Not too many years ago, people were told to avoid all fat. Today, fat is no longer the “bad guy.” In fact, certain fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, are essential to a healthy eating plan. But others may increase your inflammation and harm your overall health. Learn which fats you should limit and which to avoid in an arthritis-friendly diet.
Fats to Limit
Saturated Fat
Found in meat, butter and cheese, saturated fats stay solid at room temperature. Saturated fats can raise your total cholesterol and your LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels. “People with arthritis are more at risk for heart disease, so they need to be watching ,” says Christine McKinney, RD, a clinical dietitian at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Small amounts of saturated fats can be incorporated into a healthy diet but should be limited to less than 10% of your total calorie intake. That would be no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day for a person consuming 2000 calories.
Saturated Fat from Coconut Oil
There might be one exception in the saturated fat category – coconut oil. This plant-based form of saturated fat has gained popularity in recent years, and animal studies published in 2014 and 2015 have suggested it has anti-inflammatory properties. Unlike other saturated fats, coconut oil is made mostly of medium-chain fatty acids, and your body processes those differently. While you don’t want to overdo it on coconut oil, small quantities might be ok. “I think including a little saturated fat from a healthy source like coconut oil is fine, but that shouldn’t be your main fat,” says McKinney.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Polyunsaturated oils contain two types of essential fatty acids (ones the body can’t produce itself): omega-3s and omega-6s. Omega-3s are found in oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts and are known to be anti-inflammatory. Omega-6s are found in oils such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and vegetable and products made with those oils. Excess consumption of omega-6s can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals, and the American diet tends to be very high in omega-6s. They aren’t especially bad and shouldn’t be avoided, but you don’t want them to dominate your intake.
Fats to Avoid
Trans Fats
Although they are found in very small amounts naturally in beef and dairy products, manufacturers create most trans fats when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. This process keeps the oil solid at room temperature and extends its shelf life. You’ll find trans fats in commercial baked goods, fried foods and margarine. Ideally, you should consume no added trans fats at all. “Both trans fats and saturated fats raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, but trans fats are a little more villainous, because they also reduce HDL, or good cholesterol. That dual effect raises the risk of heart disease.,” says Cindy Moore, a dietitian and nutrition therapy director at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

“Dr. Hyman, I grew up in a house where we used vegetable oil every day to cook with,” writes this week’s house call. “My mom still uses these oils and I’m trying to convince her to switch to coconut or olive oil. Any advice?”

We were all trained that vegetable oils were good and butter was bad. We were told, even by government and medical associations, to use more vegetable, seed and bean oils (like soybean, corn, safflower, canola). Chances are, this reader’s mom (like most of us) was convinced by the government and food industries that vegetable oils are safe to use as a heart-healthy alternative over traditional saturated fats.

We were told that traditional fats like butter, lard, and coconut oil caused high cholesterol and clogged arteries, leading to heart disease. Experts advised us to avoid saturated fat and eat more polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), especially omega 6 fats.

These are the so-called “vegetable” oils many of us grew up on. Found at your typical grocery store, these clear, tasteless, highly refined and processed oils include corn, soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils.

These highly unstable, highly inflammatory oils were given a gigantic push by advisory groups we trusted, including The American Heart Association, the National Education Cholesterol Program, the National Institutes of Health and even our government’s own dietary guidelines. Many well-respected scientists and our doctors told us to stop using saturated fats and use the polyunsaturated fats instead.

Turns out they were completely wrong.

Why Vegetable Oils Should Not Be Part of Your Diet

In a 2010 review at Tufts University, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian concluded there is a clear benefit from cutting out saturated fats and increasing our intake of PUFAs. However in 2014, the very same scientist reviewed all of the literature again. This meta-analysis, which reviewed 72 studies, found no benefit to reducing saturated fats or increasing PUFAs, except for omega 3 fats.

Is it any wonder we are so confused? If the experts can’t even agree and they change their perspective every few years, what are the rest of us to do?

Let me cut through this confusion. The very idea that vegetable oils are better than saturated fats (like butter and lard) comes from the belief that they lower total and LDL cholesterol, so they presumably reduce our overall risk of heart disease.

Following this type of advice means swapping out butter, meat, and lard for vegetable oils including corn, soybean, sunflower, canola, and safflower oils, which are all omega 6-rich, inflammatory polyunsaturated fats.

Yet if we look at human history, we consumed much more omega 3 fats and much less omega 6 fats than we currently do, since wild foods are very rich in omega 3 fats. The main source of omega 3’s today is fish, yet wild game and wild plants, which are very high in omega 3s, used to be a much bigger part of our diet.

Wild meat and grass-fed beef contain about 7 times as much omega 3 fats as industrially raised animals, which have almost none. Virtually all of the beef and animal products your great grandparents ate were pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed, and contained no hormones or antibiotics. There was simply no other kind of meat to eat.

Introducing refined oils into our diet and moving away from grass-fed and wild animals increased our omega 6 fat intake. Corn, soy, cottonseed, and canola oils skyrocketed, while omega 3 fats have dramatically declined. In that surge, many Americans sadly became deficient in these essential omega 3 fats.

Omega 6 fats not only fuel your body’s inflammatory pathways, but also reduce availability of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats in your tissues, resulting in more inflammation.

In other words, omega 6 fats undo any benefit eating omega 3s would normally give you. They also reduce conversion of plant-based omega 3 fats (called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) into the active forms of omega 3s called EPA and DHA by about 40 percent.

Consuming too many omega 6 fats also increases the likelihood of inflammatory diseases and links to mental illness, suicide, and homicide. In fact, studies have shown a connection of mental health with inflammation in the brain.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln from the National Institutes of Health has researched the impact of omega 6 and omega 3 fats on our health. He explains that over-consuming omega 6 fats and under-consuming omega 3 fats significantly increases:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • Macular degeneration (eye damage and blindness)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Autoimmune disease

As you can see, a diet high in omega 6 fats is not ideal for optimal health. We can’t blame ourselves for this catastrophe. Most of us were taught to use these refined oils at a young age. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the worst epidemic of chronic disease in history, with global explosions of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (or what I call diabesity), and cancer.

Bottom line: We’ve got to move away from these inflammatory fats.

What Fats and Oils Should You Eat?

What types of oils and fats should we choose that protect our heart and brain and reduce inflammation? I prefer traditional fats, such as:

  • Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic coconut oil – my personal favorite because it is excellent cell fuel, is highly anti-inflammatory, and may help with improving your cholesterol panel
  • Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Grass-fed meats
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Nuts—walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia; not peanuts
  • Fatty fish—sardines, mackerel, herring, and wild salmon—that are rich in omega 3 fats

My upcoming book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, uproots the lies we’ve been told about oils and fats, defining which foods cause disease and illness. I’ve created a plan that helps you achieve optimal health while providing you with studies and research to prove that certain foods, which have been long demonized, do belong in our diet.

Has your perception of fat changed since learning about which fats are healthy and which fats you should avoid? Do you have a success story you want to share if you’ve switched from a high omega 6 fat intake to more omega 3s? Share your story below or on my Facebook page.


No need to avoid healthy omega-6 fats

Updated: August 20, 2019Published: May, 2009

Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils — like their cousins, the omega-3 fats from fish — are good for the heart.

Omega, the final letter of the Greek alphabet, is often used to signify the last of something, or the end. When applied to dietary fats, though, omega represents a healthy beginning. Two families of polyunsaturated fats, the omega-3 and the omega-6 fats, are good for the heart and the rest of the body.

The terms omega-3 and omega-6 don’t signify anything mystical. Instead, they describe the position of the first carbon-carbon double bond in the fat’s backbone. This influences the shape of a fat molecule which, in turn, affects its function in the body.

The benefits of omega-3 fats from fatty fish and likely from plant sources like flaxseeds and walnuts are well known. They help protect the heart from lapsing into potentially deadly erratic rhythms. They ease inflammation. They inhibit the formation of dangerous clots in the bloodstream. They also lower levels of triglycerides, the most common type of fat-carrying particle in the blood.

Key points

  • Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils and other sources — like their cousins, the omega-3 fats from fish — are good for the heart and body.
  • To improve the ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats, eat more omega-3s, not fewer omega-6s.

Omega-6 fats, which we get mainly from vegetable oils, are also beneficial. They lower harmful LDL cholesterol and boost protective HDL. They help keep blood sugar in check by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Yet these fats don’t enjoy the same sunny reputation as omega-3 fats.

The main charge against omega-6 fats is that the body can convert the most common one, linolenic acid, into another fatty acid called arachidonic acid, and arachidonic acid is a building block for molecules that can promote inflammation, blood clotting, and the constriction of blood vessels. But the body also converts arachidonic acid into molecules that calm inflammation and fight blood clots.

The critics argue that we should cut back on our intake of omega-6 fats to improve the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6s. Hogwash, says the American Heart Association (AHA). In a science advisory that was two years in the making, nine independent researchers from around the country, including three from Harvard, say that data from dozens of studies support the cardiovascular benefits of eating omega-6 fats (Circulation, Feb. 17, 2009). “Omega-6 fats are not only safe but they are also beneficial for the heart and circulation,” says advisory coauthor Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

It turns out that the body converts very little linolenic acid into arachidonic acid, even when linolenic acid is abundant in the diet. The AHA reviewers found that eating more omega-6 fats didn’t rev up inflammation. Instead, eating more omega-6 fats either reduced markers of inflammation or left them unchanged. Many studies showed that rates of heart disease went down as consumption of omega-6 fats went up. And a meta-analysis of six randomized trials found that replacing saturated fat with omega-6 fats reduced the risk of heart attacks and other coronary events by 24%. A separate report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that pooled the results of 11 large cohorts showed that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (including omega-6 and omega-3 fats) reduced heart disease rates more than did replacing them with monounsaturated fats or carbohydrates.

