Here at Intuitas Integrative Wellness, our goal is to educate our clients to the point where they become well informed advocates for their own health. Many have heard us talk about the dangers of sugar both for our mental and metabolic well-being. However, there may be one ingredient that we consider even more harmful than sugar when overconsumed: highly processed seed oils.
In order to extract oil from a plant seed, the seed goes through a complex processing system that includes but is not limited to the grinding and pressing of the seeds, extracting the oils using a chemical solvent, and deodorizing them (as the actual oil is not particularly aromatic). All this to make a highly unstable polyunsaturated oil that cannot be exposed to light and should certainly not be heated for cooking, and yet seed oils makes up a disproportionally high percentage of our diet!
When these oils are consumed in excess, one of most deleterious side effects is the disturbance of the delicate ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are important contributors to the formation of healthy cell membranes and to the proper development and function of our nervous system and the brain. These fatty acids, which are deemed “essential” due to the body’s inability to produce them on its own, should form a ratio of approximately 4:1 (omega-6:omega-3). Today’s average American has an intake of closer to 20:1!
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in certain nuts such as walnuts, and in many animal proteins including fish, seafood, and grass-fed beef. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in foods such as olives, nuts, seeds, and eggs. When eaten in moderation and from whole food sources, omega-6 EFAs are immensely beneficial, making up much of the fatty acids in our brain. Unwittingly, those following the Standard American Diet are overconsuming omega-6 EFAs, primarily through the intake of highly processed seed oils found in most packaged foods.
Consuming too much inflammatory omega-6 and not enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 EFAs can cause deleterious effects on our mitochondria, shutting down these energy factories of our cells. By reducing our mitochondria’s ability to make energy, our bodies tend to become more reliant on (or craving) external sources of energy such as sugar and other unhealthy high energy foods. Furthermore, inflammation increases to chronic levels contributing to the proliferation of many of today’s chronic conditions including weight gain, joint pain, arthritis and more serious diseases like cardiovascular disease or cancer.
In order to try to tip the dial towards an anti-inflammatory diet, becoming aware of the more dangerous seed oils and where they hide is key. Read the labels on all packaged foods and try to avoid foods with processed seed oils. Additionally, be aware that when eating in restaurants, the oil most widely used for cooking is canola oil, one of the more unfavorable ones. Knowledge is power, when in restaurants do not be afraid to ask for substitutions with more favorable fats such as butter or pure olive oil and at a minimum, make sure that at home you cook your foods with healthy fats from the list provided below.
Sheppard, K. W., & Cheatham, C. L. (2018). Omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid intake of children and older adults in the US: Dietary intake in comparison to current dietary recommendations and the Healthy Eating Index. Lipids in Health and Disease, 17(1), 43.