How Vegetable Oils Make Us Fat

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

I’ve got news for you.

That bottle of vegetable oil in your pantry is making you fat.

Even Earth Balance, the so called “natural oil blend” that sells like hotcakes at your local healthfood store, is expanding your backside with every spread of the knife on your morning toast and you don’t even realize it.

The reason is that these vegetable oil bottles and spreads are loaded with omega-6 fats.   Omega-6 fats are primarily found in the Western diet via soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola oil (which also contains rancid omega-3 fats) and are a category of polyunsaturated oils found in seeds and grains.

While eating seeds and grains is not a bad thing, concentrating the oils from them is.

The fact is that there isn’t a whole lot of oil in an ear of corn or a soybean, so to make an entire bottle of corn or soybean oil takes violent and heavily industrialized processing.

“Earth” Balance doesn’t sound so earthy after all, does it?

Omega-6 vegetable oils are not generally fats that you could easily produce in the comfort of your own kitchen like the simple and age old process of pressing olives into olive oil (a monounsaturated omega-9 fat) or churning cream into butter.

Here’s where the “fat” part comes in.

While a very small amount of omega-6 fats are necessary for health, when consumed to excess as happens with the Western diet, vegetable oils contribute to overproduction of neuromodulatory lipids called endocannabinoids that are responsible for signaling hunger to the brain.

Guess what these little guys do?

They give you the munchies!

You may wonder why the name endocannabinoids sounds a bit like cannabis (weed).  Weed is famous for giving people the munchies too so you can consider omega-6 vegetable oils the marijuana of fatty acids.

Now you know why you can’t stop eating a jumbo bag of chips made with corn, soy, or sunflower oil.


Is that why it’s so easy to eat an entire box of Archway Frosted Lemon Cookies in the blink of an eye!

What about that organic dressing loaded with omega-6 oils that tops your salad at lunchtime?  Could it be the reason behind the urge to overeat on the main course or the snack attack at 3pm?

Just try to gorge yourself the same way with a box of cookies made with butter, coconut oil or palm oil or wolf down a plateful of french fries that were cooked in beef fat (tallow).

No can do.

You see, whole natural fats like tallow satiate you and keep your blood sugar steady so you stay full and comfortable and eat much less.  Omega-6 vegetable oils, on the other hand, cause you to keep on eating and eating and eating until you have perhaps even made a complete glutton of yourself in a major way.

It seems with America’s weight problem now at crisis level, it’s time for a return to the traditional, nourishing fats of our ancestors which didn’t contribute to overeating or weight issues.

Isn’t it high time to stop listening to the talking heads on TV and take matters into your own hands?  Chuck that tub of Earth Balance in the trash and switch to simple, wholesome butter and other truly healthy, natural fats that don’t require a factory to produce them.

Your stomach and your backside will thank you.

Want to Get the Skinny on Fats?

Check out my recently released eBook Get Your Fats Straight to get the whole story about what fats to eat for optimal health and what fats to avoid in an easily understandable, comprehensive format.


Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Source:  Why Women Need Fat, William Lassek MD


Comments (77)

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  7. Maggie, I feel sorry for you.

    The only time butter would be better than Earth Balance is if it came from radioactive, disease-ridden, GMO corn-fed cows…

    Do your research.
    Stop following the mainstream. It’s embarrassing.

  8. Actually, Polyunsaturated fat is good for you- unless you have it in large amounts. If you use Earth’s balance on everything, then it’s bad. Earth’s Balance is a better thing to use than butter. I don’t ever have a ton of oils, and I always try to steer clear of them, but the Earth’s Balance doesn’t do any harm unless you have a bunch.

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  11. I understand the benefits of using real, good fats (butter, etc.); however, I’d still like to know about ‘natural’ oils, such as olive oil? Is that a good fat? Is it good for cooking or only as a drizzle? What about flax oil? Coconut oil is good for cooking, right?
    Could you point me to some resources on good fats other than butter/lard? (Although, I do use butter)

    Thank you.

  12. So true! I have been following this blog faithfully since I found it some time ago as well as a few others to gain a better understanding of how to prepare whole, traditional, nutrient dense foods. I have to add that Sarah’s blog has provided me with a wealth of valuable info and I found the videos very helpful. While I comprehend written word well, I enjoy the visual backup even better. Thank you Sarah!

