Seed Oils - Myths, Facts, and How to Use

Seed Oils - Myths, Facts, and How to Use

Unveil the truth about seed oils in our comprehensive guide. Explore myths versus facts, learn how to use them in cooking, and make informed choices for your health.

You can find seed oils everywhere in modern diets. From salad dressings to baked goods, seed oils are commonly used in restaurants, commercial foods, and home cooking. Despite their prevalence, they’re often the subject of heated debates and scrutiny, and for good reason. But before you ditch your bottle of flaxseed oil (not so fast), let’s clarify what seed oils are, debunk common myths, provide evidence-based facts about high versus low-quality oils, and discuss practical tips for making wise dietary choices.

What are Seed Oils?

Seed oils are oils derived from the seeds of various plants. Some of the most commonly used seed oils in cooking and food production include:

Canola Oil

Extracted from the seeds of the canola plant, canola oil is known for its mild flavor and high smoke point, making it versatile for many cooking methods and styles.

Sunflower Oil 

Made from sunflower seeds, this oil is high in vitamin E and is often used in frying and baking.

Soybean Oil

Extracted from soybean seeds, this oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats and is a staple in many fast and highly processed foods.

Sesame Oil

Known for its distinctive and delicate flavor, sesame oil is commonly used in Asian cuisine.

Flaxseed Oil

High in omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil is best used cold and unheated and works beautifully in dressings, raw dishes, and smoothies.

Grapeseed Oil

Derived from grape seeds, grapeseed oil is known for its high levels of omega-6 and vitamin E.

The extraction process of seed oils can significantly impact their nutritional composition. Cold-pressed and expeller-pressed methods retain more nutrients compared to chemical extraction methods, which often involve high heat and solvents.

seed oil poured over salad

Unpacking Seed Oil Myths

Myth 1: All seed oils are unhealthy

The belief that all seed oils are unhealthy isn’t exactly accurate. The healthiness of seed oils depends on several factors, including their fatty acid profile, processing methods, and how they’re used in cooking and baking. Unrefined and minimally processed seed oils are a great healthy fat source and can be part of a healthy diet. For example, flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health.

Myth 2: Cooking with seed oils leads to the formation of harmful compounds

While it’s true that heating oils above their smoke point can produce harmful compounds, this is not unique to seed oils. All oils, when overheated, can degrade and form toxic substances. The key is to use oils within their recommended temperature ranges. For instance, canola oil and sunflower oil have higher smoke points and are suitable for frying, whereas flaxseed oil should never be heated and is best used cold. Think drizzled over salad or added to your morning shake.

Myth 3: Seed oils are high in trans fats

Not all seed oils contain trans fats. Trans fats are typically formed during the hydrogenation process, which creates oils that stay solid at room temperature. This process is not used for all seed oils. Cold-pressed, unrefined, and non-hydrogenated seed oils don’t contain trans fats. Always check food labels to ensure you’re choosing the healthiest options.

Highlighting the Facts

Nutritional Content

Seed oils contain essential fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants that contribute to balanced health. Key nutrients found in seed oils include:

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids: These essential fats are crucial for brain function, cell growth, and reducing inflammation. While omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in seed oils, it’s important to balance them with omega-3s to prevent inflammation. Remember that balance is key. For additional Omega 3 benefits for brain health and reducing overall inflammation you can try out EPA-DHA supplement, Brain & Balance.

Vitamin E: Found in sunflower oil and other seed oils, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage.

Polyphenols: Some seed oils, like sesame oil, contain polyphenols, which are plant compounds that have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Health Benefits

When consumed in moderation, seed oils can support various aspects of health:

Heart Health: Oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseed oil, can help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Reduced Inflammation: Balanced consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help manage inflammation, which is linked to chronic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes.

Skin Health: The antioxidants and essential fatty acids in seed oils can promote healthy skin by reducing oxidative stress and improving skin barrier function.

For more on the benefits of healthy fats, visit our Healthy Fats page.

Practical Tips for Using Seed Oils

Selecting High-Quality Seed Oils

To get the most benefits from seed oils, choose high-quality options. Look for the following:

Cold-Pressed and Unrefined: These oils retain more nutrients and are free from harmful chemicals used in the extraction process.

Organic: Organic oils are pesticide-free and contain no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Proper Storage: Store oils in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation and rancidity. Some oils, like flaxseed oil, should be refrigerated.

Cooking Methods

To maximize the nutritional benefits of seed oils, use them appropriately:

High-Heat Cooking: Oils like grapeseed oil have high smoke points and are suitable for frying and sautéing.

Low-Heat Cooking: Olive oil and avocado oil are excellent for low to medium-heat cooking.

Cold Applications: Flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil should be used in salads, smoothies, or drizzled over dishes to preserve their delicate nutrients.

seed oil in glass pitcher

Alternatives to Seed Oils

While seed oils can be healthy, it’s beneficial to diversify your fat sources. Other healthy oils include:

Coconut Oil: Rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), coconut oil is stable at high temperatures and has antibacterial properties.

Organic Ghee: A clarified butter that’s a staple in Indian cuisine, ghee contains essential fatty acids that can boost immunity and support cardiovascular health (best for those who tolerate dairy products). 

For a comprehensive guide to healthy cooking oils, check out our Healthy Cooking Oils Chart.

Understanding the facts about seed oils and dispelling common myths is crucial for making informed dietary choices. High-quality seed oils can be part of a healthy diet when used appropriately. By selecting the right oils and incorporating them into your cooking, you can enjoy their health benefits while minimizing potential risks. Remember to balance your intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, store oils properly, and choose unrefined, cold-pressed options whenever possible.

For more insights on healthy eating and cooking, explore our other blogs on the Clean Program website. Making small, intentional changes to your diet can lead to significant improvements in your overall health and well-being over time. Remember, when it comes to creating the most nourishing and enjoyable diet possible, knowledge is power.

Written by Carolyn De Lorenzo, Clean Program Health & Wellness Coach