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The Hidden History of Why Vegetable Oil Is in Your Kitchen Will Shock You

an image of a vintage Crisco cookbook

European monarchy arranged marriages for purposes of wealth and power, but two un-arranged marriages in the U.S. in the 19th century ended up being “responsible for the greatest dietary shift in our country’s history1.”

It’s natural for food and eating patterns to change over time, but it’s alarming when they change drastically and for business purposes. For thousands of years, humans have been enjoying animal fats, which have proven health benefits. However, in the 1800s, two businessmen completely transformed the way people prepare their foods by introducing a new cooking oil: toxic waste from cotton farming.

“What was garbage in 1860 was fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, and table food and many things else in 1890,” according to Popular Science2.

Below is the story of how vegetable oil became ubiquitous in American kitchens after two brothers-in-law paid off The American Heart Association and led a massive marketing campaign that convinced the American public to switch from healthy and natural oils to dangerous, industry-made vegetable oils.

In this article, we will reveal the hidden history of the popularity of vegetable oil that will make you question everything about the way you eat and the way you cook. You will be able to learn how hydrogenated oils originated; how they are made; and how you can avoid them!

Introduction of  Vegetable Oil in America

The story begins in Cincinnati in the 1800s, which was then known as Porkopolis because of the wide trade and consumption of pork and its byproducts — such as soap and candles — that were shipped via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

At that time, William Procter and James Gamble moved from Europe to Cincinnati and married sisters. The brothers-in-law created a company that’s still functioning today: Procter & Gamble.

an image of early vegetable oil soap
Courtesy of Smithsonian

Soap was then made from animal fats and sold in huge wheels, and Procter & Gamble wanted to revolutionize the industry by selling individual-size soaps. They replaced expensive animal fats with cheaper coconut and palm oils, which allowed soap to float in water rather than sink. To reduce the cost of raw materials for soap, Procter & Gamble started using liquid cottonseed oil. At the time, cottonseed oil was considered a waste product from cotton farming, and it was dumped into rivers.

Cottonseed oil is toxic when consumed by animals. So how did it end up in our kitchens?

Procter & Gamble enlisted the help of a German chemist named Edwin Kayser who created a new process to create a “creamy, pearly white substance1” from cottonseed oil that resembled lard. This new invention quickly replaced animal fats as the new cooking oil and became the notorious hydrogenated vegetable oil that is still, to this day, in nearly every American household.

Procter & Gamble called their new cooking oil “Crisco, which they thought conjured up crispness, freshness, and cleanliness.1” To convince people to switch from cooking with animal fats to this cotton waste, the businessmen hired an advertising agency, the J. Walter Thompson Agency, and started the country’s most expensive marketing campaign the nation had ever seen.

The agency sent samples of Crisco to “influencers” of that era — nutritionists, grocers and restaurant owners. Samples of foods cooked in Crisco were given out on the street, and special add ons were given with the purchase of the product.

They even went so far as to create a cookbook, which stated that “the culinary world is revising its entire cookbook on account of the advent of Crisco, a new and altogether different cooking fat1.”

an image of an early Proctor and Gamble cookbook
Courtesy via Ebay

The two true secret weapons for convincing the American public to switch to Crisco were cheaper prices and unregulated health claims on food packaging. Procter & Gamble spent a lot of money to convince shoppers that this product was much healthier and better for them than animal fats. They even got an endorsement from the American Heart Association (AHA) with a $1.5 million donation.

The AHA led the war on saturated fats, claiming that they caused heart disease and increased levels of LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol). Crisco, on the other hand, was a “heart healthy” food.

This campaigning led to several health initiatives such as the 1977 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which denounced fats and saturated fats. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also recommended that Americans switch from saturated fats to hydrogenated oils.

an image of an old crisco advertisement
Courtesy via Etsy

The collusion with public interest groups combined with the marketing campaign was incredibly effective, and sales of Crisco skyrocketed to the millions in 1912. It also led to the widespread sales of margarine, safflower oil and corn oil.

It wasn’t until 80 years later, in the 1990s, that the truth surfaced, when the public finally learned that Crisco is actually made from 50% trans fats, which “doubled the risk of heart disease for every 2% increase in trans-fat calories3” and “were responsible for 100,000 deaths4” in in the 1990s.