Good sources of polyunsaturated fats

Omega-6 fats

Safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds

Omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines; fish oil and flaxseed oil; flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds

Good omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats for good health

The latest nutrition guidelines call for consuming unsaturated fats like omega-6 fats in place of saturated fat. The AHA, along with the Institute of Medicine, recommends getting 5% to 10% of your daily calories from omega-6 fats. For someone who usually takes in 2,000 calories a day, that translates into 11 to 22 grams. A salad dressing made with one tablespoon of safflower oil gives you 9 grams of omega-6 fats; one ounce of sunflower seeds, 9 grams; one ounce of walnuts, 11 grams.

Most Americans eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, on average about 10 times more. A low intake of omega-3 fats is not good for cardiovascular health, so bringing the two into better balance is a good idea. But don’t do this by cutting back on healthy omega-6 fats. Instead, add some extra omega-3s.

Image: © Korn Vittahayanukarun/Dreamstime

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

6 Foods That Cause Inflammation

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

On one hand, it’s your body’s natural way of protecting itself when you’re injured or sick.

It can help your body defend itself from illness and stimulate healing.

On the other hand, chronic, sustained inflammation is linked to an increased risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (1, 2, 3).

Interestingly, the foods you eat can significantly affect inflammation in your body.

Here are 6 foods that can cause inflammation.

1. Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup

Table sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are the two main types of added sugar in the Western diet.

Sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, while high fructose corn syrup is about 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

One of the reasons that added sugars are harmful is that they can increase inflammation, which can lead to disease (4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

In one study, mice fed high sucrose diets developed breast cancer that spread to their lungs, partly due to the inflammatory response to sugar (6).

In another study, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids were impaired in mice fed a high sugar diet (7).

What’s more, in a randomized clinical trial in which people drank regular soda, diet soda, milk, or water, only those in the regular soda group had increased levels of uric acid, which drives inflammation and insulin resistance (8).

Sugar can also be harmful because it supplies excess amounts of fructose.

While the small amounts of fructose in fruits and vegetables are fine, consuming large amounts from added sugars is a bad idea.

Also, researchers have noted that fructose causes inflammation within the endothelial cells that line your blood vessels, which is a risk factor for heart disease (16).

High fructose intake has likewise been shown to increase several inflammatory markers in mice and humans (10, 17, 18, 13, 19, 20).

Foods high in added sugar include candy, chocolate, soft drinks, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, sweet pastries, and certain cereals.

SUMMARYConsuming a diet high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup drives inflammation that can lead to disease. It may also counteract the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Artificial trans fats

Artificial trans fats are likely the unhealthiest fats you can eat.

They’re created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, which are liquid, to give them the stability of a more solid fat.

On ingredient labels, trans fats are often listed as partially hydrogenated oils.

Most margarines contain trans fats, and they are often added to processed foods to extend shelf life.

Unlike the naturally occurring trans fats found in dairy and meat, artificial trans fats have been shown to cause inflammation and increase disease risk (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29).

In addition to lowering HDL (good) cholesterol, trans fats may impair the function of the endothelial cells lining your arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease (26).

Consuming artificial trans fats is linked to high levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP).

In fact, in one study, CRP levels were 78% higher among women who reported the highest trans fat intake (26).

In a randomized controlled trial including older women with excess weight, hydrogenated soybean oil increased inflammation significantly more than palm and sunflower oils (27).

Studies in healthy men and men with elevated cholesterol levels have revealed similar increases in inflammatory markers in response to trans fats (28, 29).

Foods high in trans fats include French fries and other fried fast food, some varieties of microwave popcorn, certain margarines and vegetable shortenings, packaged cakes and cookies, some pastries, and all processed foods that list partially hydrogenated vegetable oil on the label.

SUMMARYConsuming artificial trans fats may increase inflammation and your risk of several diseases, including heart disease.

3. Vegetable and seed oils

During the 20th century, the consumption of vegetable oils increased by 130% in the United States.

Some scientists believe that certain vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, promote inflammation due to their very high omega-6 fatty acid content (30).

Although some dietary omega-6 fats are necessary, the typical Western diet provides far more than people need.

In fact, health professionals recommend eating more omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish, to improve your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s.

In one study, rats fed a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1 had much higher levels of inflammatory markers than those fed diets with ratios of 1:1 or 5:1 (31).

However, evidence that a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids increases inflammation in humans is currently limited.

Controlled studies show that linoleic acid, the most common dietary omega-6 acid, does not affect inflammatory markers (32, 33).

More research is needed before any conclusions can be made.

Vegetable and seed oils are used as cooking oils and are a major ingredient in many processed foods.

SUMMARYSome studies suggest that vegetable oil’s high omega-6 fatty acid content may promote inflammation when consumed in high amounts. However, the evidence is inconsistent, and more research is needed.

4. Refined carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap.

However, the truth is that not all carbs are problematic.

Ancient humans consumed high fiber, unprocessed carbs for millennia in the form of grasses, roots, and fruits (34).

However, eating refined carbs may drive inflammation (34, 35, 36, 37, 38).

Refined carbs have had most of their fiber removed. Fiber promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control, and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Researchers suggest that the refined carbs in the modern diet may encourage the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria that can increase your risk of obesity and inflammatory bowel disease (34, 36).

Refined carbs have a higher glycemic index (GI) than unprocessed ones. High GI foods raise blood sugar more rapidly than low GI foods.

In one study, older adults who reported the highest intake of high GI foods were 2.9 times more likely to die of an inflammatory disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (37).

In a controlled study, young, healthy men who ate 50 grams of refined carbs in the form of white bread experienced higher blood sugar levels and increases in levels of a particular inflammatory marker (38).

Refined carbohydrates are found in candy, bread, pasta, pastries, some cereals, cookies, cakes, sugary soft drinks, and all processed foods that contain added sugar or flour.

SUMMARYHigh fiber, unprocessed carbs are healthy, but refined carbs raise blood sugar levels and promote inflammation that may lead to disease.

5. Excessive alcohol

Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to provide some health benefits.

However, higher amounts can lead to severe problems.

In one study, levels of the inflammatory marker CRP increased in people who consumed alcohol. The more alcohol they consumed, the more their CRP levels increased (39).

People who drink heavily may develop problems with bacterial toxins moving out of the colon and into the body. This condition — often called “leaky gut” — can drive widespread inflammation that leads to organ damage (40, 41).

To avoid alcohol-related health problems, intake should be limited to two standard drinks per day for men and one for women.

SUMMARYHeavy alcohol consumption may increase inflammation and lead to a “leaky gut” that drives inflammation throughout your body.

6. Processed meat

Consuming processed meat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stomach and colon cancer (42, 43, 44).

Common types of processed meat include sausage, bacon, ham, smoked meat, and beef jerky.

Processed meat contains more advanced glycation end products (AGEs) than most other meats.

AGEs are formed by cooking meats and some other foods at high temperatures. They are known to cause inflammation (45, 46).

Of all the diseases linked to processed meat consumption, its association with colon cancer is the strongest.

Although many factors contribute to colon cancer, one mechanism is believed to be colon cells’ inflammatory response to processed meat (47).

SUMMARYProcessed meat is high in inflammatory compounds like AGEs, and its strong association with colon cancer may partly be due to an inflammatory response.

The bottom line

Inflammation can occur in response to many triggers, some of which are hard to prevent, including pollution, injury, or sickness.

However, you have much more control over factors like your diet.

To stay as healthy as possible, keep inflammation down by minimizing your consumption of foods that trigger it and eating anti-inflammatory foods.

Did you know that research has found a link between inflammation and increased risk for chronic diseases? And, these studies suggest that heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity might be due to chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is a Normal Body Response to Promote Healing

Inflammation is a sign that the immune system is fighting infection. The infection may be related to germs, wounds, allergens, toxins or other causes.

Typically, we think of signs of inflammation as redness, swelling and pain. But, sometimes inflammation can happen within our bodies. Someone with bronchitis has a lung infection. The lungs may become inflamed. And, this may be a sign that their immune system is working to fight that infection. Eexcess body fat may promote changes in the body cells that promote chronic inflammation. The signs of inflammation may not be obvious. For others, chronic inflammation may relate to a problem with their immune system.

Whatever the cause, long term chronic inflammation may damage the body’s DNA, increasing the risk for cancer.

What We Know and Don’t Know about Foods and Inflammation

Various anti-inflammatory diets are promoted online. But, researchers are still figuring out how what we eat may affect inflammation. So far, it appears that eating a variety of nutritious foods may help reduce inflammation in the body. What we eat may help prevent and keep chronic inflammation in check. And, a healthy eating plan provides nutrients that help keep your immune system working well:

  • Fruits and vegetables contain natural components called phytonutrients that may help protect against inflammation.
  • Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, may help keep inflammation at bay.

