Updated: Mar 12
For a recent assignment I was asked to research and consider oils in the food we eat. So here are the results of my research on very common packaged food. The results might shock you!
1) Lay’s Salt and Vinegar Crisps
Oils used are sunflower, corn and canola. Sunflower oil is used a lot in processed foods as a lot of oil is gained from sunflower seeds, but the companies that are manufacturing refined sunflower oil for use in cooking or processed food production are purchasing the cheapest seeds available. They are not investing in non-GMO, organic seeds. Their seeds are exposed to pesticides and other toxins and are of low quality.
To make matters worse, the oil is extracted from the seeds using high temperatures, friction and even chemical solvents, all of which lead to damaged oil that begins going rancid before it’s even bottled.
There’s no point in buying high-quality seeds if you’re going to destroy the nutritional value in the extraction process, right?
Adding insult to injury, to make the oil look and smell more appealing, companies will often bleach their oil before they bottle it. This process removes any cloudiness from the oil, makes it lighter in colour, and removes its natural scent. It also makes it much more difficult to determine whether or not the oil is rancid.
In its unrefined state, pressed without the high temperatures, chemical solvents and bleach, sunflower oil can be very nutritious.
It can help keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart attacks, provide you with more energy, boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and it even has some impressive beauty benefits, like improving the look and feel of your skin and hair. Sometimes, manufacturers proudly display on the packaging that they are using sunflower oil in the product.
As stated in the above lesson, when oil is refined with heat or chemicals, the nutrients are broken down or stripped away and can make the oil go rancid, which can make free radicals to form, producing oxidative stress in the body.
Vegetable oils also contain a high concentration of omega 6 fatty acids; most people get too many Omega 6s and not enough Omega 3s. The ideal ratio is between 4:1 and 1:1 (omega 6: omega 3). In 1960 the ratio was 1:2. in 2006 it was 20:1 or higher.
Corn oil has a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids with stability against oxidation. The refinement of corn oil removes free fatty acids from crude corn oil, enabling the finished product to have excellent frying qualities, resistance to smoking and discoloration, flavour retention and digestibility, according to the Corn Refiners Association.
Many brands of corn oil are derived from corn grown worldwide that is genetically modified for resistance to herbicides and pesticides. Genetically modified corn is relatively new to human and animal diets. The short- and long-term health consequences from consumption of genetically modified corn are not entirely known. Research reports that consumption of genetically modified corn causes toxicity of the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, spleen and heart in rats. The research demonstrates the level of toxicity is often dose- dependent, meaning that as consumption of genetically modified corn increases, the level of toxicity increases.
Eating foods fried, cooked or prepared with corn oil may increase your risk of cancer. Corn oil contains a high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-6 fatty acids accelerate the growth of cancer cells, such as prostate tumour cells, and tumour growth, whereas omega-3 fatty acids protect the body from cancer, according to research. Most omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils, such as corn oil, are available as linoleic acid that is converted to arachidonic acid in the body (a type of omega-6 fatty acid) promotes prostate cancer and supports the spread of cancer to the bone.
In addition, people tend to overeat foods cooked in corn oil, which can lead to obesity and fatty liver.
Like corn and sunflower oil, canola oil is likely to be sourced from genetically modified, pesticide sprayed crops, plus the use of chemical solvents in the production and the inclusion of trans fats. It was developed as an alternative to rapeseed oil which was found to cause serious health issues in the 1970s; erucic acid acid was linked to heart muscle damage. Also the high levels of glucosinolates (anti nutrients that prevent iodine absorption), even made rapeseed unsafe for animal consumption.
Canadian researchers cross-bred a new variety of rapeseed with lower levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid and was trademarked canola oil (honouring the country where it hailed).
At the time the sugar industry began paying scientists for studies that linked fat intake with heart disease and therefore saturated fat became public enemy no. 1, giving way to low saturated fat oils like canola that boasted seemingly healthy dietary statistics.
As production of canola exponentially grew, growers needed a way to protect their crops. In 1995, agricultural giant Monsanto developed Roundup-Ready canola (Brassica napus) plants that were bio-engineered to survive glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. This allowed farmers to douse their canola crops in glyphosate to kill off weeds without harming their crops.
Studies link high levels of glyphosate exposure to numerous health risks in people, including celiac disease, hormone disruption and even cancer.
Most commercially available canola oil is extracted through a process called hexane solvent extraction which is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to extract canola oil. After grinding the seed to a paste, hexane is used to extract the oil, which is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and then bleached to create a lighter-coloured final product. These manufacturing processes leave the oils damaged, creating higher levels of oxidation and trans fat content. All refined vegetable oils go through a process called deodorization, which creates trans fats.
