Vegetable oils and margarine are some of the most misunderstood and over-recommended foods in the health community. You’ve probably heard these referred to as “heart healthy oils,” a good alternative to those “artery clogging saturated fats.”
These oils are supposed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, increase weight loss, and somehow improve overall health.
Only one problem…. again, science doesn’t back these claims up!
What Are Vegetable Oils/Margarine?
Vegetable oils (and margarine, made from these oils) are oils extracted from seeds like the rapeseed (canola oil) soybean (soybean oil), corn, sunflower, safflower, etc. They were practically non-existent in our diets until the early 1900s when new chemical processes allowed them to be extracted.
Unlike butter or coconut oil, these vegetable oils can’t be extracted just by pressing or separating naturally. They must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered. These are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets, yet they get promoted as healthy.
Vegetable oils are found in practically every processed food, from salad dressing to mayo to conventional nuts and seeds. These oils are some of the most harmful substances you can put into your body, but more on that in a minute!
How Vegetable Oils are Made
Vegetable oils are manufactured in a factory, usually from genetically modified crops that have been heavily treated with pesticides. This article has fascinating videos contrasting the production of vegetable oils and butter.
Take for instance, the common Canola oil, the beauty queen of the vegetable oil industry. It was developed by making a hybrid version of the rapeseed, and it was given its name in the 1980s as part of a marketing effort organized by a conference on mono-saturates.
Rapeseed oil contains high amounts of the toxic erucic acid, which is poisonous to the body. Canola oil is an altered version, also called Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed (LEAR) and it is commonly genetically modified and treated with high levels of pesticides.
Canola (modified rapeseed oil) is produced by heating the rapeseed and processing with a petroleum solvent to extract the oil. Then another process of heat and addition of acid is used to remove nasty solids (wax) that occur during the first processing.
At this point, the newly created canola oil must be treated with more chemicals to improve color and separate the different parts of the oil. Finally, since the chemical process has created a harsh smelling oil, it must be chemically deodorized to be palatable.
If the vegetable oil is going to be made into shortening or margarine, it undergoes an additional process called hydrogenation to make it solid at cold temperatures.
Unlike saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, etc.) vegetable oils are not naturally solid at these temperatures and must be hydrogenated to accomplish this. During this process of hydrogenation, those lovely trans fats we’ve heard so much about are created.
This chart from this informative article on the history and production of canola oil shows the process in more detail:
Nothing like petroleum produced, overheated, oxidized, and chemically deodorized salad dressing for dinner…. yum.
(Compare that to butter… Step 1: milk cow. Step 2: let cream separate naturally. Step 3: skim off cream. Step 4: shake until it becomes butter.)