Foods high in saturated fats may increase inflammation. Plus, highly processed foods and other foods with trans fat also may be inflammatory.

Anti-inflammatory Superfoods”

Dark chocolate (more than 70-percent cocoa), red wine, green tea, turmeric and ginger are thought to help reduce inflammation. But, many of the findings of the anti-inflammatory effects of these foods comes from studies done with lab animals. We cannot form conclusions about how these foods impact inflammation in people at this time. And, it is not yet known how much and how often “anti-inflammatory” foods must be eaten to combat inflammation. For now, the best advice is to adopt a healthy eating style.

Five Dietary Approaches That May Help Reduce Inflammation

Are you looking for ways to help combat inflammation? Consider the following five steps:

Step 1: Make Fruits and Vegetables Half Your Plate

  • Aim to include vegetables and fruits with every meal
  • Eat a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits:
    • All forms count — including fresh, frozen, canned and dried. Just be sure to look for products with no added sugars and lower amounts of sodium.
    • Focus on vegetables from each subgroup weekly, including dark green, red and orange vegetables, as well as beans and peas.

Step 2: Be Smart about Protein

  • Don’t overdo the protein — five to six ounce equivalents per day is appropriate for most people that are moderately active. And, when it comes to protein, select fatty fish containing omega-3s a couple of times each week.
  • Enjoy meatless meals with tofu, tempeh, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils.
  • Choose leaner protein foods, such as skinless chicken or turkey or lean cuts of beef and pork.
  • Include low-fat or fat-free dairy products, like skim milk and yogurt, which are lower in saturated fat.
  • Minimize highly processed foods such as deli meat, bacon, and sausage.

Step3: Choose Healthy Fats

  • Use monounsaturated fats, including olive, safflower, sunflower, canola, peanut and avocado oils.
  • Eat omega-3 rich foods:
    • Enjoy salmon or another fatty fish two to three times per week.
    • Snack on nuts, such as walnuts.
    • Toss ground flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds into salads and other dishes.
  • Minimize highly processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils and high amounts of saturated fat.

Step 4: Select Whole Grains

  • Choose whole-grain flours and cereals more often, rather than those made with refined flour.
  • Include a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and wheat berries.

Step 5: Experiment with Fresh Herbs and Spices

  • Infuse flavor into your dishes by adding fresh herbs.
  • Spice up your recipes by experimenting with spices.

Other Lifestyle Factors

Though what you eat is important, it’s not the only factor that impacts chronic inflammation. To help stay healthy:

  • Get adequate sleep — both quality and duration of sleep directly impact inflammation.
  • Be active — regular physical activity has anti-inflammatory effects. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a day on most days of the week.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight — excess body fat could contribute to increased inflammation.

Need Help Designing an Anti-inflammatory Diet?

A registered dietitian nutritionist can help develop an eating plan that fits your unique lifestyle, taste preferences and medical needs.

14 Inflammatory Foods That Cause Weight Gain

You cut calories, fit in time at the gym, and never eat after 8 p.m. So why is it that you still can’t deflate that spare tire hanging around your tummy? Consider this: your body might be fighting against your weight loss efforts because you’re eating too many inflammatory foods that cause chronic inflammation.

What is chronic inflammation?

You can think of chronic inflammation as your home security system. Before you leave your house every morning and when you’re ready to settle in for the night, you push some buttons and turn the alarm on. In doing so, you’re securing your home and protecting yourself from invaders.

Your body’s inflammation response works in a similar fashion. Your immune system is the home security system and inflammation is the alarm. An alarm—or inflammation—is triggered whenever the system detects an invader. In your body’s case, that invader can be anything from a bruised knee to an allergic reaction to pollen. In a functioning system, your immune system will eventually disarm the alarm.

That’s not the case with chronic, low-grade inflammation. You see, on top of sporadic inflammatory culprits, such as injuries or illnesses, there’s a more insidious perpetrator that’s likely triggering your alarm every day: food.

Foods that cause inflammation are one of the biggest contributors to chronic inflammation.

Research shows that a significant contributor to chronic inflammation comes from what we eat, and you’ll soon find that many of the following inflammatory foods have a place in your diet.

When you eat them daily, you’ll constantly be turning on your body’s alarm system. Because your immune system alarm is never disarmed, over time, this incessant inflammatory response can lead to weight gain, drowsiness, skin problems, digestive issues, and a host of diseases, from diabetes to obesity to cancer.

If your weight-loss efforts have plateaued before you’ve reached your body goals, make sure you’ve kicked these inflammatory foods to the curb and replaced them with their healing counterparts: anti-inflammatory foods.

We found over 40 examples of these foods that cause inflammation and categorized them into 14 different inflammation-causing food groups.



Common Culprits: Soda, snack bars, candy, baked sweets, coffee drinks

Bet you could’ve guessed this one. According to a review in the Journal of Endocrinology, when we eat too much glucose-containing sugar, the excess glucose our body can’t process quickly enough can increase levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines. And that’s not all. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells’ germ-killing ability, weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to infectious diseases.

How can you cut back on inflammatory sugar? A simple swap is subbing out harmful high-glycemic foods (which spike and crash blood sugar) for low-GI alternatives, like whole grains and foods with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. A study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that on an equal calorie diet, overweight participants who ate a low-GI diet reduced levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein whereas participants on a high GI diet did not. Sugar isn’t only added to obvious products like candy bars and sodas. It’s also lurking in these foods with added sugar.


Vegetable Oil

Common Culprits: Mayonnaise, salad dressings, barbecue sauce, crackers, bread, potato chips

Once we became aware of the artery-clogging ill effects of trans fats, manufacturers switched to injecting their products with or frying their foods in vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower, safflower, or palm oil—which wasn’t much better. That’s because these vegetable oils have a high concentration of the inflammatory fat, omega-6, and are low in the anti-inflammatory fat, omega-3. In fact, Americans are eating so many vegetable-oil-laden products that the average person has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of around 20:1 when it should be 1:1.


Fried Foods

Common Culprits: Fried foods like french fries, fried chicken, fish sticks, chicken tenders, onion rings

Another issue with these vegetable-oil-fried and processed foods is that they contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These are compounds that form when products are cooked at high temperatures, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried, or grilled. Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out processed and fried foods that have high levels of AGEs, markers of inflammation in their body diminished.


Refined Flour

Common Culprits: Pizza, white bread, crackers, pasta, pretzels, flour tortillas, breakfast cereals, bagels

Refined wheat flours have been stripped of their slow-digesting fiber and nutrients, which means your body breaks them down very quickly. The more quickly your body digests glucose-containing foods, like these carbs, the faster your blood sugar levels can spike. This also spikes your insulin levels—a compound associated with a pro-inflammatory response. A Journal of Nutrition study found that a diet high in refined grains showed a greater concentration of the inflammatory marker, PAI-1, in the blood. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole grains resulted in a lower concentration of the same marker as well as one of the most well-known inflammatory biomarkers, C-reactive protein (CRP).



Common Culprits: Milk, soft cheeses, yogurt, butter

While a moderate intake of yogurt can actually help decrease inflammation with its gut-healing probiotics, dairy is also a source of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. On top of that, studies have connected full-fat dairy with disrupting our gut microbiome, actually decreasing levels of our good gut bacteria which are key players in reducing inflammation. And lastly, dairy is a common allergen—30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, according to the FDA. Either way, any type of allergen can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines. If you feel particularly bloated after a few blocks of cheese, consider cutting dairy from your diet.

P.S. Don’t worry about not getting enough calcium if you cut out dairy: A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found that high milk intake resulted in higher bone fracture incidences in women. Instead of relying on animal products, you can include more calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy in your daily diet.


Artificial Sweeteners

Eat This, Not That!

Common Culprits: No-sugar-added products, no-calorie “diet” soft drinks

A 2014 study published in Nature found that artificial sweetener consumption in both mice and humans enhances the risk of glucose intolerance by altering our gut microbiome. Researchers also found an increase in bad gut bacteria that have previously been associated with type 2 diabetes. When our bodies can’t metabolize glucose properly, it can lead to a greater release of inflammatory cytokines, as is the case with sugar and refined carbs. On top of that, artificial sweeteners disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota by decreasing levels of the good bacteria Bacteroides, which are known to help release anti-inflammatory compounds.


Artificial Additives

Common Culprits: Breakfast cereals, processed foods containing fruit, candy, ice cream

“Artificial” means that the product is not naturally found in nature. And that means your body usually doesn’t have a way to process it. Ingredients like artificial coloring—which are made from petroleum (oil)—have been linked to host of health issues, from disrupting hormone function to causing hyperactivity in children, to tumor production in animal studies. And a meta-analysis in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that our immune system attempts to defend the body from these synthetic colorants, which activates the inflammatory cascade. Another study by researchers at Georgia State University found that additives like emulsifying agents used to thicken foods can disrupt the bacterial makeup of the gut, leading to inflammation and weight gain in animals. The evidence in humans is sparse, but your best bet would still be to steer clear of these ingredients and stick to their natural counterparts.

RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.


Saturated Fats

Common Culprits: Burgers, pizza, candy, chips

We may have just absolved saturated fats of their connection to heart disease, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods just yet. That’s because multiple studies have connected saturated fats with triggering white adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation. This white tissue is the type of fat that stores energy, rather than burns energy like brown fat cells do. And as your fat cells get bigger with greater intakes of saturated fats, they actually release pro-inflammatory agents that promote systemic inflammation, according to a review in the journal Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy.