However, not all scientists embraced the new information. The CPSI, for example, wrote that “trans, shmans. You should eat less fat.” In fact, in 1994, even after the studies about the potentially fatal effects of eating vegetable oils were known, the CPSI started a campaign against coconut oil, a healthy saturated fat, in movie theater popcorn. They claimed5 that it had more “artery clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!”

an image of 1985 cookbook
Courtesy via Etsy

Although the truth about vegetable oils is commonly known, many people are still buying it. Manufacturers are still making it and grocers are still selling it. Before the 20th century, no one consumed vegetables oils, while today an average person consumes up to 70 pounds6 of it every single year.

Vegetable Oils Negatively Impact Human Health

As research around fats continues to surface, we are now aware of the true health impacts that occur from consuming hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oil have five troublesome properties that can lead to both acute and chronic health concerns.

Manufacturers Add Harmful Ingredients to Vegetable Oil

Consumers who purchase vegetables oils often assume that the bottle simply contains oil from vegetables. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Manufacturers add a host of hidden, harmful ingredients.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Between 85-90% of conventional soybean, corn, cotton and canola oils are grown from GMO seeds7. Although the research is still in the early stages on the impact of genetically modified ingredients to human health, The Institute for Responsible Technology8 reports that animal studies found genetically modified foods cause “organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility.” The Institute further states that when GMOs were introduced in 1996, “the percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise.”

Polyunsaturated Fats

Vegetable oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which are unstable and cause oxidation in the body. When our cells oxidize, they age and die, which leads to inflammation and mutation. This process is responsible for several types of cancers, heart disease and endometriosis.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids

While limited doses of Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial to our health, high concentrations of the Omega-6 fatty acids in vegetable oils have the opposite effect. They also cause our cells to oxidize, leading to a myriad of health concerns caused by inflammation in the body such as cancers, diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

A good balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can counterbalance the side effects in the body. Throughout history, the ratio of the two fats in our diet has been 1:1; but in the last century the ratio of the fatty acids in Western diet9 may be as high as 20:1.

BHA and BHT

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are also added to the vegetable oils to keep them “fresh” and prevent spoilage. These artificial ingredients have led to cancer, have suppressed the immune system, led to infertility, kidney and liver damage and behavioral problems.

Trans Fat

While fats found naturally in meat and dairy are good for you in limited amounts, trans fats are always bad for you. They are created during an industrial process when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in order to make it solid at room temperature, a property that is natural for coconut oil and oils made from animal fats. Trans fats lower your good cholesterol and raise your bad cholesterol, which can lead to stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and increases insulin resistance. One study found that a diet full of Omega-6 fatty acids during pregnancy caused autistic sociability disorder in rats.

A side note is that the FDA doesn’t require a food manufacturer to include trans fats on the list of ingredients if the content is 0.5 grams per serving or less, so you may be eating it without your knowledge.

an image of technicians and food additives

The Processing of Vegetable Oil Creates Dangerous Chemicals

Now that you know the history of vegetable oils, learn about the way they are processed; this will likely be enough to lead you to question how they can be sold at all in this day and age.

While some vegetable oils are cold-pressed, a minimal technique that leaves many of its original nutrients, this practice is not common. Most cooking oil is heavily processed to create a clear and pleasant oil10, and “go through an insane amount of processing with chemical solvents, steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before they end up in the bottle.”

“At first, vegetable seeds are diskinned and dehulled and crushed into coarse meal. They are then heated to extract the oil from the meal. In addition to the heat, up to 20,6850 kilopascals of pressure is used on the meal to extract as much oil as possible.” — Corn Refiners Association

But that’s not all — hydrocarbon and neurotoxin hexane solvents are then added for maximum extractions. Hexane is a byproduct that’s created during the production of gasoline, which is hazardous to our health and pollutes our air with toxicity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have any limitations on food residues, and the Cornucopia Institute11 found residues from hexane in soybean oil in 2009.

A study12 reported that five solvents were actually used in the production of cotton seed oil, which are hexane, benzene, acetone, ethyl-ether, and Butanone.

The oil is heated again at temperatures up to 188 degrees Fahrenheit and mixed with acid, sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate13. The oil is then bleached, deodorized and packaged to be sold.

