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Why Cutting Out Vegetable Oil Should Be Our Number One Nutritional New Year’s Resolution
‘90s nostalgia is popular among my fellow Millennials, but I must confess that I’ve never held onto any fond feelings for the decade. It’s not just that bucket hats and low-waisted jeans don’t look good on me. It’s that I’ve never forgiven the ‘90s for its vendetta against butter, eggs, and fats in general. The once prevalent but misguided notion that removing fat from our diets would result in less body fat actually had the opposite effect on people, since low-fat foods were largely replaced by carbs and sugar. Nutritional research has (thankfully, for butter-lovers like me!) evolved, and we know now that fat is an essential part of our diets. It’s an important source of energy, necessary for all sorts of bodily functions.
That said, not all fats are created equal. At LesserEvil, we pride ourselves on attention to detail, especially when it comes to ingredients, and we’re vocal about our use of better-for-you fats for our snacks. But what exactly does that mean? Basically, no random vegetable oils!
There are four main types of fats we hear about regularly. There’s trans fat, the worst type (think Crisco), which pretty much everyone knows to avoid these days. There are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the supposedly “good” fats. Somewhere in the middle, healthwise, is saturated fat, found mostly in animal products (butter, eggs, red meat). There’s certainly some truth to these “good” and “bad” labels, but they’re an incomplete picture, particularly when it comes to polyunsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fat is found in many vegetable oils, and studies have shown that people who eat more vegetable oils than saturated fats have lower cholesterol. Studies also connect lower cholesterol to lower risk of heart diseases. Because of this, consumption of vegetable oils has increased drastically over the past several decades.
But while it was assumed for years that vegetable oils were unquestionably the heart-healthy fat option, renewed scrutiny has revealed that the presence of fatty acids in different varieties of vegetable oils make certain oils much less healthy than others. The fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3, which our bodies don’t produce but which we get from our diet, are important in processes like blood clotting and inflammation. While these acids are supposed to be present in a fairly balanced ratio, many Western diets contribute to a huge excess of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 acids are stored in body fat, have negative effects on our cell membrane health, and are widely believed to contribute to inflammation. Some inflammation is necessary in helping the body recover from injury and disease. However, chronic inflammation of the body tissues is a known risk factor for leading to heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other issues.
The number one cause of the hugely inflated levels of omega-6 fatty acids in our modern Western diets is the consumption of processed vegetable oils. The oils with the highest omega-6 content are sunflower, corn, and soybean oils. The oils with the lowest levels are olive oil, coconut oil, and butter. This chart provides a great reference for the fatty acid contents of all sorts of oils.
Another danger of supposedly healthy vegetable oils is the likelihood that they’ve been “refined” in some way. In order to make them more shelf-stable, many oils go through a process of chemical purification. Sometimes heat is used in order to extract more oils from the source. The problem is, many vegetable oils contain unsaturated fats that oxidize above a certain temperature, a process which causes inflammation and instability of the blood vessels when consumed. (For this reason, while it’s great to choose an unrefined, cold-pressed oil when you’re shopping for oils to cook with, it’s also important to be aware of their smoke points.)
So now you know the importance of making mindful choices when it comes to choosing oils at the store. But when it comes to snack foods, you don’t always get to make that choice. Most companies use whatever is cheapest-- usually an unhealthy blend of vegetable oils, most often palm and soybean oil.
At LesserEvil, like all of our ingredients, our oils are specifically and intentionally selected for their quality. Our preferred (and always organic) oils are coconut oil, avocado oil, cold-pressed olive oil, and grass-fed ghee. And because our snacks are never fried in these oils, but lightly tumbled in them after they’re cooked, the oils retain their nutritional values and never get a chance to oxidize.
Our oils make our snacks not just the healthier choice, but the tastier one as well, as they lend lovely aromatic flavors and scents to our products. They’re why our Himalayan Pink Salt Popcorn smells so good, and why our Avocado-licious Popcorn has its deliciously distinctive taste. Isn’t it awesome when good food is actually good for us?