Conventional Grain-Fed Meats

Common Culprits: Beef, chicken, pork

Because cattle, chicken, and pigs didn’t evolve on a grain-fed diet, many producers have to load up their animals with antibiotics. These drugs not only keep the animals from getting diseases in cramped feedlots or getting sick from their unnatural diet, but they also help them (and us) gain weight faster. Altogether, this means we’re eating meats that are higher in inflammatory saturated fats, have greater levels of inflammatory omega-6s from the corn and soy diet, and our body thinks it’s in a constant state of attack due to ingesting leftover levels of antibiotics and hormones. Even worse, when we grill meat at high temperatures, it creates inflammatory carcinogens.

Take steps to remove meat foods that cause inflammation from your diet with these tips:

  • Limiting red meat consumption to less than three times a week
  • Make sure you pick up lean cuts of grass-fed beef for your protein. This healthy source provides more healthy saturated and trans fats as well as inflammation-fighting omega-3s.
  • Add a bit of lemon juice to your meats: the acid acts as an antioxidant, protecting you from the harmful carcinogens producing during grilling.


Processed Meats

Common Culprits: Bacon, hot dogs, bologna, sausage, jerky

Processed meats are the worst of both worlds. They’re typically made from red meats high in saturated fats and they contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), inflammatory compounds that are created when these processed meats are dried, smoked, pasteurized, and cooked at high temperatures. Not to mention the fact that these meats are injected with preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings that also register as foreign attackers to our immune system.


Gluten from Store-Bought Bread

Common Culprits: Store-bought bread made from refined, white flour

Many of the breads on the market can go from flour and yeast to baked bread in just a few hours. But this shortening of the period of fermentation causes a decrease in the amount of starch and gluten the yeast typically can pre-digest for us. Without the assistance in digestion, it can be harder for our bodies to digest the bread’s gluten, causing inflammation in the lining of your intestines. Experts believe this could be one reason for the rise in gluten sensitivity among Americans. Another theory is that modern strains of wheat contain a super starch known as amylopectin A, which has been shown to have inflammatory effects.

To avoid this food that causes inflammation, consider making some gluten-free swaps:

  • Serve burgers in lettuce wraps
  • Use cauliflower crust as a pizza base
  • Make avocado toast using sliced sweet potato instead of bread

Either way, store-bought breads should be a pass if you’ve been struggling to lose weight. We are, however, giving bakery-made sourdough the green light. Sourdough bread is one of the surprising fermented foods that provide healthy probiotics to help heal your gut—key in helping to reduce inflammation!


A Second Round of Alcohol

Kelsey Chance/Unsplash

Common Culprits: Beer, wine, and liquors

While some research has shown a drink a day can actually lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein (CRP), too much alcohol actually has the opposite effect. That’s because the process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic byproducts that can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s immune system.

On the other hand, drinking in moderation can pose some benefits. The flavonoids and antioxidants found in wine—as well as the probiotics in beer—might actually contribute an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients. We can’t say it enough, “Everything in moderation!”


Trans Fat Foods

Common Culprits: Deep-fried restaurant meals; baked goods like doughnuts, cookies, and muffins

Because manmade partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats, do not occur naturally in foods, our body doesn’t possess an adequate mechanism to break them down. And when our body senses an unknown, foreign object, it can stimulate an inflammatory response. According to the Mayo Clinic, these trans fats can cause inflammation by damaging the cells in the lining of blood vessels.

And a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who ate foods high in trans fat also had higher levels of markers of systemic inflammation, like interleukin 6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

Thankfully, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global initiative that will eliminate artificial trans fats by 2023. And while we’ve banned trans fats from our packaged food supply, you will still see trans fats on restaurant menus. As such, make sure to avoid eating trans-fat-laden restaurant foods.


Fast Food

Common Culprits: Fast food packaging

Even if you don’t know how to pronounce it, you should know what phthalates (thāl-ates) are. That’s because many of us are unknowingly eating this class of endocrine-disrupting chemical toxins. Similar to BPA, phthalates are used in plastic food and beverage packaging—and they’re not staying there.

An Environmental Health Perspectives study made headlines for its finding that people who often ate fast food had dose-dependent higher levels of phthalate metabolites than infrequent eaters. And there’s more bad news for all-day-breakfast lovers.

A separate study published in Environmental Science & Technology found phthalates to be associated with the CRP marker of inflammation while another study in Environmental Health connected higher exposure to phthalates with metabolic syndrome, a disease also commonly associated with increased levels of inflammation. Lowering inflammation is only one of the things that happen to your body when you give up fast food!

Get the New Book!

Want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds—all without dieting?! Get your copy of Eat This, Not That: The Best (& Worst) Foods in America!, and learn how to indulge smarter and lose weight fast!

Olive Oil Contains Natural Anti-inflammatory Agent

Named oleocanthal by the researchers, the compound inhibits activityof cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, a pharmacological action shared byibuprofen.

The finding is significant because inflammation increasinglyis believed to play a key role in a variety of chronic diseases. “Someof the health-related effects of the Mediterranean diet may be due tothe natural anti-COX activity of oleocanthal from premium olive oils,”observes Monell biologist Gary Beauchamp, PhD.

The findings are described in the September 1 issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists were led to the discovery by the serendipitousobservation that fresh extra-virgin olive oil irritates the back of thethroat in a unique and unusual manner. “I had considerable experienceswallowing and being stung in the throat by ibuprofen from previousstudies on its sensory properties,” explains Beauchamp. “So when Itasted newly-pressed olive oil while attending a meeting on moleculargastronomy in Sicily, I was startled to notice that the throatsensations were virtually identical.”

Taking their lead from the cues provided by olive oil’sthroaty bite, the scientists systematically evaluated the sensoryproperties of an unnamed chemical compound thought to be responsiblefor the throat irritating property of premium olive oils. When resultsconfirmed that the irritating intensity of a given extra-virgin oliveoil was directly related to how much of the chemical it contained, theresearchers named the compound oleocanthal (oleo=olive; canth=sting;al=aldehyde).

To rule out the possibility that any other compound wasinvolved, chemists at Monell and Penn created a synthetic form ofoleocanthal identical in all respects to that found naturally in oliveoil, and showed that it produced exactly the same throat irritation.Co-author Amos Smith, PhD, explains, “Only by de novo synthesis couldwe be absolutely certain that the active ingredient was oleocanthal.”


The sensory similarities between oleocanthal and ibuprofen ledscientists at Monell and the University of the Sciences to investigatepotential common pharmacological properties. Studies revealed that,like ibuprofen, oleocanthal inhibits activity of COX-1 and COX-2enzymes. Because inhibition of COX activity underlies theanti-inflammatory actions of ibuprofen and other non-steroidalanti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the new findings suggest oleocanthalis a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

Monell sensory scientist Paul Breslin, PhD, who directed theresearch together with Beauchamp remarks, “The Mediterranean diet, ofwhich olive oil is a central component, has long been associated withnumerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heartdisease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some dementias. Similarbenefits are associated with certain NSAIDs, such as aspirin andibuprofen. Now that we know of oleocanthal’s anti-inflammatoryproperties, it seems plausible that oleocanthal plays a causal role inthe health benefits associated with diets where olive oil is theprincipal source of fat.”

Beauchamp said future research will aim to identify howoleocanthal inhibits COX enzymes and how this is related to throatsting.

According to Breslin, “This study is the first to make thecase for pharmacological activity based on irritation and furthers theidea originally proposed decades ago by Fischer that a compound’sorosensory qualities might reflect its pharmacological potency.”


The Monell Chemical Senses Center is a nonprofit basic researchinstitute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For 35 years, Monell hasbeen the nation’s leading research center focused on understanding thesenses of smell, taste and chemical irritation: how they function andaffect lives from before birth through old age. Using amultidisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the areas of:sensation and perception, neuroscience and molecular biology,environmental and occupational health, nutrition and appetite, healthand well being, and chemical ecology and communication. For moreinformation about Monell, please visit

FUNDING: National Institutes of Health

#1 Coconut Oil: Coconut oil makes an excellent cooking oil as it has a fairly high smoke point of about 350 degrees F making it a great option for low to medium heat cooking. Coconut oil also contains some impressive health benefits and is a great addition to a healthy diet. Try using coconut oil in place of other vegetable oils.

#2 Olive Oil: Olive oil is another good option, but you will want to stick with low-temperature cooking. You can also use olive oil to drizzle over cooked veggies or salads as this oil holds some great anti-inflammatory properties.

#3 Avocado Oil: Avocado oil can be used for higher heat cooking as it has a smoke point of roughly 520 degrees F. While this oil is on the more expensive side, it makes a great addition to a healthy diet and makes an excellent anti-inflammatory cooking oil.

#4 Walnut Oil: While not as commonly used, walnut oil is great for baking. Unrefined walnut oil has a smoke point of about 320 degrees F, so this oil is ideal for low to medium heat cooking or baking. Walnuts are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, so it also adds a nice omega boost to your diet as well.

Now that you know which oils we should be cooking with, it’s important to know which ones we want to stay away from. The following oils are extremely inflammatory, and some can even oxidize in the cooking pan leading to further inflammation. It is best to stay away from these oils completely and choose one of the healthier options instead.

