New research published in the journal Advances in Nutrition suggests vegetable oils—like canola, sunflower, and corn—raise levels of inflammation in your body if consumed too often.
This is because when these oils are heated to a high degree, a harmful chemical process called oxidation occurs in their omega-6 fatty acids.
However, these oils can be consumed in moderation. Additionally, you can substitute vegetable oils with options rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseed oil.
Health warnings against saturated fat consumption have become commonplace, leading many people to reach for other cooking options like vegetable oils. Choices like canola, soybean, sunflower, and corn oil offer polyunsaturated fats instead, which are promoted as healthier choices. But new commentary published in the journal Advances in Nutrition suggests they may also be problematic.
Researchers wrote that daily consumption of these oils—especially when they’ve been heated to a high degree, as you would do if you are deep-frying a food—creates a harmful chemical process called oxidation in their omega-6 fatty acids. That, in turn, raises the level of inflammation in your body, especially the more you consume. They suggested that this process may play a crucial role in the occurrence of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
This is far from the first time that omega-6 oils and their oxidation effect have been under scrutiny. Studies like this one and this one have linked this type of fatty acid to more inflammation and, subsequently, to higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammation-driven conditions.
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That might make it sound like you should avoid omega-6s, but that’s not the case, Madison, Wisconsin-based dietitian Kara Hoerr, M.S., R.D., told Bicycling. In fact, omega-6 fatty acids are necessary for regulating your brain function, bone health, and metabolism, so it’s all about the amount you’re including in your diet.
“Vegetable oils can be included in a healthy diet, but it’s important to look at how much we’re consuming of these oils,” she said. “Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, which means we can’t make them on our own, but most of us in the U.S. are consuming much more omega-6s than omega-3 fatty acids.”
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is about 4:1—four parts omega-6 to one part omega-3—Hoerr said. But many Americans are consuming closer to 15:1, and this imbalance is what’s driving inflammation, rather than just the vegetable oil on its own.
The best way to change your ratio is to boost your consumption of omega-3-rich choices, she suggested, which help fight inflammation and improve heart health. That means eating more fatty fish like salmon or mackerel, chia seeds, ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
“While it’s easy to focus on what we should eliminate or reduce in our diet, we’re better off if we focus on what we need to increase,” she said.
In this case, introducing more omega-3 options to your diet may naturally replace some of your omega-6-heavy oils and balance out the ratio—reducing inflammation along the way.
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