Hydrogenated trans fats, like you’ll find in canola oil and ultra-processed foods, aren’t good for you. They’re associated with heart disease, obesity and even memory loss. A recent test of canola and soybean oils on grocery store shelves found trans fat content levels between 0.56% and 4.2% of total fatty acid content.[
In 2003, the FDA ruled that the amount of trans fat in a food item must be stated on the label. Research showed that the fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils raise “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower “good” cholesterol (HDL). The FDA also allowed food manufacturers to label food as 0% trans fat if it contains less than 0.5g/serving. This is misleading if you’re consuming more than the serving size — a single tablespoon. This is the case in this packet of crisps!
More recently, food companies started blending fully hydrogenated oils with liquid vegetable oils in a process called interesterification. This process makes the interesterified oil behave like a partially hydrogenated oil without any of the trans fat.
On paper, this sounds great, but there haven’t been any studies on the effects of these newly constructed fats on the human body, however it’s unlikely to be good!
Overall canola oil production processes are tied to health concerns such as heart disease, inflammation, cellulite, strokes, Alzheimer’s and asthma and health communities are concerned about the way canola is now farmed, processed and used in food production.
Palm oil has a high saturated fat content, which can be harmful to cardiovascular health, however the vegetable oil is also a great source of tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E - an “antioxidant that provides protection to your cells and that can reduce your risk of certain health problems such as heart disease and cancer,”
The main issue is that palm oil is extremely harmful impact on the planet. To produce palm oil, the fruit is collected from the trees, which can live an average of 28 to 30 years. However, once the trees grow too high, making it difficult to reach the fruit, they are cut down to make room for new trees - which contributes to deforestation of the rainforest.
To keep up with the incredibly high demand for the cheaply produced oil, acres of rainforest are being cut down - leading to a loss of animal habitat for endangered species.
In the past 16 years, the quest for palm oil has led to the death of an estimated 100,000 orangutans. Other animals such as elephants, rhinos and tigers are also at risk.
The conversion of rainforest into plantations also contributes to climate change as the process releases high amounts of carbon emissions into the air.
The flash on the front of the packet says that the crisps are Gluten Free, which may indicate to some people that these are a ‘healthy’ snack. However, again sunflower and canola oil are used, along with safflower oil.
This oil claims to improve your metabolism, lower cholesterol, and support heart health because it’s free of saturated fat.
All vegetable oils can have many adverse health effects, and of all the vegetable oils, safflower oil is perhaps the worst. That’s because it has more linoleic acid — an inflammatory and easily spoiled polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) — than any other oil on the market.
Starting in the 1960s, safflower oil became one of the main sources of vegetable oil. Like other seed oils, safflower oil is expeller pressed to extract oil from safflower seeds.
The oil is then refined, a process which removes vitamin E, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and most of the oil’s flavour. You’re left with a neutral cooking oil used in salad dressings, margarine, and various skincare products.
The fatty acid profile of safflower seed oil is:
79% polyunsaturated fatty acid, or PUFA (mostly linoleic acid)12% monounsaturated fatty acid, or MUFA (mostly oleic acid)9% saturated fatty acid, or SFA (mostly palmitic acid).
In studies, vegetable oil makes people gain weight, can cause inflammation and insulin resistance. PUFAs are fragile and break down (become oxidised) under high temperatures so are not good for cooking; these crisps have been fried in the oil.
Oxidized fats release free radicals into your system, which causes widespread inflammation. Your LDL particles also pick up oxidized fats, which contributes to heart disease.
4) Plant Based Mozzarella
As well as being a processed product, this mozzarella uses coconut oil. It probably uses refined coconut oil which is "dry milled," meaning the coconuts have been baked prior to the oil being extracted. Then the oil is "bleached" to kill off microbes and remove any dust particles and insects. Bleaching doesn't involve a household cleaner, but rather a process by which the oil is passed through a bleaching clay for filtration. As this is a processed product, many of the nutrients associated with raw/ cold pressed coconut would be deleted. Also coconut oil is a saturated fat and should be limited in its use.
5) Puff Pastry
This product uses ‘vegetable’ oil in the margarine in this pastry. It doesn’t even get specific about the type of oil used either. One can only guess that it would be the cheapest. Again, a processed product with a number of other additives.
In conclusion, understand where your oils come from and their health effect on the body. Read your labels. Most of all keep manufactured food to a minimum and choose whole food sources instead.