Cooking OIls to Avoid

  • Soybean oil

  • Canola oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil

It’s important to remember just how important cooking oils are. Even though we may only be using a small amount to cook with, some oils such as hydrogenated vegetable oils are extremely inflammatory. By making a healthier choice, and choosing one of the healthier options on this list, you are taking a big step towards reducing your total inflammatory load.

Healthiest Cooking Oil Comparison Chart with Smoke Points and Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratios

From Baseline of Health

Trying to find the healthiest cooking oil can be a daunting task. One one hand, you want to cook with an oil that has a high flash (smoke) point, but you also need to use a cooking oil that has a healthy balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids–and even better if the oil is loaded with antioxidants and vitamins! Knowing the smoke point of oils is important because heating oil to the point where the oil begins to smoke produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals. Check out our healthiest cooking oil comparison chart below to help alleviate the confusion!

Considerations: for high temperature cooking, select cooking oils with a high smoke point. For low temperature cooking, or adding to dishes and salad dressings, chose oils with a higher Omega-3 fatty acids since they promote healthy cells and decrease stroke and heart attack risk. They are also known for their anti-inflammatory action. Although you need Omega-6 fatty acids to maintain cell wall integrity and provide energy for the heart, too much Omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation in the body. Also, cooking oils high in Omega 9 is a good way to go. Omega-9 fatty acids are considered to be “conditionally essential,” which means that although your body produces them, they aren’t produced in meaningful quantities. Consuming omega-9 fatty acids such as oleic acid lowers the risk of heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, and aids in cancer prevention.

Cooking Oils / Fats

Smoke Point °C

Smoke Point °F

Omega-6: Omega-3 Ratio
(plus other relevant fat information)

Unrefined flaxseed oil



Unrefined safflower oil



Unrefined sunflower oil



Unrefined corn oil



Unrefined high-oleic sunflower oil



40:1, 84% monosaturated

Extra virgin olive oil



73% monounsaturated, high in Omega 9

Unrefined peanut oil



Semirefined safflower oil



133:1, (75% Omega 9)

Unrefined soy oil



8:1 (most are GMO)

Unrefined walnut oil



Hemp seed oil






9:1, Mostly saturated & monosaturated

Semirefined canola oil




Coconut oil



86% healthy saturated, lauric acid (has antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral properties). Contains 66% medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Unrefined sesame oil



Semirefined soy oil



Vegetable shortening



mostly unhealthy saturated, Trans Fat




mostly unhealthy saturated

Macadamia nut oil



1:1, 80% monounsaturated, (83% Omega-9)

Canola oil (Expeller Pressed)



2:1, 62% monounsaturated, 32% polyunsaturated

Refined canola oil



3:1, 80% of Canola in US in GMO.

Semirefined walnut oil



High quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil



13:1, 74% monosaturated (71.3% Omega 9)

Sesame oil



Cottonseed oil



Grapeseed oil



676:1, (12% saturated, 17% monounsaturated)

Virgin olive oil



13:1, 74% monosaturated (71.3% Omega 9)

Almond oil



Omega-6 only

Hazelnut oil



75% monosaturated (no Omega 3, 78% Omega 9)

Peanut oil



Sunflower oil



Refined corn oil



Palm oil



46:1, mostly saturated and monosaturated

Palm kernel oil



82% saturated (No Omega 3)

Refined high-oleic sunflower oil



39:1, 84% monosaturated

Refined peanut oil



Semirefined sesame oil



Refined soy oil



8:1 (most are GMO)

Semirefined sunflower oil



Olive pomace oil



74% monosaturated, high in Omega 9

Extra light olive oil
Ghee (Clarified Butter)



74% monosaturated, high in Omega 9
0:0, 62% saturated fat

Rice Bran Oil



21:1, Good source of vitamin E & antioxidants

Refined Safflower oil



133:1 (74% Omega 9)

Avocado oil



12:1, 70% monosaturated, (68% Omega-9 fatty acids)
High in vitamin E.

Final Recommendation For Healthiest Cooking Oils:

The bottom line is that when possible, buy and use organic, unrefined, cold-processed vegetable oils. Use extra virgin olive oil in salads or to add to cooked foods, but not for high temperature cooking. Unrefined walnut oil is also good, but again only for low temperature uses.

You can use virgin coconut oil (high in beneficial saturated fats and medium chain triglycerides) for most mid-temperature cooking. However, coconut oil has a smoke point of about 350 degrees F (171 C), which means it is not suitable for high temperature cooking. Other choices include virgin olive oil and even butter in small amounts.

Use avocado oil for high temperature cooking. Avocado oil has a very high smoke point by comparison to other cooking oils. It will not burn or smoke until it reaches 520 F (271 C), which is ideal for searing meats and frying in a Wok. Another good cooking oil is rice bran oil 495 F(257 C). Again, look for organic, cold-processed oil.

Most of us regard cooking oil as nothing more than a means to a non-sticking end. But (and this is a big, prepare-to-gag kind of but) the average American consumes a whopping 36 pounds of cooking oils per year — more than three times as much as in the early 1970s. These oils contributed more than 400 calories to our daily diet in 2010 (the Census Bureau suspiciously quit collecting data on how much fat and oil companies produce in 2011, meaning the Department of Agriculture can no longer use that data to accurately calculate how many calories cooking oil contributes to the average American diet).

All of this cooking oil isn’t exactly doing us any good, either: Physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, estimates that, at this point in time, roughly 45 percent of the average American’s calories come from refined oils. She’s also told me time and time again that consuming too much vegetable oil (an umbrella term for plant-based oils) can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines.

The lesson here: Cooking oils play a massive role in our overall health, which means choosing healthy oils is a bright idea if you expect to continue living for as long as humanly possible. To help us all make better choices, I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and my go-to source for all nutritional queries, to help me rank every popular cooking oil by how healthy they are.

But first, here’s a quick explanation for our ranking: “I ranked these based on their fatty-acid profiles: How much saturated fat, unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and medium chain triglycerides they contain,” Hunnes explains.

Generally speaking, unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are regarded as healthier than saturated fats, since they lower cholesterol, and therefore, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. But while the consumption of saturated fat has traditionally been linked to heart disease, it’s worth noting that science continues to go back and forth in regard to whether or not saturated fats are actually healthy. As for medium chain triglycerides, these are linked to increased endurance, weight loss and lowered cholesterol, so they’re totally good for you.

With that as our guide, let’s rank some oils…

1. Flaxseed Oil, Pumpkin Seed Oil and Hemp Seed Oil (tied): “These contain fairly high doses of omega-3 fatty acids from plant-sources, which are extremely healthy for us,” Hunnes explains, since omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation and control blood pressure. “They also contain good doses of monounsaturated fats, which likely reduce cholesterol.”

There’s a catch, though: Flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil and hemp seed oil all have relatively low smoke points — the temperatures at which an oil starts to burn and smoke — meaning they fare better in dressings, spreads and marinades than on the stovetop or in the oven.

2. Sesame Oil: “Sesame oil is a good source of monounsaturated fat, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants,” Hunnes says. “It might also help reduce cholesterol.” Sesame oil also has a high smoke point (410 degrees Fahrenheit), meaning it’s well-suited for cooking at higher temperatures.

3. Avocado Oil: “Avocado oil is extremely high in oleic acid ,” says Hunnes. “It’s even better for you than olive oil: It’s an anti-inflammatory and may help reduce cholesterol.” Avocado oil also has an even higher smoke point than sesame oil (520 degrees Fahrenheit), meaning it’s great for frying foods.

4. Canola Oil, Olive Oil and Peanut Oil (tied): “All of these are high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants,” Hunnes explains. “They can also be relatively good anti-inflammatories.” Hunnes also says that canola oil and peanut oil are better suited for high-temperature cooking than olive oil and extra virgin olive oil.

Speaking of which: The difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, if you were wondering, is essentially that extra virgin olive oil is less processed, meaning it’s both slightly healthier and more flavorful. As such, extra virgin olive oil is best in dressings, spreads and marinades, while regular olive oil works better for general cooking and sautéing.

5. Sunflower Oil: Hunnes explains that sunflower oil is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are good for the heart when consumed in moderation. Sunflower oil also contains no saturated fat, but has a relatively low smoke point.

6. Corn Oil: “Corn oil contains good levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and decent amounts of monounsaturated fats,” Hunnes says. “It may help reduce cholesterol.” Corn oil also has a high smoke point.

7. Grape Seed Oil: “I would put grape seed oil after corn oil, since it’s high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats,” Hunnes says. “We sometimes get too much omega-6 fatty acid in our Western-American diet, and too much can be inflammatory. But it’s so much better for you than saturated fats or trans fats.” It’s worth noting, however, that grape seed oil alone doesn’t contain enough omega-6 fatty acid to cause problems: Studies show that linoleic acid — the type of omega-6 fatty acid in grape seed oil — does not increase inflammation in otherwise healthy people.

8. Pam Non-Stick Cooking Spray: “Pam is a combination of canola, palm and coconut oil, so it contains monounsaturated and saturated fats,” Hunnes explains. “But since you typically don’t use too much of it, it’s not overly bad for you. Although, it also contains dimethyl silicone (an anti-foaming agent) and a few other stabilizers, so I think you’d be better off putting a mixture of oils in a spray bottle of your own.”

