Endo Enemy #1: Refined Vegetable Oil
I’ve been getting numerous questions about fats since I so widely recommend a more high fat diet, but I realize I need to address the basics before anything else. I wanted to start with how eating fat doesn’t make you fat, or why you shouldn’t be afraid of fat, but first things first. I need to explain which fats literally will make your endo, and overall health worse.
Everyone hates Hitler, but not everyone hated him at first. He was a true politician, coming in a time of societal heartache, passing blame on the innocent, and maintaining an aura of glamour. I’m not going to say vegetable oils are just like him but, hey, kind of close. They came to power during a fear of heart attacks, saturated fat was innocent though widely blamed, they fit a glamorous profile of being associated with vegetables and therefore healthy. See where I’m going here? Yah, I’m about to tell you they’re akin to mass atrocities and a war of good versus evil, with refined veggie oils the latter.
What are refined vegetable oils? Technically they’re actually refined vegetable seed oils, and include safflower, sunflower, soy, canola, corn, and grape seed oils that aren’t cold pressed. If you're like most people you probably have a container or two in your pantry you use on the regular... although by the end of this post they'll hopefully be in your trash (or biodiesel car?). These oils are pushed on the public as “healthy”, which we are finding out they surely are not. Why are they bad? Because, like other seed oils, they’re high in polyunsaturated fats, aka PUFAs. I know I know, polyunsaturated fats are what we’re told in the endo community to eat more of — they include the essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, which we all know will fight our inflammation. Polyunsaturated oils aren't bad, remember that, the issue is how these PUFAs are manufactured, in a process that renders them extremely toxic
Note: in case you don't want to read much more, avoid safflower, sunflower, soy, canola, corn, and grape seed oils, and remember to read labels since they're in so many processed foods.
Polyunsaturated Oils: the good and bad
Omega 3 and 6 are indeed awesome and necessary to build anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Every day you should aim to get some really high quality omega 3/6's into your diet for this and many other reasons. Good-for-you doesn't mean heat or shelf stable, though, and these oils are extremely sensitive to oxidation under heat or light. Think about when you get quality flax or hemp oil at the store, they’re in the refrigerated section, and in dark bottles. And as anyone who uses with such oils knows, one never cooks with them! They’re for dressing salads or pouring on food after cooking. Again, it’s because PUFAs are so easily damaged by oxidation. Oxidation = free radicals. Free radicals = endo growth, pain, and progression. And cancer, don’t forget cancer.
Looking at how we treat high quality PUFAs (cold pressed, refrigerated, dark bottles) should be your first indication something is totally wrong with the way we treat vegetable oils, which are also PUFAs. When you go to the grocery store do you ever wonder why they’re in a row of big, clear, unrefrigerated bottles? This is the first clue, and yet, they don’t smell rancid at all! Here’s why.
Most of the vegetable oils I listed above are really big ag waste products. They didn’t know what to do with the seeds until they realized they could squeeze oil out of them … but in order to make them so cheap they had to invent a large industrial process to do so. First the oil needs to get extracted out of the seed, which manufacturers use high heat and a toxic gas called “hexane” to get out every drop. You know what heat does to PUFA’s, oxidizes the crap out of them, so now we have a big vat of rancid oil. To make it palatable these manufacturers take 20 or so extra steps to bleach and deodorize the oil, which is why none of these oils have a very unique or strong flavor like other quality oils. Now not only is this oil completely toxic, but it’s a great and cheap preservative for just about every processed food on the store shelves.
If you think I’m making up this up, go look for yourself. This is 100% true.
And if you think organic expeller pressed oil is different, I’m sad to say it ain’t so. The process is very similar, minus the hexane, but still involves high heat and then a series of processes to make the rancid oil taste normal again. That means the oil in the bottle is already oxidized before you bring it home, where you may be exposing it to heat all over again.
How Refined Veggie Oils Wreak Havoc in your Body
Back to what I wrote before, oxidized PUFAs = free radicals, and these are the buggers that really cause internal damage. Free radicals are high energy electrons that don’t have a “pair”, so they zoom around from tissue to to cell to tissue looking for another electron to pair with. The intensity is high — think a crazy man on meth with a baseball bat — and one free radical can cause quite a bit of damage, not to mention they multiply within you! Yup, that’s right, if you consume just a little bit of free-radical soup (aka refined vegetable oil) they will multiply inside you by mutilating other previously-normal PUFAs with that baseball bat. This is referred to by chemists as a free radical cascade.