    The story I want to share here is a bit wordy so you can choose to pass it by, but I think it could be worth the read to enunciate the value of adding good fat back into your diets. At the beginning of this last year I brought about 25 years of strict fat-free dieting and 23 years of relentless exercising to a screeching halt and in doing so I have finally succeeded in losing 34 lbs and four clothes sizes so it was a substantial loss. To put it into perspective that 34 lbs is equal to over (6) 5 lb. bags of flour! I pretty much ate what I wanted so I never once felt deprived and was always decently satiated. I plan to continue to loose at least that much more this year.

    In this year that I lost the weight I had a lot working against my success. My history exemplifies just about every irresponsible medical decision to occur in those days. I had a total hysterectomy for endometriosis when I was only 29 so I no longer had any of my natural hormones and I do not choose to take the synthetic replacements. After complaining about the unreasonable weight gain and being blown off by the several docs as a trivial issue (I am 5’9″ so I could pull off the weight gain w/o looking obese, but I was) I decided to go to school to learn about how my body worked so I could help myself. I had also began my journey by beginning to eat organic whole foods at this time which was about 1980. I went through the RN program on a mission earning a 4.0 through to my last semester and tutored much of my class as well. I also worked part time while in school at a doctors office as a phlebotomist and requested they do a thyroid test and I was found to have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. I have tumors in my thyroid that have to be monitored. I walked away from the medical profession because at the time nurses were working way too many hours under very stressful conditions. I am told by my friends who are still nurses that while it has improved, it is still very stressful. I am glad I walked away, but all was not lost because I gained a wealth of knowledge of the human physiology, was able to care for friend in her home through her death, I have become one hell of a fierce patient advocate for my mother and learned how to research throughly. Also, because of my GPA I received a full ride scholarship and worked on a degree in what I had always wanted to do, but could not justify until now: fine art.

    The final hurdle I had to jump was that I was making this weight loss attempt without being able to exercise because in the last two years I have pretty much been in bed more than out. In spite of my excess weight I have always been deemed as healthy as my vitals and blood work with each yearly physical were perfect. While on vacation in Europe I experienced severe back pain that was so bad I left my luggage behind and that pain has still not been resolved to this day. The MRI and other tests show a slightly budged disc, but it is hitting my nerves enough to cause several kinds of severe pain in my lower back and into my leg. Also, it was found that I have a degenerating hip joint due to years of heavy physical activity on an imbalanced body caused by the scoliosis (curved spine) I was apparently born with. I was told about it in my teens, but no one suggested there were any dangers to leaving it as is and chiropractors were not widely accepted in the 1970’s so I was never referred to one. Very frustrating! A chiropractor could have corrected this issue, but now I am told it has been too long to totally correct it as the damage is done. So far nothing including physical therapy, spinal epidurals, tens units, nor pain meds (which I refuse to use on a regular basis) brings any relief. Every med that is legal is addictive. Go figure. I have nerve pain that is agitated by any activity or by sitting or laying in one position for any length time. I found that if I do any activity for more than about an hour (standing, walking, sitting upright) I need to lay down in a propped up position to curve my back into a zero gravity position for several to stop the pain that intensifies from the activity. It is always there, but I have acclimated to it and have learned to take down time before it gets too intense. I do spend more time in bed than out, but now at least I can get out and have a life on a part time basis. I can no longer exercise in any way because one wrong movement and I get an excruciating stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of pain I would prefer to avoid. I can live with the small electrical pains and sciatic pain, but only for so long at one time when I need to push my time on my feet. Chronic pain can make you grouchy so I have to be aware when I get cranky to go lay down. I have a wonderful pillow system I bought to put me into a zero gravity position that brings me relief.

    The inactivity is very difficult for someone who exercised daily since I was 18 years old. I was a runner and worked out at the gym 5 days a week. I also had very physical employment throughout my life such as working as an experimental mechanic in a developmental lab for 5 years where I was involved in the build up and testing of military vehicles ranging from HumV’s to armored 5 ton trucks, I also walked a 12 mile mail route caring 35+ lbs on my back for five years then as a clerk dumping and sorting mail for two years just to mention a few of my careers. Even my play was very physical as I focused on sculpture in stone, bronze, iron, steel, etc . . . (as well as painting) in my nearly finished BFA degree. I am a good welder too. I also enjoyed spending time working on my own muscle cars and riding motorcycles, being outside hiking, canoeing and playing cut-throat three-some racket ball. I want to mention that I was a lacto ova vegetarian (included eggs and milk products) throughout these 28 years of weight gain. No, I did not fill up on grains, but they were a part of my diet and still are, but now I know to soak, sprout or ferment them first. My point here was that I gained the weight progressively in spite of my extensive physical activity.
    Knowing what I have learned about eating whole, nutrient dense food, I now attribute the weight gain to a combination of the slow metabolic issue from the Hashimoto’s along with not including the much needed healthy fats in my diet. By adding these nutrient dense fats back into my diet along with the Weight Watcher’s concept of becoming aware of my choices of food via logging what I ate and using their points plan, (making what I do choose to eat count) I was able to lose and keep the weight off and feel comfortable doing so. Now don’t cringe at the thought of my attributing my weight loss in part to Weight Watchers and quit reading, but instead focus on what I have to say next.