Now, compare this complicated and lengthy process to the natural process of making butter—wait for cream to separate from milk, skim off the cream and shake.

Why Vegetable Oils Are in Everything

The first step to protecting your health is to stop purchasing hydrogenated vegetable oils. However, vegetables oils are added to nearly everything because they are affordable and preserve the product’s shelf life.

Examples of foods that contain vegetable oils14 include:

  • Margarine
  • Vegetable Shortening
  • Packaged Snacks
  • Processed Foods
  • Baked Foods, especially pre-made versions
  • Ready-to-Use Dough
  • Fried Foods
  • Coffee Creamers, both dairy and nondairy

To truly protect your health, learn how to read food labels so that you are not tricked by manufacturers. If possible, try to avoid pre-packaged and processed foods as they almost always contain vegetable oils that increase shelf life.

an image of vegetable oil

Health Hazards of Consuming Vegetable Oils

Consuming hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils as part of our diet is dangerous, and it can lead to a host of health problems. While the marketing ploys of Procter & Gamble in the 20th century led the public to believe that vegetable oils are “heart healthy,” we now know that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Below are just some of the serious and chronic conditions that hydrogenated oils can lead to:

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Vitamin E Deficiency
  • Shorter Life Span (as found in animal studies)
  • Low Testosterone

Healthy Alternatives to Vegetable Oil

It’s important to understand that we, as consumers, have options. We can educate ourselves about foods that are good for us, and those that are not. This way, we can make smart decisions about what we buy and what we cook with and eat. When it comes to hydrogenated vegetable oils, there are plenty of healthy alternatives.

an image of coconut oil

Cold-Pressed Oils

One solution to avoiding the harmful ingredients in hydrogenated oils is to switch to products made from meat and dairy, such as butter and pork lard. However, we don’t want to alarm vegetarians or vegans into thinking that only animal oils are healthy, and all other alternatives are to be avoided. Natural oils from avocado, coconut and olives are also healthy and have been used for thousands of years.

Manufacturers cold press oils by crushing the seeds and then using pressure to extract the oil form them — no heating or chemical solvents required! Industry-made oils are removed via chemical processes that use heat that destroys any healthy nutrients and flavors that the vegetable oils originally contained.

Cold-pressed oils are able to retain antioxidants, which include nutrients, enzymes and vitamins that counteract the damaging effects to our cells.

Antioxidants from virgin and cold-pressed oils boost our immune system, which helps us to fight diseases and infections and promote a healthy being. Antioxidants fight free radicals, damaging particles made from molecular fragments that don’t have a necessary electron to be healthy. As a result, free radicals are unstable, and scavenge healthy cells, DNA and proteins in search of their missing electron through a process called oxidation.

Oxidation is caused by aging, the metabolic process and inflammation as well as sunlight and pollution. If you remember, earlier on, we shared with you that Omega-6 fatty acids found in hydrogenated oils cause oxidation; therefore, it’s fascinating that making the switch to healthy oils prevents this very process from occurring in the first place.

Olive Oil

Olive oil has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It allows our body to ward of infections and fights inflammation and swelling in a natural way to help the body heal from processes that make it age faster and cause chronic health conditions.

Olive oil also promotes the flow of bile, which is a necessary step for our ability to digest fats and prevent constipation, and stimulates pancreatic and liver enzymes. Olive oil also helps brain cells mature and has been shown to play a role in preventing certain cancers.

Olive oil has a lot of important nutrients, such as:

  • Beta Carotene
  • Chlorophyll
  • Squalene
  • Phytosterols
  • Triterpenic Substances
  • Oleic Acid

Coconut Oil

Raw, organic coconut oil is called a “superfood” because it has anti-fungal, antiviral and anti-parasitic properties. It helps our body burn fat and drop weight, and is a great source of energy.

Coconut oil contains an important ingredient, lauric acid, which is also found in breast milk. Lauric acid promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon, which is where the majority of our immune system is located, which helps us prevent infections.

Coconut oil also has:

  • Healthy Saturated Fats, such as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)
  • Caprylic Acid
  • Myristic Acid

Coconut oil is believed to play a role in preventing the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Candida Albicans
  • HIV
  • Measles
  • Herpes
  • Epstein-Barr
  • Flu

Avocado Oil

We admit it, we mislead you—avocado is actually a fruit, but we have included it in the section of vegetable oils. Nevertheless, avocado oil is extremely good for you, and also tastes great.