9. Coconut Oil: “This has a high amount of medium chain triglycerides, so it’s good for people who have some trouble absorbing fats due to certain medical conditions,” says Hunnes. “However, it’s also fairly high in saturated fat, so it may possibly increase your total cholesterol.”

It’s worth noting, too, that Harvard epidemiologist Karin Michels recently called coconut oil “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods you can eat” during a lecture on nutrition — because it contains such high levels of saturated fat — which has since sparked outrage among both Americans and Indians (who live in a country where coconut oil is a dietary staple). Who’s right remains unclear, but one thing’s for sure: Cooking oils, especially those high in saturated fat (like coconut oil), should be used sparingly.

10. Palm Oil: “This is terrible for the environment and the habitats of orangutans in Indonesia,” Hunnes emphasizes. “If you must use palm oil, look for certified humane (non-conflict) palm oil.” On a more personal level, palm oil is also high in saturated fat.

11. Vegetable Oil: While vegetable oil can be used as an umbrella term for all plant-based oils, like I mentioned earlier, Hunnes explains that it can also be used by companies (on ingredient labels) as a generic term for trans fats, which are terrible for you. “There’s nothing redeeming about trans fats,” Hunnes says. “They definitely increase cholesterol levels and cause inflammation.”

And here I thought vegetables were healthy.

This article has been updated to include grape seed oil.

Ian Lecklitner

Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone’s favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.

Vegetable Oils Do Not Cause Inflammation

The consumption of vegetable oils which are rich in an essential nutrient called linoleic acid (LA) is not linked to an increased risk of inflammation, according to researchers at the University of Missouri (UM).
We have known for years that linoleic acid helps lower cholesterol levels as well as reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
However, there have been recent claims that Americans may be consuming too much vegetable oil. A previous study suggested that fish oils reduce inflammation but vegetable oils do not.
This latest study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, titled “Effect of Dietary Linoleic Acid on Markers of Inflammation in Healthy Persons: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials,”, says that such claims are false, and concludes that vegetable oil is very good for you and doesn’t cause inflammation.
The researchers, from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois, found no association between vegetable oil consumption and circulating indicators of inflammation, which can cause diseases such as cancer and asthma.
Even though earlier animal studies suggested that linoleic acid can cause inflammation, Kevin Fritsche, an animal sciences researcher, says that the human response is very different.
Fritsche said:
“In the field of nutrition and health, animals aren’t people. We’re not saying that you should just go out and consume vegetable oil freely. However, our evidence does suggest that you can achieve a heart-healthy diet by using soybean, canola, corn and sunflower oils instead of animal-based fats when cooking.”
Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, is a major component of vegetable oils and provides a number of nutrients – it makes up more than half of most vegetable oils.

Linoleic acid does not cause inflammation

Fritsche said that it is evident that consuming LA (linoleic acid) doesn’t increase our risk of inflammation.
Fritsche commented:
“Some previous studies have shown that inflammation, which is an immune response in the body, can occur when certain fats are consumed.
We’ve come to realize that this inflammation, which can occur anywhere in the body, can cause or promote chronic diseases. We know that animal fats can encourage inflammation, but in this study, we’ve been able to rule out vegetable oil as a cause.”
The team analyzed a total of 15 clinical trials, which included 500 adults consuming different forms of fats and oils. They didn’t find any link between a diet rich in linoleic acid and inflammation.
People should continue following the dietary guidelines published by the Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association, which recommends two to four tablespoons of vegetable oil each day to ensure enough intake of linoleic acid.
Fritsche said that people are usually told to limit and avoid eating certain foods, adding that “while limiting the overall fat intake is also part of the current nutrition recommendations, we hope people will feel comfortable cooking with vegetable oils.”
New low-cost DNA sequencing technology could help promote advances in biofuels and low-calorie food oils, say Michigan State University scientists. This could eventually lead to the production of new high-quality vegetable oils.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist

Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is a popular ingredient that’s rich in good fats but receives mixed reviews with some texts advocating a wealth of health benefits, whilst others suggest caution in respect of consuming too much. Consequently, there is a considerable amount of published misinformation, much of which is based on incomplete facts. This article will discuss sunflower oil’s qualities and will address the principal concerns people have, demonstrating why the sunflower oil used in Huel Products is both necessary and beneficial.

Sunflower oil is produced via the pressing of the seeds of the common sunflower plant (Helianthus annuus), and it is commonly used in both commercial food manufacture and home cooking as well as in cosmetics. The oil content of the seeds varies from 22% to 36% and is extracted from the seeds through expeller pressing. The resulting oil is light amber in color and has a pleasant, mild flavor. Sunflower oil has a relatively clean taste, making it relatively easy to incorporate into recipes.

Sunflower oil started to become a more popular choice of cooking oil in the late 1970s and 1980s, following the health claims surrounding the negative effects of saturated fats and the benefits of polyunsaturates on cardiac health. Consumption also increased due to the rise in consumption of convenience junk foods, many of which contain sunflower oil rather than animal-derived fats due to the pressure on the food industry to lower the saturated fat content of these foods. Because many fast foods contain sunflower oil, it has given rise to claims that sunflower oil is an unfavorable ingredient choice when, in reality, there’s more to consider.

Types of sunflower oil and their fat composition

There are four main types of sunflower oil produced through plant breeding and industrial processing, and these are categorized based on their principal fatty acid content. For information on the different groups of fatty acids, where each is found and what the benefits are, see our article Good Fats & Bad Fats.

Regular sunflower oils are 65-75% omega-6 polyunsaturates, principally the essential fatty acid (EFA) linoleic acid (LA), 20-40% monounsaturates (principally the omega-9 oleic acid (OA)), and the remainder is made up of saturates, principally palmitic and stearic acids. Due to the interest in the health benefits of monounsaturates, varieties of high-oleic acid sunflower oils (HOSO) have been developed and these are around 80% OA, less than 10% LA and lower in saturates. As well as these, there are degrees of sunflower oils in between with varying levels of monounsaturates and omega-6s with mid-oleic sunflower oils (MOSO) having around 50% OA. In addition to these, there are also high-stearic, high-oleic sunflower oil (HSHOSO) varieties with over 15% stearic acid and 70% OA, and these are used more so in cosmetics.

There are very low levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated in all types of sunflower oil and next to zero medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and trans fats. We have more detailed information on both omega-3 fats and MCTs in our articles Guide to EPA and DHA in Huel and Benefits of Medium-Chain Triglycerides respectively.

The following table shows the main categories of sunflower oil and the amounts of the four main fatty acids each contains (taken from various oil specifications):

Vitamins and minerals in sunflower oil

All types of sunflower oil are rich in vitamin E with about 40mg of alpha-tocopherol per 100g, as well as about 5mcg of vitamin K1. There are zero to negligible amounts of any other vitamins and minerals present.

Oxidation and sunflower oil

Oxidation – also known as rancidity – is the process where harmful free-radicals are produced, and these can have a number of negative health implications including being atherosclerotic and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The smoke point of a fat or an oil refers to the temperature at which it begins to produce a bluish smoke and is an indicator of how temperature affects the susceptibility of it to oxidation. Unrefined sunflower oil has a low smoke point of 107ºC/225ºF; refined sunflower oil has a high smoke point of 227-232ºC/440-450ºF. Fats and oils with a low smoke point are more susceptible to oxidation so should not be heated to high temperatures. Most sunflower oil that’s sold for home cooking is refined so is suitable for heating to a high temperature.

Temperature is not the only factor that affects the oxidation of a fat/oil; others include light, humidity, the presence of heavy metals and exposure to oxygen as well as the unsaturated fatty acid content. Oils with a high unsaturated fatty acid content are more prone to oxidation and fats/oils that are primarily comprised almost entirely of saturated fatty acids will not oxidize even in the presence of otherwise oxidation-promoting conditions.

As sunflower oil is primarily composed of monounsaturates and polyunsaturates, it is important that it is stored in a sealed container and in a cool, dark and dry place. And, whilst it’s fine to heat sunflower oil and other vegetable oils to high temperatures a single time for immediate consumption, they should not be reheated and exposed to oxygen or light continuously. This is a significant reason why many fast-foods and junk foods are atherosclerotic: the oil – e.g. sunflower – used for frying – is exposed to a significant oxidation-promoting environment before the food is consumed.

Why sunflower oil is beneficial

As sunflower oil is low in both saturated and trans fats, it is an attractive choice of oil for use in home cooking and food manufacture. Many convenience food recipes use regular sunflower oil as an ingredient – and consequently contain a high level of omega-6s – due to the pressure on manufacturers to lower the saturated fat content of foods. This has led to a plethora of confusing articles and blog posts: some sources claim that there is overconsumption of omega-6s in the Western diet and we should be lowering our intake of them. As regular sunflower oil is high in omega-6s, some information may lead people to think that sunflower oil is an oil to be avoided or that HOSO is the preferred choice as it’s lower in omega-6s and higher in monounsaturates.

On the other hand, we have information encouraging a high intake of polyunsaturates – both omega-3s and -6s. Sunflower oil, with its relatively low saturated fat content, its low susceptibility to temperature-induced oxidation and the fact that it’s rich in one of the two most important fatty acids for health, is therefore recommended.

