How Bad are Cooking Oils?
by Udo Erasmus PhD.
Cooking oils are highly processed, using manufacturing methods that are destructive to oil molecules. These practices are utilized primarily to lengthen and stabilize the shelf life of oils. Because many people are unaware of the methods used to make these oils, I thought I would offer an explanation of the cooking oil industry’s manufacturing secrets.
After oils are pressed or solvent extracted from seeds and nuts, they are degummed, refined, bleached, and deodorized. The result is known as an RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized oil) and these oils, as a result, become colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Sellers recommend these oils for salads, baking, and frying.
What many people don’t know is that valuable ‘minor ingredients’ including antioxidants, phytosterols, chlorophyll, flavor molecules, color molecules, lecithin, and other oil-soluble beneficial molecules are removed too.
In addition, 0.5 to 1% of the oil molecules themselves are damaged during the processing. Some of these molecules have been isolated, tested with animals, and found to be very toxic. The damaged molecules found in cooking oils are much more toxic than the trans- fats which, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, double the risk of heart attacks, kill at least 30,000 people in the US every year, and increase diabetes.
To make cooking oils, the industry treats them with:
- NaOH (a very corrosive base used to burn clogged sink and drain pipes open). NaOH is used to remove the natural, alkali-soluble ‘minor ingredients’ from the oil. These minor ingredients are good for health, but diminish product shelf life and that is why manufacturers choose to remove them from the oil and discard them.
- H3PO4 (a very corrosive acid used commercially for degreasing windows). H3PO4 removes the acid-soluble ‘minor ingredients’. Again, for the sake of longer shelf life, which makes larger market gains, fewer returns due to spoilage, and greater profits, these natural molecules with health benefits are removed.
- Bleaching clays are used which damage the molecules that give oil its color. Because the color molecules absorb light, and subsequently, the light then damages oil molecules, this process is carried out to obtain greater shelf stability at the expense of health benefits. Unfortunately, bleaching produces rancidity, which imparts bad odor to oils. The rancid oil must then be cleaned up to remove the bad flavor and odor. The oil must be De-odor-ized.
- Deodorization takes place at frying temperatures (between 220° and 245°C). The bad odors and flavors are removed, and the oil becomes colorless, odorless, and tasteless, but these cooking oils are now palatable and have a long shelf life.
Unfortunately, many changes happen to oil during these processes used to improve shelf life and profit. The ‘minor ingredients’ with major health benefits are removed, including:
- Phytosterols, which protect both cardiovascular and immune systems;
- Lecithin, which emulsifies oils and makes them easier to digest;
- Chlorophyll-a source of the essential mineral magnesium, which is required for muscle, heart, and nerve functions, and is required for insulin function, is used in natural treatments to reverse and prevent cancer, is involved in most of the chemical reactions in the body by which energy is made, and is inadequately present in 80% of the population; and Phytosterols, which protect both cardiovascular and immune systems;
- Antioxidants including the essential vitamin E, carotene and others, which keep oils fresh longer, protect the body from aging by neutralizing molecular terrorists called ‘free radicals’, and thereby inhibiting aging and prolonging life.Lecithin, which emulsifies oils and makes them easier to digest;
These ‘minor ingredients’ with major health benefits are removed, and the oil becomes unbalanced. You can find more detailed information on the nutrient losses that oils suffer during processing in my book, Fats That Heal Fats That Kill.
In addition to the removal of beneficial nutrients, 0.5 to 1% of the oil molecules are changed into substances that have never been present in nature, do not fit into the very precise molecular architecture of the human (or animal) body, and therefore have highly toxic effects on life’s biochemical processes.
You might think that the percentage of these changed molecules is not high, but given their high toxicity, our daily consumption of such damaged oils, and the actual number of molecules that comprise this damage ( 0.5 to 1% ), you are looking at a much more serious concern. Let me do the numbers:
- The oil in a 32-ounce bottle of cooking oil (1 quart) weighs about 900 grams. A molecule of oil (called a triglyceride molecule) has a molecular weight of between 800 and 1,000 (let’s average that to 900 to make the math easy). The rules of physical chemistry tell us that the molecular weight (900) in grams of a molecule (in this case, 900 grams of oil = triglyceride) (i.e. the 900 grams of oil found in a 32-ounce bottle) contains about 6.02×1023 molecules.
