Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Mostly I would get rid of the safflower, sunflower, corn oil, peanut oil, anything that says vegetable oil.
Hey, welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s farm too. It’s with an F. A place for conversations that matter. And if you’ve ever been confused about oils and fat and what to eat and what not to eat, you might want to listen up because this conversation’s going to help clarify a little bit about the confusion about what we call seed and bean oils. Basically, vegetable oil, plant oils. And there’s a lot of research around it. There’s a lot of contradictory information out there online. There’s a lot of conflicting studies. How do you make sense of it all? What is the truth? What’s hyperbole? What’s being ignored? What do we really need to know about this?
So this is part of our series called Health Bites, which is little bites of health information to improve your health using small steps every day that can really make a big change over time. Now, we were all taught, when I was a kid, that vegetable oil… And by the way, what the hell is vegetable oil? You see vegetable on a bottle in a store… You’re like, “What is that? Broccoli oil?” I mean, that just does not even exist. So we’re talking about seed and bean and nut oil like soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, canola oil. These are all these oils that are out there. And by the way, there is something called vegetable oil which you can buy in the grocery store. I have no idea what that is. Anyway, I wouldn’t eat that. We’re all trained that they’re better for you and that we should be avoiding butter and saturated fat and animal fats.
And so there’s been a big push to shift our diet from consuming more saturated fats to more unsaturated fats. And saturation and and unsaturation, it’s just, it’s a chemical classification based on how many of the sort of carbons are saturated with hydrogen on a fat molecule. So the more saturated it is, the more hard it is at room temperature, the more hydrogens there are. It’s basically just basically the classification system. But basically, they have different functions in your body. And basically, we’re told that we should not be eating these saturated fats. They cause high cholesterol, they clog our arteries, they lead to heart disease. And basically, we’re told to swap out saturated for unsaturated fats or called PUFAs or the omega-6 fatty fatty acids in these vegetable oils or vegetable oils.
And they’re everywhere. They’re kind of clear in cases. They’re highly refined. They’re processed with hexane, they’re deodorized. I mean, they’re really extremely highly processed foods. Now, some like olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, they’re simple pressing. You can do it with like a machine, there’s like a press and it squeezes the oil out. That’s a very different thing than the kind of aggressive extraction methods they use for modern processed plant oils.
Now, these oils are by definition unstable. Right? If you take lard and you keep it at room temperature and you leave it there for two months, it’s fine. If you take a plant oil and you leave it out, it’s going to become oxidized. So it becomes very easily damaged. They’re more unstable, more easily damaged, more oxidized. More oxidation leads to more inflammation. And they can be problematic. And so these oils can be more inflammatory. But there’s certain caveats we’ll talk about in that context. But the American Heart Association, the National Education Cholesterol Program, the National Institutes of Health, and even our government’s own dietary guidelines are telling us to swap out saturated fat for these unsaturated fats or these plant oils. And a lot of well respected doctors and scientists have been telling us this for a long, long time. And we’ve been listening. It turns out it’s not so clear cut.
We were talking about why we should maybe change our perspective and be a little more nuanced about this. Black and white thinking is not helpful in any subject, particularly nutrition. And so really, is it all or nothing? Should we eliminate completely plant oils from our diet? Which oils should we a hundred percent eliminate? Which oils can we include somewhat? Should we be eating only saturated fat like coconut oil and butter and lard? I mean, what is the right answer here? And I wrote a whole book about this called Eat Fat, Get Thin. You want to go into more detail about it. But essentially we’re a little bit confused. And it’s not surprising because there was an article for example in 2010 from Tufts University that concluded there’s a lot of benefit from cutting out saturated fat and increasing our intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids or the PUFAs or these plant oils.
Now, the same group looked in 2014 at a meta analysis of all the literature, kind of looking at 72 different studies. I think it was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They found no benefit to reducing saturated fat for cardiovascular disease or increased polyunsaturated fats, except there was a benefit for increasing omega-3 fats. So this is really key is the omega-3 fat piece is really important. Omega-3 fats are basically from wild food, wild fish, wild plants. We don’t eat that much anymore.
But omega-3s are really important for our brain function, our skin health, our immune health, inflammation regulation, so many different things. And usually comes from wild fish at this point. Sardines are one of the best sources. So we should be paying attention to that. But we’re not easily clear about this because there’s so much conflicting data and experts can’t seem to agree. Like, you’ve got top nutrition scientists out there that think one thing and from the NIH and another group that thinks the opposite. So how do we even begin to sort of come up with what would actually make sense here in terms of what’s the truth. And that’s what I want to kind of unpack today a little bit.