    As the Weight Watcher plan promotes, I logged everything I consumed, however I did not eat any packaged foods and added whole foods including healthy fats on a daily basis that I would have never considered allowing even on special occasions in my previous diets as follows. I added:
    1. Whole raw, grass fed A2 cow milk
    2. Whole raw, grass fed butter made from that milk
    3. Home made kefir made from that milk
    4. Bone broth based homemade soups
    5. Coconut products
    6. Cultured veggies
    7. Grass fed, organic meats

    Since my health insurance paid for 4 twelve week sessions I went to the member meetings once a week and pulled hints from their info then plugged in what I learned about nutrient dense foods from my research into the plan. I ate satisfying whole fats, cultured foods, bone broth based soups surrounded by fresh chopped veggie salads and fruits each day. Weight Watchers gave me a way to keep track of what I ate to see what worked and I just kept doing what I did in the weeks I showed the best weight loss. It taught me what worked best for my unique set of issues. The whole foods satiated me and brought my body to function as optimally as it could considering the challenges it deals with. When I had a way to make the more successful weeks of weight loss techniques more visible so I could replicate them and I lost weight more successfully. As with the success of the food point logging method helping me to eat some of what I wanted (good fats) and guided me as to how much to eat before filling in with zero point fruits and veggies it also showed me when I avoided all fat, I gained weight, but when I ate healthy fat my body seemed to work better at burning my excess body fat so I lost weight.

    When I was asked what I thought was key to my weight loss experience at the Weight Watcher meetings as I hit each milestone I said the same thing each time. In my observation the referring to my food log to determine what caused my best weight loss weeks so I could continue with the same eating patterns during those good weeks along with my adding the nutrient dense, satiating whole fat and traditional foods to my diet was responsible for my continued success. I need no further proof than finally experiencing such a successful weight loss. I had so many people at those meetings and at my doctors offices asking me to teach them how to make kefir and give them grains. I also offered them info on how to obtain a cow share. Oh, the doc from the pain clinic is one of those people as well as my family doc. Even though I rarely use their services I figure that these two ladies are keepers in case I do need them because they were willing to work with me as we stepped out of the box together.

    Again, sorry this was so long, but I wanted you to get what an uphill, long battle I faced and how it was easily resolved once I got the right info. Part of that info was what I found here about bone broths, soaking grains, sprouting, ferments, etc. Thanks for sharing Sarah!

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  14. Sarah,

    We recently (finally) got a copy of Nourishing Traditions and gave up our EarthBalance! I’m sure my husband read this post and thought, ‘I told you so!’ in the back of his head at me. We used it for about a year when we decided to go off dairy completely. We’ve since come to our senses. :-)

  15. Does anyone know if you heat raw coconut oil for long enough if it will loose it’s taste? I like it but my husband hates it and protests everything cooked in coconut oil, so I’ve not been using it. Next time I’ll get the expeller pressed but to use this one up, would heat work to take the taste away? Thanks.

  16. My kids have a milk protein allergy and can’t tolerate butter, so we cook with coconut oil for them. I don’t know what to spread on toast, though… besides Earth Balance, which I know isn’t any good. Suggestions?

      • Would Ghee be a possible other option for someone who can’t eat butter due to a milk protein allergy? I know it takes out the lactose, but what about the proteins (or ANY other possible allergens)

    • I made a homemade toothpaste with raw coconut oil, baking soda, xylitol and sea salt. It tastes so good sometimes I just want to eat it, and I do, but I limit myself because of the xylitol and baking soda. Maybe you could just do a little coconut sugar and sea salt and they would like that on bread. I rarely eat bread, but they might like that. Also in Spain people pour olive oil on toast for breakfast, sometimes plain, other times with chopped tomato & raw (cured) ham. I quickly switched from butter & jam to this breakfast before I knew anything about WAPF because it tasted better and was more filling. “Tostada con jamon serrano, aceite y tomate” for breakfast when I lived there. You can buy this raw ham as Procuitto here in the US. Best if you can get it from a butcher where the owners are Italian.

