Science

Vegetable oil releases toxic chemicals when heated

Scientists have suggested that cooking with vegetable oils may be harmful as they can release toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other diseases.

Through a series of experiments, scientists determined that heating vegetable oil at high temperatures can release high concentrations of aldehyde, a chemical which is linked to many serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Typical meals fried with cooking oil might be more harmful that you think. Professor Martin Grootveld, a bioanalytical chemistry and chemical pathology specialist, stated that “a typical meal of fish and chips” fried in vegetable oil at high temperatures contained as much as 100 to 200 times more toxic aldehydes than the safe daily limit set by the World Health Organisation. This statistic might be shocking and highly unexpected for us who depend on fried food as a staple.

Grootveld’s research also has shown that using alternatives such as olive oil, butter and even lard may be a healthier choice as they produced much lower levels of aldehydes. Coconut oil seems to be the best option, producing the lowest levels of the harmful chemicals.

The health problems associated with toxic chemicals and heated oils is also demonstrated by a separate research project conducted at Oxford University by Professor John Stein, Oxford’s emeritus Professor of Neuroscience. He described how partially, corn and sunflower oils causes the human brain to change “in a way that is as serious as climate change threatens to be.” He believes that vegetable oils that are rich in omega 6 acids are replacing omega 3 acids found in the brain, thus reducing them. Furthermore, he states that the “lack of omega 3 is a powerful contributory factor problems as increasing mental health issues and other problems such as dyslexia.”

The NHS advises to replace food highs in saturated fat with lower-fat version. They also warn against frying food in butter or lard while recommending corn oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil because saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and increase risk of heart disease. This seems to be undisputed general knowledge. However, contrary to this, Professor Grootveld has said how through research, he has found that “butter is very, very good for frying purposes and so is lard”. His experiment focused on measuring the levels of aldehydic products produced when oils were heated to varying temperatures. The results suggests that while coconut produces the lowest levels of aldehyde, corn oil and sunflower oil produced three times more aldehydes than butter.

The major health concerns linked to these toxic by-products are no small issue and might raise alarms to many: heart disease, cancer, malformations during pregnancy, inflammation, risk of ulcers and a increased blood pressure.

While healthier alternatives such as coconut oil and even butter might reduce the amount of toxic by-products, it is important to keep in mind that saturated themselves also pose several health risks. The main key here is moderation: Public Health England suggests that saturated fats can be eaten occasionally, but in small amounts and as part of a balanced and diverse diet.

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