Want to see how a free radical cascade works? Fry something in vegetable oil in your frying pan. Better yet, go get something that's been deep fried. When you do you’ll notice that familiar and delicious crispyness that quickly happens, and much quicker than frying in traditional oils like butter or lard. I’m here imagining McDonalds hash browns that a perfectly crispy brown without being burnt (I used to love those as a kid). That, my friends, is actually a free radical cascade that “fuses” molecules together making them stiff and inflexible rather than a heart healthy fry. And it’s the exact same thing it does inside the body, causing system wide stiffness, inflammation, pain, and, well, heart attacks.
That same free radical cascade that makes your potatoes crispy works equally well on the food you’re cooking as it does frying the inside of your body. They actually blast the amount of vitamins and antioxidants down to lesser amounts than foods cooked in traditional oils. So as you cook with these oils you free-radicalize the nutrients you were hoping to eat, and then you ingest the nutrient-poor food plus the free radicals. Are you starting to hate these oils as much as Hitler yet?
It’s also important to remember that every cell in our body has a lipid membrane, meaning it’s encased in fat. Every cell. That means your entire cellular body (ie you) is going to be made up of the fats you eat. If you eat rancid vegetable oils your cell walls will be weak, the communication poor, the function less than optimal, and free radicals abound.
So what do I cook with?
This is easier than you think. Just remember, quality over quantity, and hard as it is sometimes to pay the price tag. Look for extra virgin, cold pressed, organic, and sustainably produced items. These are the oils that should make up your ancestral diet and the basis of your high fat meals.
High Heat Cooking:
Saturated fats such as ghee, lard, butter, coconut oil, palm oil. Animal fats should be pastured and tropical oils should be sustainably produced (since there’s a lot of rainforest destruction right now to make room for the global demand). Kerrygold is pastured Irish butter sold at Costco, which is an affordable option for good butter.
Med/Low Heat Cooking:
Monounsaturated oils such as extra virgin olive oil. Try to avoid expeller pressed.
Polyunsaturated oils like cold pressed flax, hemp, walnut, sesame, pumpkin, almond, or other seeds or nuts from food sources. Even sunflower. Must be cold pressed and in dark bottles, no expeller pressed.
Supplements - remain vigilant
Just as important as the oils you eat are the oils you supplement with. For many years I was taking a cheap fish oil supplement because I didn’t want to buy the expensive kind. What I didn’t understand was that it was better I didn’t take these fish oils at all. Highly processed and refined, the fish oil I was buying was a rancid PUFA, and instead of omega 3 benefits I was getting free radicals. In a pill. And paying for it.
It’s of course important to get quality omega 6 and 3 oils, especially for people with chronic pain. Without them, you won’t be able to create anti inflammatory prostaglandins your body needs to cool the fire. The thing (there’s always a thing) with eating omega oils is that your body must convert the oil from an omega into a usable form through processing in the liver. Omega 6 is turned into GLA, and Omega 3 is turned into ALA. When one’s liver is not functioning optimally — ahem, most endo ladies — this process is inefficient at best. That means it can help to supplement directly with GLA and ALA while you get your body back to optimal functioning, otherwise you can eat all the omega’s you want but no anti-inflammatory response will happen without the conversion in your liver.
The best supplemental omega 6’s that are already in GLA form include borage oil or evening primrose. Make sure you find oils that are cold pressed and in dark bottles
The only omega 3 supplement available that is already converted into ALA is fish oil (sorry vegans). This is a highly contaminated market though, with heavy metals, rancidity, pollution, and overfishing, so be very careful what you buy and ingest. The only brand I recommend is Rositas Extra Virgin Raw Cod Liver oil, which has been third party tested numerous times and is from a sustainable fishery. That’s not saying there aren’t others, but it’s the one I use and recommend after about a 1000 hours of research.
If you can’t afford the quality supplements, simply don’t buy them. If you stick with avoiding refined vegetable seed oils you’ll be laying a solid foundation already.
Want to Learn More
There's lots of great research available online and in books. You can check out the following links for other blogs:
Wellness Mama - The Post is AMAZINGLY in depth
TheTruthAboutCancer.com - great article on how these oils cause cancer
If you're looking for a GREAT read my personal favorite is Deep Nutrition, by Catherine Shanahan. She does an in depth look at how these oils not only affect your health, but also the health of your offspring!