Lately I have been on a rampage against commonly used inflammatory vegetable oils. They are everywhere, in every dressing, sauce, packaged good, and even in frozen vegetable mixtures and “healthy” items. Because of what I know about how these inflammatory oils impact our cell membranes and lead to oxidative damage, I get enraged that so many food companies and “health coaches” or nutrition experts promote their use.
The main oils I try to stay away from are vegetable, corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, and safflower. The reason these oils wreak havoc on cellular health is because they are in the category of omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS). Omega 6 oils are not bad on their own, and we actually need them, but when we are consuming more omega 6 oils than omega 3s, excessive inflammation can occur. Also, these oils are very sensitive to oxidation under high heat, which can also cause damage on the cellular level.
In a perfect world, we would have a balance between omega 3 fats and omega 6 fats. In the era of processed convenience food, it just isn’t the case. Excess intake of vegetable oils like canola and soybean have been linked to anxiety, aggression, and poor cognitive function. While intake of omega 3 oils (found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds) has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even chronic pain.
Most restaurant items contain inflammatory oils, because they’re cheaper. Even if you go to a restaurant and decide to make a “healthy” choice of ordering a salad, chances are that salad dressing is packed with canola or soybean oil, along with lots of sugar. I try to avoid restaurant salads as much as possible. The last time I mistakenly ordered a shrimp salad at a chain restaurant, it was so sweet it tasted like dessert!
But here’s the thing – I like eating out. It can be a fun treat, and my family usually eats restaurant food about once a week. I don’t want to be the food police at a restaurant. I don’t want my need to control or stress about food to ruin an enjoyable dining experience.
This brings me to my pantry. I have control over what I make at home. I love cooking from scratch, using whole food ingredients as much as possible. I love knowing that I am supporting my family’s brain health through nourishing recipes that keep us full and fueled for our busy lives.
I’d encourage you to do a pantry tour. Check the ingredients on the items in your pantry. If the majority of your pantry items (not to mention the sauces, dressings, and non-dairy milks in the fridge) contain any of the inflammatory oils I mentioned above, you may have an imbalanced ration of omega 6s and 3s. This could have long-term downstream effects on your mental health, not to mention physical. Because we know many mental health issues are often a result of chronic inflammation, it is important to be vigilant and watch out for the items that fan that flame to begin with.
These oils are especially present in kids’ food: bars, chips, crackers, cereals, bread, packaged pasta mixes, sauces (sorry Chick Fil A sauce), and of course, things like cookies and brownies and ice cream. We have an epidemic of children suffering from mental health issues, increasing like never before. I believe these developing brains are under constant attack from common processed food ingredients. Our children are overfed and undernourished with declining health, and we have the data to support it.
So what do we do? What are better options? I do what I can not to buy anything with those oils in it, unless it is for a special occasion, or like I said, at an occasional restaurant. Better options include products with avocado or coconut oil (like Siete chips/snacks, Boulder chips, Lesser Evil popcorn, Simple Mills crackers and cookies, or Mary’s Gone Crackers). We like Dave’s Killer Bread or the Simply Nature version from Aldi, Larabars, Rx Bars, Go Macro bars, grass fed beef sticks (Chomps or Country Archer), nuts and seeds with no added oil, and organic peanut butter with one ingredient – peanuts. We rarely buy cereal, which never fills anyone up anyway, and choose breakfasts packed with protein and fiber, like Greek yogurt with berries and a nut butter, or toast and peanut butter and raw honey or Crofter’s jam.
For cooking, I love to use extra virgin olive oil (not at too high of heat though), avocado oil, and grass fed butter (always so brain-nourishing and packed with nutrients). For dressings, I love Primal Kitchens or I make my own with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and spices.
This process of flipping our pantry has been YEARS in the making. It didn’t happen overnight. And can I tell you a secret? Sometimes I still buy Chick Fil A sauce for my kids and husband. The goal is not a perfect toxin-free environment. I don’t believe that’s realistic or even possible in our modern world. But by slowly decreasing our environmental stressors, we provide a healing environment for our bodies and brains to be able to thrive.
So, start with one thing. Switch the mayonnaise you use. Switch out the bread, or cut out cereal (seriously, you won’t miss it – that much). Change the peanut butter, or the chips. Just pick one. Little by little, even if you don’t see dramatic results, you will absolutely be making an impact on the cellular level.