This is understandably confusing, and the reality is we absolutely should be including a good intake of omega-6s in our daily diets, although the quality of the omega-6s we ingest is important. Indeed, maybe it’s not the overconsumption of omega-6s that’s the key issue, rather the ratio of omega-3s to -6s in our diets; i.e. we should be eating greater amounts of foods which contain the omega-3s alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and/or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) derived from nuts, seeds (like flaxseed), and other plant sources, or from oily fish and marine algae (more information). As well as consuming adequate amounts of omega-3s, of equal importance are omega-6s – especially LA – as long as they are in the right form and are not adulterated by oxidation.

In poor-nutritional-quality overly processed junk foods, vegetable oils that are susceptible to oxidation are damaged and lose their health benefits. Therefore, overconsumption of omega-6s from these foods could indeed contribute to CVD risk as observational studies may have indicated, and this is apparently where the claims that overconsumption of omega-6-rich oils like sunflower oil are bad come from. However, this absolutely in no way means that consuming omega-6-rich oils is undesirable, and this misinterpretation of the literature is one of the reasons that’s leading to the incorrect information being disseminated.

LA is one of the two EFAs that humans require in our diet; it’s the only omega-6 that is essential and is the most abundant omega-6 in the human diet accounting for typically 90% of omega-6 PUFA intake. Indeed, consuming 5-10% of total energy from omega-6s is associated with a reduced risk of CVD relative to low intakes. LA has also been shown to be the most potent fatty acid for lowering both blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, more so than omega-3s. An increased intake of both omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturates has been shown to reduce CVD risk and is recommended for both primary and secondary prevention of CVD.

Are omega-6s inflammatory?

Inflammation is a necessary physiological response to injury or infection to help fight off foreign bodies and to aid the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation – defined as the chronic production of inflammatory factors at a low level as a result of an unresolved inflammatory response – may have an involvement in disease development and has been linked to obesity, CVD, depression, chronic pain and poor gut health.

Poor dietary habits may be associated with low-grade inflammation, and there have been claims made that omega-6s – and hence, sunflower oil – are ‘pro-inflammatory’ through being linked to low-grade inflammation and subsequently overconsumption of them increases the risk of some diseases. The reasoning behind this speculation is due to the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) being involved in the production of various inflammation-promoting factors.

AA is synthesized in the body from LA and is sometimes referred to as a semi-essential fatty acid in circumstances where there’s insufficient LA. Both AA and the omega-3 EPA are necessary for the production of eicosanoids, critical chemical messengers for the immune and inflammatory responses. The response from AA-derived eicosanoids is different to the response from EPA-derived eicosanoids, however, with the latter being less potent inducers of inflammation. Nevertheless, it’s an oversimplification to label all AA-derived eicosanoids as pro-inflammatory as they also inhibit pro-inflammatory factors like leukotrienes and cytokines and induce anti-inflammatory lipoxins. Therefore, an adequate amount of AA will actually help to maintain an optimal inflammatory response.

As a good intake of omega-3 fatty acids has a beneficial effect on inflammation and, as the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s is often suboptimal in a population, this may lead people to wrongly assume that omega-6s are pro-inflammatory when, in fact, the problem lies with the lack of omega-3s being the pro-inflammatory issue.

The claim also assumes that a higher dietary LA intake is directly related to the level of AA in the blood; i.e. an increased intake of LA leads to a higher conversion to AA and this, in turn, is converted to inflammatory eicosanoids. This is not the case as there is a negative feedback control in place; i.e. AA and eicosanoids are only produced on demand.

Furthermore, serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a key blood marker for inflammation – have been shown to be lower with a higher serum LA level, indicating that a good intake of LA actually protects against low-grade inflammation. It has also been shown that even a very high intake of linoleic acid does not increase inflammatory responses, nor has a significant impact on AA levels.

Therefore, the claim that a high intake of omega-6 fatty acids, or indeed LA-rich sunflower oil, can promote low-grade inflammation by increasing the body’s AA levels is overly simplified and, in fact, the reverse is true.

Sunflower oil in Huel

Huel Powder v3.0 and Huel Black Edition contain sunflower oil powder. This is produced by spray-drying regular sunflower oil onto a carrier. You can read about the process here and this maintains all of the oil’s nutrition and aroma properties whilst increasing its versatility and shelf life.

As Huel Products contain all the nutrients you need for optimum health, it’s paramount that it contains an adequate amount of LA to provide enough to at least cover all essential requirements and sufficient for conversion to AA.

The omega-6 content of Huel Products are as follows:

As a proportion of total energy intake, these are all in line with a lower CVD risk and reflect optimum nutrition targets.

What is sunflower lecithin?

Lecithins are natural fatty substances found in both plant and animal tissues which are amphiphilic; i.e. they attract both water and oils. They are often used in foods to create a smoothing texture and to reduce stickiness. Sunflower lecithin is in the form of phosphatidylcholine, and 0.1-0.2% of sunflower oil is lecithin. Huel Powder v3.0, Huel Ready-to-drink and Huel Bar contain sunflower lecithin to help with smoothness and texture whilst providing some nutrition.

Main points

  • There are different types of sunflower oil
  • Standard sunflower oil is rich in the essential omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid
  • Sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E and contains some vitamin K1
  • Sunflower oil is susceptible to oxidation
  • Vegetable oils used in the production of convenience junk foods are likely to be unfavorable
  • It is a misconception that sunflower oil is pro-inflammatory
  • The sunflower oil in Huel Products is beneficial and a crucial source of linoleic acid
  1. Cox J. Organic Gardening: Rodale Press; 1979.
  2. Sandbakken J & Kleingartner L. Sunflower Production. .
  3. Harris WS, et al. Omega-6 fatty acids and risk for cardiovascular disease: a science advisory from the American Heart Association Nutrition Subcommittee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; and Council on Epidemiology and Prevention. Circulation. 2009; 119(6):902-7.
  4. Kris-Etherton P, et al. The debate about n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid recommendations for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; 110(2):201-4.
  5. Harris WS, et al. n-6 Fatty acids and risk for CHD: consider all the evidence. Br J Nutr. 2011; 106(6):951-2; author reply 3-7.
  6. Massiera F, et al. A Western-like fat diet is sufficient to induce a gradual enhancement in fat mass over generations. J Lipid Res. 2010; 51(8):2352-61.
  7. Simopoulos AP. Evolutionary aspects of diet: the omega-6/omega-3 ratio and the brain. Mol Neurobiol. 2011; 44(2):203-15.
  8. Molendi-Coste O, et al. Why and How Meet n-3 PUFA Dietary Recommendations? Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2011; 2011:364040.
  9. Das UN. Essential fatty acids: biochemistry, physiology and pathology. Biotechnol J. 2006; 1(4):420-39.
  10. Patterson E, et al. Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated Fatty acids. J Nutr Metab. 2012; 2012:539426.
  11. Gonzalez-Rodriguez LG, et al. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids intake and dietary sources in a representative sample of Spanish adults. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition. 2013; 83(1):36-47.
  12. Mensink RP, et al. Effect of dietary fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins. A meta-analysis of 27 trials. Arterioscler Thromb. 1992; 12(8):911-9.
  13. Fernandez ML, et al. Mechanisms by which dietary fatty acids modulate plasma lipids. J Nutr. 2005; 135(9):2075-8.
  14. Ramsden CE, et al. Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis. BMJ. 2013; 346:e8707.
  15. Mozaffarian D, et al. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. 2010; 7(3):e1000252.
  16. Wellen KE, et al. Obesity-induced inflammatory changes in adipose tissue. J Clin Invest. 2003; 112(12):1785-8.
  17. Dantzer R. Depression and inflammation: an intricate relationship. Biol Psychiatry. 2012; 71(1):4-5.
  18. Dantzer R, et al. From inflammation to sickness and depression: when the immune system subjugates the brain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008; 9(1):46-56.
  19. Parkitny L, et al. Inflammation in complex regional pain syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Neurology. 2013; 80(1):106-17.
  20. Minihane AM, et al. Low-grade inflammation, diet composition and health: current research evidence and its translation. Br J Nutr. 2015; 114(7):999-1012.
  21. Hotamisligil GS. Inflammation and metabolic disorders. Nature. 2006; 444(7121):860-7.
  22. Calder PC. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: New twists in an old tale. Biochimie. 2009; 91(6):791-5.
  23. Virtanen JK, et al. The associations of serum n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids with serum C-reactive protein in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018; 72(3):342-8.
  24. Virtanen JK, et al. The associations of serum n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids with serum C-reactive protein in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018; 72(3):342-8.
  25. Flock MR, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: time to establish a dietary reference intake. Nutr Rev. 2013; 71(10):692-707.
  26. Reinders I, et al. Association of serum n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with C-reactive protein in men. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012; 66(6):736-41.
  27. Sergeant S, et al. Gamma-linolenic acid, Dihommo-gamma linolenic, Eicosanoids and Inflammatory Processes. Eur J Pharmacol. 2016; 785:77-86.
  28. Kubota Y, et al. Serum Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Composition and Serum High-Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein Levels in Healthy Japanese Residents: The KOBE Study. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015; 19(7):719-28.
  29. Thies F, et al. Influence of dietary supplementation with long-chain n-3 or n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids on blood inflammatory cell populations and functions and on plasma soluble adhesion molecules in healthy adults. Lipids. 2001; 36(11):1183-93.
  30. Kelley DS, et al. Arachidonic acid supplementation enhances synthesis of eicosanoids without suppressing immune functions in young healthy men. Lipids. 1998; 33(2):125-30.
  31. Rett BS, et al. Increasing dietary linoleic acid does not increase tissue arachidonic acid content in adults consuming Western-type diets: a systematic review. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011; 8:36.
  32. Kaikkonen JE, et al. High serum n6 fatty acid proportion is associated with lowered LDL oxidation and inflammation: the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. Free Radic Res. 2014; 48(4):420-6.

