutty flavor and a unique fatty acid composition that sets it apart from many other cooking oils.
For example, many cooking oils are primarily composed of unsaturated fats, whereas coconut oil is mainly saturated fat.
In particular, coconut oil is high in the saturated fat lauric acid, which is resistant to oxidation when cooking at high temperatures. This makes it one of the best oils for high-heat cooking, such as deep frying.
Coconut oil is also relatively high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a saturated fat that is easily digested. Like simple carbs, MCTs are a readily available energy source because they go straight to your liver.
This makes it particularly beneficial for those who have difficulty digesting fats and those with low energy levels.
While the evidence to support the benefits of coconut oil remains mixed, there is no solid evidence that a moderate intake of coconut oil harms your health.
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains around:
- 104 calories
- 11.5 grams total fat
- 9.6 grams of saturated fat
- 0.7 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 0.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoke point and is generally used in low-temperature baking and sauteing. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point and is used for high-temperature roasting or sauteing.
Olive oil is a popular cooking oil due to its known heart health benefits.
Extra virgin olive, which is made with cold-pressed olives and unrefined has more antioxidants, nutrients, and other beneficial plant compounds than refined olive oil.
Studies suggest that olive can improve cholesterol, decreasing a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains around:
- 107 calories
- 13.2 grams of total fat
- 2.2 grams of saturated fat
- 9.7 grams of monounsaturated fat
- 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat
Extra virgin olive oil is a great substitute for vegetable oil in most recipes that do not require high heat, including dressings, marinades, and dips. Olive oil is also a good replacement for sesame oil and peanut oil when sauteeing at low temperatures.
MAKING THE SWITCH
Following a whole-food-based diet that resembles what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago and leading a physically active life is your best bet for maintaining overall health.
In particular, reducing your intake of highly processed vegetable oils (and foods that contain them) and opting for vegetable oil substitutes that are low in omega-6 fats can help you balance your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
To make the switch, start by gradually incorporating more grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats into your diet, while avoiding ultra-processed foods.
Vegetable oils have soared in popularity with the invention of chemical processes and a need for cheap fat substitutions.
Not only are they heavily processed, which means they lack flavor and nutrients, they also contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which are susceptible to oxidation.
To optimize your health and maintain an optimal fatty acid ratio, use traditional animal fats when cooking, consume omega-6s from whole food sources such as poultry and nuts, and get your omega-3s from grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood.