What are the healthiest fats you can use in your kitchen? Well, that depends on who you ask. If you ask me, of course, I’ll tell you to use traditional fats that have been around forever — like beef tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, and of course, butter!
Usually, with modern guidelines of conventional “wisdom,” only one of those makes it onto the list of “healthy” fats— olive oil. Full of monounsaturated fats and antioxidant vitamin E, olive oil is prized for its supreme healthiness across the board.
But lately, olive oil has gotten some steep competition in the nutrition world . People everywhere are starting to claim that a new contender should be the cooking oil of choice for health-conscious consumers — grapeseed oil.
Just as it sounds, grapeseed oil is oil from the seeds of grapes. It’s a relatively recent invention — because grape seeds themselves don’t contain very much oil, so it requires the use of high-tech machinery and/or chemical solvents to extract the oil from the seeds. Grapeseed oil wasn’t around before the industrialization of our food supply because of this.
The seeds are a byproduct of the wine-making industry, so turning a waste like that into a highly-marketable health food was a pretty darn genius idea. But is grapeseed oil a good idea for you and your health?
The “Benefits” of Grapeseed Oil
Let’s take a look at the supposed benefits of cooking with grapeseed oil. Here’s what they say about it — “they” being, of course, the people trying to sell it to you.
- Grapeseed oil contains lots of vitamin E! Sure does. About twice as much as olive oil.
- Grapeseed oil is non-hydrogenated and has 0 trans fats! Yep. Claps for you.
- Grapeseed oil has NO cholesterol and very little saturated fat! Not exactly something I’d brag about, but, yes, this is true.
- Grapeseed oil has a high smoke point! It does have a moderately higher smoke point than olive oil.
- Grapeseed oil has the highest concentration of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, so it’s good for your heart! Yeah, it sure does have more PUFA than any other oil.
Think that doesn’t sound too bad? Well, let’s dig in a little deeper to what’s really in this stuff.
What the Makers of Grapeseed Oil Don’t Want You To Know
Okay. Here’s the deal. Grapeseed oil could be filled with magical sprinkles of billions of whatever kinds of super-special-anti-every-bad-thing-and-make-you-invincible-superhuman-superfood-nutrients there are, and I still wouldn’t eat it. Why?
Because the biggest, most glaring problem with grapeseed oil is, ironically, the one thing they’re touting as its healthiest benefit— it is extremely high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fat.
Grapeseed oil is over 70% omega-6 PUFA, with some brands boasting even higher levels— I’ve seen as high as 77% advertised!
Let’s compare this to other popular cooking oils.
- Corn oil: 54.5% Omega-6 PUFA
- Sunflower oil: 68%
- Vegetable oil (Look at the ingredients, there’s only one: soybean oil.): 51.4%
- Cottonseed oil: 52.4%
- Canola: 19.0%
Those are all extremely high in toxic PUFAs, but grapeseed oil tops them all. It is by far, the absolute highest in PUFA out of any cooking oil. Which is precisely why I recommend avoiding it entirely.
The Truth about Polyunsaturated Fats
What’s so bad about those PUFAs? Well, basically, human bodies can’t handle very much of them at all, without running into some serious health problems. And for almost all of human history, we consumed only a very small amount of polyunsaturated fat—whatever was naturally present in the food we ate.
But as the industrialization of our food supply brought new technology for creating all sorts of changes to the food we eat, that changed. We started extracting oils out of seeds that we never could have before. Making olive oil is easy—you squeeze it. But squeeze a kernel of corn, a soybean, or a sunflower seed? Not much happens, without lots of big machinery and a high-tech, chemical-based process.
So as a result, we began consuming more polyunsaturated fats (concentrated in modern cooking oils) than ever before. Today, we consume 1,585% more PUFA than we did 100 years ago. That’s a lot. It’s been by far the biggest change to our diet in recent history.
Healthy human cell walls are comprised of fats and cholesterol. And very, very little polyunsaturated fat. When we have too much polyunsaturated fat compared to the saturated fat that’s supposed to make up the fat in our bodies, bad things happen from that imbalance. Things like:
- Inflammation from free-radical damage. Everyone knows inflammation is bad. But excessive PUFA consumption, omega-6 in particular, causes serious inflammatory damage. Industrial PUFA oils contain tons of free-radicals, which are compounds that attack cell membranes and red blood cells, causing damage to DNA and RNA strands, and leading to cellular mutations in the body’s tissues. This leads to premature aging, plaque buildup in arteries, and even the formation of tumors.
- Oxidation of cholesterol and other tissues. Free radicals are formed when the PUFA is oxidized due to damage from heat, light, and pressure. PUFAs are extremely fragile and heat-sensitive, and their carbon bonds break very easily. Industrial oils are heated and pressurized to oblivion during the processing at the factory, requiring all sorts of chemicals and deodorizers to mask the rancidity and make the oil appear “clean.” But, even “cold-pressed” PUFA oils are going to wind up oxidized from heat damage, if you’re cooking with them—duh!