- That’s a very large number: 602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules (12 zeros make a trillion, and 9 zero’s makes a billion, so a bottle of oil contains 602 billion trillion molecules). Of these molecules, if 1% is damaged, it means there are 6 billion trillion damaged molecules. If only 0.5% of them are damaged, the number is (only!) 3 billion trillion molecules. How many bottles of cooking oil used in salads, baked goods, fried foods, and hidden in other consumed items does a person eating a ‘normal’ diet consume in a lifetime?
- At a conservative estimate of one tablespoon of oil (containing 10 billion trillion molecules, with 1% or 100 million trillion damaged ones) per day (consumed in salad dressings, mayonnaise, fried and deep fried foods, and hidden oil in baked and other prepared foods), a 32-ounce bottle would last about 2 months. That’s six bottles per year. Fifty years of this consumption is 300 bottles over a lifetime. This is a conservative estimate. Many people use substantially more than that.
Our body contains about 100 trillion cells.
From one bottle of oil, each of our cells would obtain about 6 billion damaged toxic oil molecules.
Each daily tablespoon (1% toxic molecules) would provide 100 million toxic molecules per cell per day.
How many toxic oil molecules would that person eat over an entire lifetime? At our estimate, it would be 1,800 billion (or 1.8 trillion damaged, health-destroying molecules).
Studies with bacteria have shown that only 2 molecules per cell of certain nutrients are needed to turn on a gene and to alter cell biochemistry. If genes are this sensitive to nutrient molecules, do you suppose that 100 million toxic molecules beating up each cell could affect your genes and have effects on the health of that cell? You betcha.
The damaged oil molecules produced by processing ‘cooking oils’ include fragmented molecules, double-bond shifted molecules, trans- fats, cross-linked molecules within triglycerides, cross-linked molecules across triglycerides, cyclized molecules, and many other fatty acid aberrations. Some of these have been tested in animals and found to be very toxic indeed. Further information on this topic is available in the book, Fats That Heal Fats That Kill.
In practice, the use of these oils, especially the omega-6 rich corn and safflower oils, which have been studied for many years, show a correlation with increased cancer. When ‘cooking oils’ are used for cooking (which today means frying), further damage occurs to the oils by light, oxygen, and high temperature. Frying is also associated with increased cancer, cardiovascular disease, and probably inflammatory diseases.
In supermarkets, all oils except extra virgin olive oil have been processed by the same destructive methods. Extra virgin olive oil, while not damaged by processing, is a poor source of essential fats, and provides less that 1% omega-3 and only 10% omega-6. When extra virgin olive oil is fried, it is extensively damaged. It should not be used for frying, but should be added to foods after they come off the heat. The oils that are processed with a corrosive base, window washing acid, bleaching clays, and then heated to frying temperatures before they go in the bottles include corn, safflower, soybean, canola, and the other oils found on the shelf in supermarkets, convenience stores, and even health food stores in transparent glass or plastic bottles. If oil does not say ‘unrefined’ on its label, it has been processed by the methods described above.
Oils made with health (rather than shelf life) in mind are pressed from organically grown seeds and nuts, protected from destruction by light, air (oxygen), and heat during pressing, filtering, and filling into dark glass bottles.
Udo’s Choice Oil BlendT has a box around the brown glass bottle to prevent all light from entering the container. These oils, made by Flora Inc., are refrigerated in the factory and refrigerated in stores. They are found in health food stores, gyms, and the offices of some health practitioners.
We recommend that you keep the oil refrigerated or frozen at home, and use it on cold, warm, and hot foods (it’s okay in hot soup or on steamed veggies once these foods are in your bowl or on your plate). Please never use these oils for frying. All of the care that is taken to keep them fresh and healthy is lost in a few minutes in a hot frying pan. The better the oil is for you, the more toxic it becomes should you fry with it.
If you insist on frying, use hard fat like lard or butter.
Hard fats are less toxic when fried than are liquid oils. From the point of view of what is best for health, frying cannot be recommended. Burned food is toxic. No animal eats it. We also should not eat burned foods if we want to live long and prosper in good health.
This article originally appeared at UdoErasmus.com