  17. Traditional alternatives to modern vegetable oils – Lard that has not been hydrogenated, beef tallow, lamb tallow, coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, even bison tallow. They behave better in cooking, and will not give you an overdose of Omega six oils.

  18. Thanks for this article Sarah. I’ve kept the “if I can’t pronounce it, can’t make it myself” as a method for deciding to purchase food products but oils I was not so aware of. I guess i stick with olive oil and coconut oil from your inference. thanks.

  19. Rice bran oil confuses me a bit since it is high in saturated fat, but would be bad because you can’t make it in your kitchen? What about raw cocobutter, shea butter, walnut oil & avocado oils? You could technically make those too, they are high in saturated fat as well. What’s wrong with peanut oil? My grandmother used to use that to deep fry chicken, and seems about as easy (or hard) as coconut oil would be to make at home.

  20. Hi Sarah

    Can I ask how your husband eats that much cream. Does he drink It? I would love my kids to eat more raw cream and butter but not sure what else to give it with . Raw butter on toast and vegis and cream in ice cream. Would love to hear any suggestions

    • Plenty of cream in a fruit smoothie should go down easy for the kids. If you use very cold cream and frozen fruit in the blender you will get a soft serve ice cream. Depending on the power of you blender you may need to add some milk or fermented dairy to make a product that isn’t so thick it burns out the motor of your blender.

  21. You repeatedly mention the how these processed vegetable oils are part of the “western” diet? As opposed to what? I assume you are trying to draw a contrast with “eastern” diets? If so, I am afraid you are quite mistaken in this assumption. Asian people generally use tremendous amounts of processed vegetable oil in there cooking. A small Chinese family can easily use up over a gallon of vegetable oil in a month. Same is true of most South East Asian culinary traditions. Japan might be the one exception to the rule, but even the Japanese diet includes plenty of fried noodles and deep fried dishes.

  22. Great site, Sarah, thanks. Just wondering about olive oil. I didn’t really understand whether you said it was ok or not. I don’t cook with it but we use it a lot for salad dressing. Is that ok?

    • as long as you aren’t heating it, extra virgin olive oil is great on salads or used as a bread dipping, to my knowledge.

  23. How much is too much cod liver oil? I just read today something that said it thins the blood, and that too much can even cause hemorraghic stroke. I take it daily and now so does my 6 year old daughter for treating her cavities. Any opinion on this?

  24. Thanks, Sarah. I heartily agree :) I was just wondering if you know of a way of making chips at home with the proper fats? I know chips are a carb and aren’t normally great or you anyways, but… my husband is extremely thin (and hasn’t been able to gain weight for many years) and so I encourage him to eat healthy carbs. I recently found some corn chips that are pre-soaked in lime, but I’m sure the oil is rancid and bad. I’d much rather make some at home if/when I have the time. Do you know a way?

    Thanks so much for your posts. They are most interesting.

  25. I might suggest that the primary factors precipitating overeating (of anything) are: restrictive attitudes about food, attempts at weight loss, and lack of reliable access to food (as sometimes happens when people diet, or simply fail to plan for their food needs). Fascinating studies have been done on the eating behaviors of children whose food choices were overly restricted. These are the children (and eventually adults?) who overeat highly palatable food (such as the dreaded corn oil fried chips) when offered them. Context is very, very important.

  26. Great post. Ever since I started eating traditional whole foods I have lost weight when I wasn’t even trying to. Thanks Sarah for keeping us informed on the dangers of non traditional foods.

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  28. In regards to overeating, it seems to me that when first switching to a real food diet, I couldn’t get enough! I wanted to always eat, and eat some more! This wasn’t the same as overeating though. I felt hungry, I was craving more butter. I wonder if my body wasn’t making up for all that lost time of low fat eating. Now I think my appetite has regulated and I certainly notice that I get full very quick, that’s not to say that sometimes I don’t eat a little more, because its sooooo good! But even then, its much harder to do that when eating real fats than when eating processed foods.

    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Yes, this is a common occurrence. When we first started eating raw grassfed cream in my house, my husband went nuts and was eating 8-9 quarts per month just by himself (I am not exaggerating). 10 years later he eats about 2-3 quarts per month and this is his typical consumption after going wild for a period of time at first. He just had some tissue replenishment to do after being starved of all those fat soluble vitamins for so long.