So the basic idea is that if you consume these PUFAs, these polyunsaturated fatty acids, it lowers LDL cholesterol, which is true. If you basically cut out saturated fat and you add in these plant oils, your seed and bean oils, you will tend to have a lower LDL cholesterol. But is that enough to recommend that we should be doing this? And I think it’s confusing because lowering LDL is not necessarily the key to reversing heart disease. It has to do with a lot of factors and some resistance, oxidation, inflammation, and so forth.
So there was one really quite amazing study. And I’m going to sort of preface this by saying that most of the studies that we’re looking at these polyunsaturated fats are observational studies, population studies. Some are interventional studies where you can do a trial and get an answer about cause and effect. But they’re a little hard to sort of decipher because in studies, for example, where people are eating a lot of saturated fat, they’re also eating a lot of sugar and starch. And it’s very different putting butter on your bagel than putting butter on your broccoli because when you put butter on your bagel, you’re adding starch and saturated fat. And that’s deadly. Adding butter to your broccoli, not so much a problem. So if you really have a low intake of starch and sugar and you eat saturated fats, it won’t necessarily be as big of an issue.
And there’s some genetics that has to do with who can tolerate saturated fat. And I don’t know if we’ll have time to get into that today, but it’s a little more nuanced. But basically, it’s not necessarily only the saturated fat. It’s what you’re eating it with. So if you cut out starch and sugar, saturated fats don’t seem to be the boogieman. And you can have a good look at my book. There’s some increasing knowledge about this since my book was released; I think it was in 2016 maybe. You can get a sense of really where this was at by having a look at the book.
But the other problem is a lot of the studies looking at omega-6s, omega-3s, polyunsaturated fats were confusing because they combine different types of oil. For example, certain oils like corn oil, safflower oil, peanut oil are plant oils, but they’re almost entirely omega-6. Whereas other oils like canola or soybean oil have a mixture of omega-6 and omega-3. So when you look at the data, people who just consumed the omega-6s, but no omega-3s had far worse outcomes, had far worse outcomes in terms of heart attacks and death. So we know that’s not good just to have omega-6 oils by themselves, especially in a society that’s omega-3 deficient. So we basically used to eat a lot of wild stuff and have a ratio of omega-6 to 3, about 4 to 1, 2 to 1. Now it can be up to 20 to 1. I had a patient who was diabetic, heart failure, very overweight, really ate junk food all the time. And her ratio was 20 to 1, which is just a disaster. Very low omega-3s, very high omega-6s.
So you have to be kind of not just lump all the plant oils into one bucket. You have to kind of be a little more nuanced. And you can actually look online. There’s a table I think on Wikipedia showing the ratios of omega-6 and 3 for every plant oil. So you can kind of stick away from the ones like corn oil. So there was a study that was done. And then I always want to talk about this for a minute because it’s a really important study. It was done in the ’60s. You couldn’t do that study now. It’s unethical. But it was done in a psychiatric hospital where they had complete control over their diets. And they gave one group butter and one group as a source of fat and one group corn oil. Now the corn oil group, even though they had a lower LDL cholesterol, dramatically lower, there was a higher risk of heart attacks in stroke and death compared…
And it was a randomized controlled trial, which is really hard to do on like 9,000 people. It’s just impossible to do that because you have to lock people up to do this. Right? And people don’t want to be locked up. So this was a locked up people, basically who were able to be experimented on before ethics rules. And they found this incredible result which was the opposite of what we thought. And it was buried by the scientists who did the study because they couldn’t believe it. So they didn’t actually publish it. And it was funded by the government and they should have published it. And it was some guy finding a bunch of files in a basement like 40 years later. They finally kind of assembled the data and published the study and it was really quite impressive study.
And it really showed that if you’re just looking at pure omega-6 and comparing that to saturated fat, that the omega-6 did far worse even though they lowered the LDL cholesterol more than… And that was dramatic. So I think that’s just an important cautionary note. If you’re consuming these oils, make sure you have enough omega-3s in your diet. So you really, I think, looking at historically, we used to get these omega-6 oils from foods we ate; from beans, from seeds, from grains. Basically, we’d get these from the plants we ate, nuts, and they’re fine. And they’re fine to consume from the whole food sources. I don’t have anywhere… You want to have corn? It’s got corn oil in it. If you want to have a peanuts? Eat the peanuts. You know? Don’t eat the peanut oil. Don’t eat the corn oil.
If you want to use some expeller or cold pressed organic non-GMO soybean or canola oil, I think it’s probably okay in small amounts as long as you’re getting enough omega-3s. And omega-3s are more in the soy and canola oil. But most canola and soybean oil are GMO. Most of them are sprayed with glyphosate. Most of them are highly refined, deodorized, and processed in ways that may make them more harmful. So it’s really nuanced, but it’s not like, “Oh, soybean and canola are okay.” They’re okay if they’re made in a certain way and they come from a certain place and they’re not GMO and they’re not overly processed in certain ways that we just talked about. So I think that’s an important distinction. So mostly I would get rid of the safflower, sunflower, corn oil, peanut oil, anything that says vegetable oil.