- Thyroid damage and increase in stress hormones. PUFAs directly interfere with the functioning of your thyroid gland. And, because of all the inflammation they cause when consumed in excess, counter-inflammatory stress hormones, like cortisol (A.K.A., the “belly fat” hormone). Too much PUFA consumption can cause hypothyroidism.
- Lowered metabolism. PUFAs clog up your cells’ ability to burn fuel and produce energy—in other words, your metabolism. Thyroid function governs metabolic function, so when PUFAs are inhibiting your thyroid, your metabolism suffers as well.
So, how much PUFA causes all those problems? Less than you might think. No more than 4% of your total calories should come from polyunsaturated fats—we’re talking omega-6 and omega-3 combined. The ideal ratio for consumption of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1. That occurs in natural foods, like grass-fed meats, dairy, and eggs, and even a little PUFA is found in in plant foods. But again, generally in very small amounts that are appropriate for human consumption.
Grapeseed Oil Versus Olive Oil
Like I mentioned earlier, grapeseed oil is so commonly touted now as being a “new and improved” take on the classic liquid cooking fat, olive oil. They say it beats out olive oil in just about every category, but is that really true?
The grapeseed oil manufacturers sure love to talk about how much “nutrition” their product has. Really this boils down to pretty much nothing other than the vitamin E content of the oil, compared to others—olive oil in particular.
If you look at the nutrition facts, you’ll see that they’re right. Grapeseed oil does happen to be particularly high in vitamin E—about 3.9 mg in a serving (tablespoon) of grapeseed oil, while olive oil has about 1.9 mg per serving.
That’s great and all, but it’s still not a good reason to consume or cook with grapeseed oil. Wanna know what else has lots of vitamin E? Butter! Particularly from grass-fed cows.
Here’s the breakdown of fats in both olive oil and grapeseed oil.
As you can see, pretty major differences in the PUFA content. Again, grapeseed oil is extremely high in polyunsaturated fat — but this is NOT something you want! It’s best to avoid excessive PUFA as much as possible.
Some makers of grapeseed oil will go on about how “pure” and wholesome their product is compared to other oils, or even other brands of grapeseed oil. That’s probably because most grapseed oil is industrially processed with hexane and other toxic, carcinogenic solvents used to extract and clean the oil, with traces of these chemicals remaining in the final product.
However, an expeller-pressed processed grapeseed oil is still rife with polyunsaturated fat, in concentrations which are highly toxic to humans. Doesn’t matter how “pure” those PUFAs are.
Olive oil also has trouble with the whole purity factor, unfortunately. Many brands of “EVOO” aren’t exactly “virginal.” Olive oil is a highly fraudulent food, meaning that it’s commonplace in the industry to lace the oil with cheaper ones like canola, and pass it off as “100% pure.” Recent studies have found several brands that pass the test for purity, such as this one.
Oh, and if you’ve been using grapeseed oil for its pure (or rather, nonexistent) taste, you can find tasteless, expeller-pressed coconut oil that is a truly healthy alternative here.
Suitability for high-temperature cooking
Because of grapseed oil’s relatively high smoke point of 420 degrees, the manufacturers claim that it is suitable for high-temperature frying and cooking. I’m not convinced. Because the smoke point of grapeseed oil is artificially high — grapeseed oil contains lots of phenols which are plant compounds that make it resistant to smoking. Phenols are protective, but much like polyunsaturated fatty acids themselves, they can only take so much. As the temperature rises, the phenols break down right along with the bonds of the fatty acid, and eventually allow the oil to smoke.
However, the PUFAs are still being oxidized and forming free radicals at lower temperatures than the smoke point. The phenols do not prevent this. Essentially, the smoke point is totally irrelevant in evaluating the effect of heat damage to the oil, and its subsequent health effects or safety.
The smoke point of olive oil is between 320 and 405 degrees (I suspect the differences in reporting have to do with the fact that much of the olive oil supply is adulterated with cheap industrial oils. You can find pure, real olive oil here). But since smoke point isn’t a good determining factor in the health or safety of cooking with an oil, it’s best to simply look at the makeup of the fat. Again, olive oil is much, much lower in easily-oxidizable polyunsaturated fat, at around 9.9%, compared with grapeseed’s over 70%.
Now, since olive oil is the clear winner here, should you cook with it? Well, that’s a story for another post. But I’ll sum up my thoughts here: saturated fats (butter, tallow, coconut oil, etc.) are best to use for cooking. They are the most resistant to heat damage and oxidation. Olive oil has very little saturated fat, and a significant amount of omega-6 PUFA. However, I don’t think cooking with it at low temperatures is the end of the world. Avoiding the nasty industrial oils—and even more recent inventions like grapeseed oil—is what’s most important, not worrying about traditional fats like olive oil. More on this next week!
Are you ready to ditch grapeseed oil?
Or have you been suspicious of it all along? What fats do you use in your cooking?
The Science of Skinny: Understanding Your Body’s Chemistry—and Stop Dieting Forever; McCaffrey, Dee; 2012