Sunflower oil is one of the most commonly used cooking oils. Many physicians and health organizations promote sunflower seed oil as a healthy fat, claiming it offers many health benefits, including an ability to improve heart health, reduce inflammation, improve your skin, and even protect against cholesterol.

Unfortunately, the essential fatty acid profile of sunflower oil and other vegetable oils — such as corn oil and canola oil — can be more inflammatory than not.

With one set of health experts applauding this oil and another group saying it’s terrible for you — what should you believe?

Birthday Cake Keto Bars are here!

The answer to your sweet tooth. 17g of fat, 3g of net carbs, incredibly delicious.

Shop Now

Read on for a science-based look into this oil to find out where those health claims come from, and what the long-term adverse effects of sunflower oil consumption really are.

What Is Sunflower Oil?

Sunflower oil comes from sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus), which are packed with many nutrients, including meaningful amounts of vitamin E, A, folate, and choline.

However, sunflower oil is different. First of all, it is extracted from a different type of seed than the one you’ll find in the snack aisle. Secondly, due to the way it is processed, the oil itself ends up losing a great part of its nutrient content.

There are two types of processing:

  1. Cold-pressed to make unrefined sunflower oil — typically used for salad dressings and sauces.
  2. Bleached, de-gummed, or chemically extracted to make refined sunflower oil.

Refined sunflower oil lacks the vitamin E and polyphenols of its unrefined counterpart, but it’s somewhat more stable for high-temperature cooking.

To further stabilize the oil, manufacturers used to hydrogenate it. Hydrogenation turns liquid oil into a solid or semi-solid at room temperature– like margarine, for instance.

Although hydrogenated fats aren’t the same as partially hydrogenated fast (aka, trans fats), there could still be a small amount of trans fats in hydrogenated sunflower oil.

Trans fats are linked to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and have been banned in the U.S. since 2018. The World Health Organization (WHO) plans on enforcing a worldwide ban by 2023.

Sunflower Oil and LDL Cholesterol

There’s research showing sunflower oil consumption leads to slight reductions in LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) levels.

However, reducing your LDL-C doesn’t lower your risk of heart disease. LDL-C is not a great predictor of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk in the first place, and nowadays clinicians are looking instead at LDL particle number or LDL-P.

LDL-P measures the number of lipoproteins in the bloodstream, as opposed to the number of cholesterol molecules within each lipoprotein (LDL-C).

When there’s a discordance between LDL-C and LDL-P, LDL-P is the better predictor of cardiovascular disease.

Therefore, this oil isn’t really doing much for your cholesterol levels. In fact, it might be raising your risk of heart disease.

That’s where linoleic acid comes in.

Linoleic Acid and Heart Disease

When it comes to fatty acid content, sunflower oil is made up of the following:

Sixty-plus percent is a lot of linoleic acids. Sunflower oil, in fact, has one of the highest linoleic acid contents of vegetable oils.

Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that can accelerate the progression of heart disease.

#1: Cooking With Sunflower Oil = Oxidized Lipids

Sunflower oil appears to be heat-friendly because it has a high smoke point, but the high smoke point has actually nothing to do with the stability of the fat.

PUFAs, like linoleic acid, are unstable at high temperatures, which means they’re more prone to oxidation, or damage, which might mean bad news.

When you cook with a high-linoleic vegetable oils, those fragile PUFAs may oxidize in the hot pan. Once eaten, oxidized lipids interact with free radicals, creating a domino effect of inflammation in your arteries and, in turn, accelerating the formation of arterial plaques. These pro-inflammatory conditions might accelerate not only atherosclerosis, but also heart disease.

#2: Too Much Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Across the board, polyunsaturated fats are not the best option when it comes to cooking. You might be wondering what the verdict is when it comes to uncooked PUFAs instead, but the answer isn’t as simple as you might imagine.

When it comes to omega fatty acids, it is very important to keep a balance between omega-3s and omega-6s.

Omega-3 fatty acids support cognitive health and reduce systemic inflammation.

Omega-6 is essential too, but overconsumption, which is very common in the Standard American Diet, can become problematic.

#3: DNA Damage, High Triglycerides, and Reduced Antioxidant Capacity

In a European study, rats were fed lifelong diets of either virgin olive oil (high in oleic acid) or sunflower oil (high in linoleic acid).

The results showed more DNA damage, higher triglycerides, and reduced antioxidant capacity in the sunflower oil rodents.

Sunflower Oil and Obesity

Obesity may raise your risk of heart disease, as it can be connected to a host of cardiovascular disease risk factors, from insulin resistance and raised blood pressure to inflammation and dyslipidemia.

Here are the two main reasons why so many Americans are suffering from obesity these days:

#1: Sugar-Laden Diets

Americans love sugar, which can be linked to obesity. When you constantly eat a high-sugar diet, this can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia. The side effect of this condition is called hyperinsulinemia (high insulin).

When your body continuously produces insulin, it can develop insulin resistance and go into “fat storage” mode, which can lead to obesity problems.

#2: Vegetable Oil Consumption

Following the guidelines of organizations like the American Heart Association, Americans have been eating less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated fats since the 1970s. Unfortunately, this change has led to a rise in obesity.

As mentioned, omega-6 PUFAs overconsumption may contribute to obesity due to its imbalanced ratio with omega-3. Aside from this, sunflower oil has a high concentration of arachidonic acid (another O6 PUFA), that when ingested, activates your endocannabinoid system. This activation signals your body to put on weight.

In one study, mice which were fed a high-linoleic diet became obese, while mice fed a low-linoleic diet remained unaffected. This study showed that the same number of calories, but with different characteristics, can have very different metabolic effects.

The Struggle to Make Sunflower Oil Healthy

Excess linoleic acid can have negative health effects. It oxidizes easily, can promote obesity, and may lead to heart disease.

The sunflower industry decided to re-engineer the product in two different attempts:

1) NuSun: NuSun is a patented formulation, higher in oleic acid (MUFAs) and lower in linoleic acid (PUFAs) than regular sunflower oil.

Proponents of NuSun like to say it’s good for your heart — pointing to a study published in 2005.

In this study, researchers gave people with hypercholesterolemia (very high cholesterol) either NuSun, olive oil, or a standard American diet. Interestingly, the NuSun diet lowered LDL-C more than the other two diets (5.8% more).

But as you have already learned, LDL-C isn’t a great marker for heart disease. And since sunflower oil fares worse than olive oil for oxidized LDL protection, any benefits of NuSun are pretty insignificant.

2) High-oleic sunflower oil: This version might be considered the healthiest choice, since it contains at least 80% MUFA as oleic acid, and not much linoleic acid.

However, high-oleic sunflower oil is often refined, stripping it of any vitamins and nutrients that might make it worthwhile. And when it comes to fats, there are many better options than high-oleic vegetable oil.

High oleic sunflower oil is better than the standard version, but it’s far from a superfood.

Tips for Healthy Fats

Now that sunflower oil has been properly dissected, you’ll want some positive tips on bringing healthier fats into your life.

Tip #1: Eat and Cook With Super Fats

Sunflower oil — even the high-oleic variety — is not a superfood. But other fats do qualify, such as:

  • Coconut oil: Rich in medium-chain triglycerides (a keto-friendly SFA) and lauric acid
  • MCT Oil: Full of MCTs to promote ketosis
  • Grass-fed butter: Rich in vitamin K2 and vitamin A
  • Extra virgin olive oil: Rich in MUFAs and oleuropein (a potent antioxidant)
  • Avocado oil: Rich in MUFAs and vitamin E

Cooking with stable, healthy fats — and preventing fatty acid oxidation — is easy. Anything with a high SFA, high MUFA, and low PUFA content will do.

Tip #2: Be Savvy at Restaurants

Most restaurants use high-linoleic vegetable oil to cook your food, which means that they’re feeding you oxidized lipids.

To avoid damaged fats, find a restaurant that will cook your meal in butter or extra virgin olive oil instead.

Avoid Sunflower Oil When You Can

Sunflower oil is touted as healthy, but the facts present a different story. Most of the “health benefits” are backed by over-inflated claims about lowering cholesterol. But even that’s not 100% accurate.

Instead, it’s best to avoid this PUFA-rich oil, which is high in inflammatory linoleic acid and devoid of many nutrients you can find in better fats.

Oxidized lipids, an imbalanced O6:O3 ratio, and higher arachidonic acid levels can lead to higher chances of developing heart disease, obesity, and others.

Therefore, while it is important to be smart about choosing the right fats to boost your health, this becomes essential when you’re following a keto diet. When fat is the bulk of your diet (around 60% of calories from fat), you need to choose your fats wisely.

Continue reading more about good fats and bad fats, and make sure you’re eating the most keto-friendly and healthiest fats possible.

Does safflower oil cause inflammation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *