Vegetable oil is a kitchen staple, and a key component of home-cooked meals, salad dressings, and baked goods. But while some types of vegetable oils are healthy choices, others can be as dangerous to our health as sugar, a top nutritionist says.
“We’ve been told that polyunsaturated vegetable oil is good for us, but it’s actually more toxic to our brain than sugar,” Dr. Catherine Shanahan tells Newsmax Health.
In fact, the promotion of vegetable oil – and its substitution for saturated fat – may be behind many common chronic diseases and ailments today, says Shanahan, author of the newly revised book “Deep Nutrition: Why your Genes Need Traditional Food.”
“This one idea that saturated fat is bad for us was like releasing an atomic bomb, disrupting culinary information that had been passed down for generations,” says Shanahan.
According to her, the natural foods Americans ate a half-century ago were actually better for our bodies than the modern-day meals that have replaced them.
“In the 1950s, women were pulled from the traditional path and told to leave behind the foods and cooking methods that had served us well forever,” says Shanahan.
“We were told that microwave dinners and multivitamins would take care everything, obliterating the respect that had served our bodies well.”
But the problem is that our bodies are genetically programmed to require certain nutrients that our modern diet no longer supplies, says Shanahan, who studied biochemistry and genetics at Cornell University before earning her medical degree at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
“We need to go back to those earlier days. The knowledge of how to eat to survive was no small thing,” she says.
Much of the blame for today’s ills can be traced to processed foods, and chief among them is vegetable oil, says Shanahan.
“Vegetable oil is an industry term. Often, you will say it on the label with the words that the product ‘may contain one of the following,’ and it's always soy or canola or one of the seed oils. But in the processing, new molecules have been created and they are toxic,” she says.
“The amount of polyunsaturated food in our diet exceeds our needs by a factor of 10. We are overdosing on them and completely overwhelming our metabolism. Overdosing on these oils causes chronic pain, colitis, obesity, fatigue, and more. There are journal articles about this. If the press would only pick them up they would be blockbusters.”
Shanahan recommends staying away from canola, soy, sunflower, cottonseed, corn, grapeseed and safflower. Also steer clear of non-butter spreads, including margarine and the so-called trans-free spreads, she says.
In place of these oils, she recommends olive, peanut, macadamia nut, palm kernal and coconut oils. Other approved choices include butter, as well as animal fats like lard and tallow.
But it isn’t only vegetable oil; the food industry has led Americans astray from what Shanahan calls the “traditional diet,” which is how Americans ate in the 1950s, and for generations before.
Shanahan was inspired to write her book from her experience practicing medicine in Hawaii.
“I saw that the grandparents of many of my patients were healthier than their children and grandchildren, and I realized they had been raised on traditional foods,” she says.
In addition, she researched the diets from around the world proven to help people live longer, healthier lives — including the Mediterranean, Okinawan, and so-called "Blue Zones." She identified four common nutritional habits that to produce people who are healthier than Americans are today.
Here are the four strategies that Shanahan calls the pillars of “The Human Diet”:
- Meat on the bone: When we were told not to eat saturated fat, people instead began eating foods like skinless chicken breast. The secret of enjoying well-prepared meat is to leave it on the bone. When cooking meat, the more everything stays together – fat, bone, marrow, skin and other connective tissue – the more vitamins and nutrients are provided to keep joints lubricated and bones strong.
- Organ meat: Until recently, organ meats, like tongue, liver, heart and tripe, were incorporated into the American diet, but now most people shy away from eating them. But in doing so, they are missing out on vitamins and brain-building foods important for adults and children.
- Fermented and sprouted foods: Fermented foods, like pickles, yogurt and sourdough bread, are packed with probiotics, which protect the intestinal tract, and in doing so may prevent infections and allergic disorders. Sprouted foods include seeds like wheat berries and kidney beans, which have been germinated, and breads made with sprouted grains.
- Fresh food: While unlike some raw food enthusiasts, Shanahan does not endorse eating all food raw. But she does advise eating a lot of it that way, because raw foods, like fresh greens, are packed with antioxidants. Sushi and ceviche are also examples of nutritious raw foods.
In order to embrace this way of thinking, you have to change your mindset, says Shanahan.
“Start your day with eggs, yogurt –or even soup. You have to learn to think outside the cereal box but if you believe nature knows better than us, you will love this way of eating,” she adds.
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