  29. Roseann @ The Wholesome Life April 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I have a question regarding Canola Oil. As a tour bus operator, my husband travels quite a bit. During a recent trip, he was able to visit with his sister in VA. She gave him a jar of 100% organic, unrefined expeller pressed Canola Oil, that was locally produced by her neighbors. I know that refined processed Canola Oil that is sold in the stores is not good, but is this locally produced unrefined organic oil ok to use in cooking? I hate to waste it and my husband really thought he was doing a “good” thing. Of course I am not using it in place of raw grassfed butter, and pure coconut oil. I just want to know if I can use it in conjunction with the healthy saturated fats.
    Thanks for your posts. They are so very informative!

  30. Another great post. This is one of the big things I first noticed when switching to saturated fats – I got full. Simple, but effective. When I remember to take my tablespoon of coconut oil 20 minutes before meals, I know it helps me to avoid overeating.

    • Did it cause you to lose weight? The saturated fat theory is so true. It does fill me up but I want to lose about 10 lbs.

  31. I was having a discussion about fats and cholesterol with my mom last week. She was showing frustration that her cholesterol was so high. A few years ago she went to Africa on a humanitarian mission for four months. While they were there the food choices were limited, as you can imagine. She ate more butter and eggs than she has ever before and her cholesterol went down and she lost weight! Of course, she came home and got back on her fake butter and gained the weight back and her cholesterol went back up.

    One more plug…I had a hard time convincing my husband to switch away from spread margarine. I bought a Butter Bell and love it. Real butter spreads nicely!

    • Isn’t it amazing the cognitive dissonance that happens when our experience doesn’t jive with what we’re told. We are so conditioned to trust authorities that we discount contradictory evidence. Thanks, Sarah, for your hard work getting us back to reality.

      • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

        Yes, we must come back to trusting our powers of observation more than what the talking heads and the so called “experts” are trying to make us believe USUALLY with the end result being profit for themselves or those that sponsor their meaningless media chatter.

        • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

          My Grandpa ate 2 eggs fried in butter every morning for breakfast and ate the thick strip of fat around his steaks. He lived to be 97 on his own independently (chewed tobacco right up into his 90’s too). I don’t know about you, but I’m eating like HIM. I’ll skip the chewing tobacco though :)

  32. Although I completely agree that industrial seed oils are not good at all, I can’t say I agree with you when you say that they are bad because they cause you to overeat, in comparison to saturated fats. I have baked a pound of sweet potato fries that were covered with coconut oil and sea salt and still ended up eating them all in one sitting.

  33. It has been sooo looong since one of these oils was in my pantry – canola was my family’s choice years ago. I wish I’d known then how it was made!!! I even admit to eating Country Crock – Churn Style (what a crock, huh? – pun intended)… I think it has now been over 12 years since I’ve cooked with anything but lard, ghee, coconut oil and occasionally peanut oil. I love going back to traditional fats. I have always loved butter and have eaten it by the spoonfull growing up… I hope to instill the same love in both my boys – my younger 2 YO loves it as I do and my almost 8 YO is on his way!!

  34. Sarah, I am so excited to find your blog! I am new to WAPF and am still reading the book Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. I have thought of myself as a health fanatic for most of my adult life, but I am finding out that all the different ways I’ve tried to eat has really made me sick!

    I will be visiting your site daily and I do have one question. What bran of sourdough bread do you eat? Do you purchase it in the store or online? I think I am confused when it states simply Sourdough or sprouted. If you would share a few brands I would greatly appreciate it.

    You are lovely looking, your skin is beautiful and your eyes sparkle. I want that healthy glow too. Thank you for such a wonderful blog!

  35. One August in the late 1970s, a cousin and I decided that we could take an ear of corn and turn it into butter. Easy, right? That’s what the oleo was made from.

    We stripped the kernels off a few cobs and set about mashing them in a big molcajete. Then mashed and mashed and mashed, but we never got butter.

    Deciding we were using the wrong tool, we got the butter churn out and dumped our corn mash into that. Still didn’t work.

    Apparently you can’t get butter from corn. Who knew?

    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      If people only can just grasp that they can’t make this stuff in their own kitchens they will realize what an incredibly unhealthy processed food these vegetable oils truly are. If you can’t make it in your kitchen easily, it shouldn’t be eaten.

      • That is a great saying. And absolutely true. It was not even possible to make these kinds of vegetable oil until the twentieth century. And they require heavy processing to reach the form of oil. But, as you said, if you cannot make in your kitchen easily, it should not be eaten.

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