While Crisco and other hydrogenated oils lead to heart disease, avocado oil does the opposite by fighting bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol.

It is made from 70% oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that is good for the heart that offers the following benefits15:

  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Promotes fat burning
  • Helps prevent Type 2 diabetes
  • Promotes brain function
  • May help prevent ulcerative colitis
  • Fights infections
  • Promotes skin repair
  • Helps fight cancer

Avocado has a lot of antioxidants, helps our body absorb certain nutrients more effectively and even has certain benefits for our skin.

Corporate Influence Impacts Our Health

Many of the “facts” we are led to believe about our diet may be swayed by big corporations and big money. As you have read, even The American Heart Association was bought with a donation. Use your own common sense and do your own research when choosing what to include in your diet. Natural foods that have been consumed for thousands of years, such as animal fats, will always be healthier than industrial seed oils that have been processed for money making purposes.

Reclaim Your Health With the Thermo Diet

Polyunsaturated fats like those found in vegetable oils damage your endocrine system and send your hormones spiraling towards imbalance which have a negative impact on your sleep, metabolism, reproductive cycles and sexual function. The long-term effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors cause obesity, thyroid disorders, diabetes, sterility and impotence because blockers such as the toxins in the environment and our foods prevent the body from returning to a state of homeostasis.

The human body will restore itself to a state of optimal health, but to accomplish this, we must have adequate sleep, hormonal function and nutrition. The Thermo Diet is a dietary and lifestyle philosophy that will optimize your life for hormonal balance. It will help you to regain your vigor and health by detoxing your system of endocrine disruptors and, instead, nourishing your body with whole foods and toxin-free wellness.

Learn more about this powerful lifestyle with our Beginners Guide to the Thermo Diet or browse through the chapters of the Thermo Diet course.

Citations and Sources

1.
Ramsey, Tyler Graham D, Ramsey, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.  D, Graham is a former editor at O: The Oprah MagazineI and Prevention. T. How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/how-vegetable-oils-replaced-animal-fats-in-the-american-diet/256155/. Published April 26, 2012. Accessed April 24, 2019.
3.
Clarke R, Lewington S. Trans fatty acids and coronary heart disease: Food labels should list these as well as cholesterol and saturated fat. BMJ. 2006;333(7561):214. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1523500.
4.
Hu F, Stampfer M, Manson J, et al. Dietary fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(21):1491-1499. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9366580.
5.
The Shocking Origins of Vegetable Oil. Medium. https://medium.com/@drjasonfung/the-shocking-origin-of-vegetable-oil-garbage-1c2ce14ae513. Accessed April 24, 2019.
6.
The Ugly Truth: Vegetable Oils Are Bad. Thank Your Body. https://www.thankyourbody.com/vegetable-oils/. Published February 18, 2015. Accessed April 24, 2019.
7.
Genetically Modified Crop on the Loose and Evolving in US Midwest. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/genetically-modified-crop/. Accessed April 24, 2019.
8.
10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs . Institute for Responsible Technology. https://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos/. Published August 25, 2011. Accessed April 24, 2019.
9.
Simopoulos A. An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity. Nutrients. 2016;8(3):128. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26950145.
10.
Corn Oil. corn.org. https://corn.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/CornOil.pdf. Accessed April 24, 2019.
11.
Soy Report and Scorecard. Cornucopia Institute. http://www.cornucopia.org/2009/05/soy-report-and-scorecard/. Published May 18, 2009. Accessed April 24, 2019.
12.
A comparison of five commercial solvents for extraction of cottonseed. SpringerLink. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02648783. Accessed April 24, 2019.
14.
Trans fat: Double trouble for your heart. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114. Accessed April 24, 2019.
15.
Dreher M, Davenport A. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23638933.
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Renata Ilitsky

Renata Ilitsky is a professional content writer and editor with over a decade of experience. Although she writes for various industries, she is the most passionate about health and holistic niches. Aside from her personal blog, Simple Natural Solutions, she has created content for Healthline, Dr. Willard's, Westside NeuroTherapeutics, EC3 Health and more!
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