February 11, 2024

Is Seed Oil Really Bad For You?

Written by our expert


Avanthika Nityanand

M.Sc Human Genetics, B.Sc Plant Biology & Plant Biotechnology

Is Seed Oil Really Bad For You?
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What is Seed Oil?

Seed oil is a type of vegetable oil extracted from the seeds of various plants rather than fruit or nuts.

Common types of seed oils include sunflower oil, canola oil (derived from rapeseed), soybean oil, sesame oil, and flaxseed oil, among others.

olive oil in a clear glass jar
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

These oils are widely used in cooking, baking, and food processing due to their neutral flavors and high smoke points, making them versatile for different culinary uses.

Additionally, seed oils are often sought after for their content of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, which can contribute to a balanced diet. [ref]

The process of extracting seed oil can vary but typically involves crushing or pressing the seeds to release the oil, followed by refining to remove impurities and ensure the oil is suitable for consumption.

How is Seed Oil Manufactured?

Seed oil manufacturing involves several key steps: cleaning, conditioning, pressing or extraction, and refining. Initially, the seeds are cleaned to remove debris and then conditioned by heating to facilitate oil release.

Mechanical pressing is often used for oils marketed as "cold-pressed" or "expeller-pressed."

This method physically squeezes the oil from the seeds.

It yields less oil than solvent extraction, which uses a chemical solvent (usually hexane) to dissolve and extract the oil more efficiently.

Following extraction, the oil undergoes refining to remove impurities, free fatty acids, and unwanted odors or flavors. This process includes degumming, neutralization, bleaching, and deodorization.

While refining improves the oil's stability and safety, it can also strip away some of its natural nutrients and antioxidants.

Cold-Pressed (Mechanical Pressing) Vs. Solvent Extraction

FeatureCold-Pressed Seed OilsSolvent Extracted Seed Oils
Extraction MethodMechanical pressing is used to extract the oil without external heat.Chemical extraction
TemperatureLow temperature is maintained to avoid altering the oil's natural properties.High temperatures may be used during the extraction & refining process, potentially affecting the oil's nutritional content.
Nutrient RetentionHigher retention of natural nutrients, antioxidants, and flavors due to minimal processing.Potential loss of some nutrients and antioxidants due to using heat and chemicals in extraction and refining.
Taste and AromaOften have a more robust and natural flavor and aroma characteristic of the seed.It is more neutral in taste and aroma due to refining, which removes impurities and natural flavors.
Chemical ResiduesNo chemical solvents are used, so there's no risk of solvent residues in the oil.It may contain trace amounts of chemical solvents, which are typically removed during refining to meet safety standards.
Production YieldLower yield compared to solvent extraction, making these oils generally more expensive.Higher yield of oil from the same amount of seeds, resulting in a more cost-effective process and product.
Environmental ImpactConsidered more environmentally friendly due to the absence of chemical solvents and lower energy consumption.The use of chemical solvents and higher energy for extraction and refining raises environmental concerns.
Health ImplicationsPerceived as healthier due to minimal processing and higher levels of beneficial compounds.Concerns over potential health effects of solvent residues and loss of beneficial compounds during processing.

Why Do People Think Seed Oil is Bad for Them?

The controversy surrounding seed oils largely stems from concerns over their fatty acid composition and the industrial processing methods used to extract and refine them.

Critics argue that seed oils are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which, in excessive amounts, can lead to an imbalance with omega-3 PUFAs.

This can contribute to systemic inflammation, a risk factor for various chronic diseases.

Furthermore, the refining process of seed oils can introduce trans fats and remove beneficial nutrients, raising health concerns.

Additionally, the environmental impact of cultivating crops for seed oil production, such as deforestation and pesticide use, also contributes to the negative perception of these oils among some consumers and health enthusiasts.

Is Seed Oil Really Bad for You?

The health impact of seed oils is a topic of debate.

While it's true that they are rich in omega-6 PUFAs, which in excess can contribute to an imbalance with omega-3 PUFAs and potentially promote inflammation, the overall context of one's diet is crucial.

A 2015 systematic review challenged the widespread belief that frying foods inherently elevate CVD risk, as current evidence does not support this notion. [ref]

Consumed in moderation and as part of a diet that also includes sources of omega-3 fatty acids (such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts), seed oils can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.

It's also important to choose high-quality, minimally processed seed oils and to use them in cooking methods that do not involve excessively high temperatures, which can degrade the oils and produce harmful compounds.

Does Seed Oil Cause Inflammation?

The relationship between seed oil consumption and inflammation is complex.

Seed oils high in omega-6 PUFAs have been linked to increased levels of inflammation when consumed in large amounts without a corresponding intake of omega-3 PUFAs.

This imbalance can potentially contribute to chronic inflammation associated with various health conditions.

However, it's the overall dietary pattern that determines the inflammatory potential of a diet.

Consuming a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, including anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can mitigate these concerns and support overall health.

Is Seed Oil Bad for Your Skin?

The impact of seed oils on skin health depends on various factors, including the type of oil, how it's used, and individual skin type.

Topically applied, some seed oils (like sunflower and sesame oil) can be beneficial due to their moisturizing properties and content of skin-supportive nutrients like vitamin E.

However, the consumption of seed oils high in omega-6 PUFAs, without balance from omega-3s, may exacerbate conditions like acne or eczema in susceptible individuals due to the potential for promoting systemic inflammation.

As with dietary concerns, moderation and balance are key, along with choosing high-quality, cold-pressed oils for both dietary and topical use.

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