In terms of butter, lard, coconut oil, saturated fats are generally okay for most people, especially if you have poor metabolic health. They seem to do better in people who are insulin resistant. There’s a subset of people, they’re called lean mass hyper-responders; I’m one of them. If I eat too much saturated fat, it actually adversely affects my lipids. And then what often happens with saturated fat, especially coconut for example, raises your LDL but also raises your HDL, which is a good cholesterol. And overall, your profile gets better. So it’s a little more nuanced than we’re led to believe.
Also, if you want to get more omega-3s in your diet, you can eat wild fish like sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies. If you want to eat wild food like wild bison, wild elk, wild kind of deer, you can buy these now. They’re raised and they’re fed their natural diets. We generally raised cows who can also be higher in omega-3s and lower in omega-6s. It’s really possible to do that. I think it’s really important. For example, wild meat and grass-fed beef contained about seven times as much omega-3s as industrially raised animals, which have almost none. And most of what our grandparents ate were pasture raised, regenerative, organic, grass-fed. Right? And they didn’t get hormones, antibiotics. There was nothing else to eat.
So getting refined oils in our diet I think been a problem as a society, particularly because we’ve kind of eliminated omega-3s and because we’ve had all these refined processes. So I would be very careful about consuming too much of just pure omega-6 fats. You can check your ratio. You can go to functionhealth.com. you can actually get a membership. And one of the tests we check for is your omegas index, which looks at all of your essential fatty acids, omega-3s, omega-6s and saturated fat. And we can get a real picture of where you’re at. You want to know what’s happening and not guess.
The other problem is if you eat too much of the omega-6s, it actually inhibits the conversion of the plant-based omega-3s. So let’s say you’re eating walnuts or chia seeds or flax seeds and have omega-3s are, which have ALA or alpha-Linolenic acid, it actually prevents the conversion by inhibiting an enzyme called delta-6-desaturase, which is necessarily the conversion of the omega-6s… I mean, omega-3s that are the plant form, ALA, to the omega-3s that we need for our brain to regulate inflammation and for everything else, which is called EPA and DHA. And it reduces that conversion. So there’s many reasons that kind of interferes with things.
So I would basically avoid consuming too much of this. There’s been some population studies showing that high levels of omega-6s can contribute to more inflammatory diseases, can cause more mental illness, suicide, homicide. This is work out of the NIH. So I think Dr. Joseph [inaudible 00:15:19] has done a lot of this work. You can look at his research. It’s quite interesting. And it’s a bit nuanced, so you have to kind dig into it. It took me a long time to figure it out because I was trying to cut through the noise of what I was hearing from this paper or that paper or this expert or that expert or [inaudible 00:15:36] contradicting everybody else. I’m like, I want to look at the literature myself. And basically I concluded what I just shared with you. And so you want to get rid of these things.
And I think we really are unfortunately overloaded in these oils. I think we should be limiting them. We should be only probably using my favorite oils, which are extra virgin, expeller pressed or cold press oils. Extra virgin olive oil. MCT oil is okay actually; has a very limited effect on your cholesterol, if at all. It’s anti-inflammatory, may help improve your metabolism and cholesterol. Avocados are great. Grass-fed meats are great. Grass-fed butter. Nuts are great. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia. Seeds are great. Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, all fine. Fatty fish: sardines, mackerel, herring, wild salmon, full of omega-3 fat.
So it’s really important to sort of get your oils right in your diet, to get the right kind of oil changed, to make sure you’re not eating too much of these refined oils, to make sure, if you’re having any of the plant oils, that you make sure they’re limited quantities, that you’re using basically the combination oils that are soy or canola that are not GMO, that are organic, and so forth. And also add in… You can add in different oils for like macadamia oil or walnut oil or almond oil. You can cook with these things. You can use them for flavoring. They’re different things, but they shouldn’t be staples.
And my staple oils are basically extra virgin olive oil. I use avocado oil. I use little ghee and butter, grass-fed butter, and a little bit of coconut oil sometimes. So that’s basically makes it really simple. But I think we should be aware that this is a complex topic. We’re still learning about it. And I think it’s easy to be all over the place in terms of what your understanding is. But I hope this little health bite helped clarify for you my perspective on oil and fat. And if you want to learn more, my book, Eat Fat, Get Thin. Learn more from there. And hopefully you liked this podcast. Tell us what you’ve learned about your oil consumption, what’s happened when you’ve modified yours, and how do you feel. And if you like this podcast, share with your friends and family. And we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
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