19 Places Vegetable Oils Are Hiding (Plus Which Oils to Avoid)

Written by Claire Hannum

Updated on August 31, 2023

If you were to break down your diet into percentages based on a guess, what would you imagine? Would you assume that a quarter of your daily calories were grains and that maybe another quarter was protein? What percentage of your daily meals would you guess went to fruits and veggies?

Here’s one thing I can bet you didn’t imagine on your daily plate: vegetable oils. Most of us imagine oils as background noise in our daily diet, but the reality is that they take up a huge portion of what we eat each day. Vegetable oils make up a whopping 20% of American calories (1). Yes, 20%! (2)

An ingredient that didn’t even exist just over a century ago is now so prevalent in our daily diet that it’s nearly impossible to fully avoid. It’s hiding in plain sight among our favorite snacks, restaurant meals, and even “healthy” grocery products like salad dressing, ketchup, and dairy-free cheese.

And here’s the thing: vegetable oils are not your friend. They are associated with higher rates of diabetes, heart health issues, and other chronic illnesses (3).

In 2018, around 51% of US adults had at least one of ten common chronic health conditions (arthritis, cancer, asthma, hypertension, hepatitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or weak/failing kidneys). More than 27% had more than one chronic illness to contend with at once (4). Obesity has also been rising in the US (5).

Those numbers are striking in their own right, but what makes them especially shocking is that Americans, by and large, have been consistently developing better habits over the last century. Americans get more exercise than they did 20 years ago, Americans are more aware of the need to eat healthy than they were 20 years ago, and the amount of Americans who smoke has decreased by 50% since 1965 (678).

So why are health problems only growing? A lot of experts wonder if the culprit is the rise of vegetable oil—and our team at NativePath believes that it is.

Table Of Contents

What Are Vegetable Oils?

The more accurate term for vegetable oil is partially hydrogenated oil (PHO). Through a process called hydrogenation, hydrogen molecules are added to the liquid vegetable oil, turning it into a solid at room temperature. This process creates artificial trans fats: the type of fat that lowers your body’s good cholesterol (HDL) and raises the bad kind (LDL).

Vegetable oils are derived from seeds, legumes, and grains. They include soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, canola oil, rice bran oil, cottonseed oil, and grapeseed oil.

Bottles of canola oil and vegetable oil sitting on grocery store shelves.

These oils show up in cooking and baking recipes, processed foods, margarine, salad dressing, most restaurant foods, and all kinds of everyday grocery store purchases.

They are extracted from the plants through either an oil mill or chemical solvent, as opposed to healthier oils which are produced by crushing or pressing plants and seeds (9).

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils didn’t even exist until 1900 (10). The hydrogenation process used to create margarine was introduced in 1901, cottonseed oil didn’t appear on the scene until 1911, and corn oil didn’t become available until as late as the 1960s. They are not a whole, natural part of the human diet.

10 Toxic Vegetable Oils to Avoid

Here is a list of the most common vegetable oils that should be avoided…

  1. Soybean Oil
  2. Corn Oil
  3. Cottonseed Oil
  4. Sunflower Oil
  5. Safflower Oil
  6. Grapeseed Oil
  7. Canola Oil
  8. Rapeseed Oil (the source of canola oil)
  9. Peanut Oil
  10. Rice Bran Oil
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Health Issues Linked to Vegetable Oils

In 2013, a group of scientists in Sydney, Australia studied two groups of participants. Each group’s diet included the same levels of fat and oils—but the first group got their fats and oils from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and safflower oil, while the other group used other sources like olive oil and butter. Everything else about the two groups’ habits was the same. Over the seven years of the study, the vegetable oil group had a 62% higher death rate (11).

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils come with risks. Here are some of the top issues linked to them…

1. Vegetable Oil Contains Trans Fats

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contain trans fats, which can put you at risk for heart issues, inflammation, and other health problems (1213). So much so that just a 2% increase in calories from trans fats nearly doubles your risk of heart disease (14).

  • The plus side: The FDA banned trans fats in the US in 2018 (15).
  • The downside: Certain foods may still include small amounts of trans fats thanks to the way they are processed. And food products that were created before the ban may still contain trans fats as well.

2. Vegetable Oil Throws Off Your Omega-6-to-Omega-3 Ratio

Vegetable oils are high in an essential fatty acid called omega-6. While this fat can be good for you in balanced amounts, experts believe that humans need to get a specific ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3 in order for omega-6 to have a healthy effect on the body (16).

Since vegetable oils are loaded with omega-6s, you’d need to consume a LOT of omega-3s to create a healthy balance. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. In just the past 150 years, Americans have gone from a 1:1 ratio to a staggering 20:1 ratio (17). Which is why chronic inflammation is on the rise. Just this one bodily imbalance can lead to health issues like cancer, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease (1819).

More research on this issue is still needed, but early suggestions are worrying enough to steer clear of vegetable oils.

3. Vegetable Oil Is Unstable and Oxidizes Easily

Because vegetable oils consist of polyunsaturated fats, their chemical structures contain two or more of what’s called a double bond. This means that vegetable oils are at risk of oxidizing, or reacting to oxygen in the air. When the oils oxidize, they could degrade into potentially dangerous compounds (20).

When vegetable oils are used during cooking, they may be heated to a temperature that hits their smoke point. At the smoke point, the oil starts to oxidize and release unhealthy free radicals (21). At this smoke point, they may also release acrolein, a burnt-flavored substance that can pose a risk to your lungs when it’s in the air (22).

If you consume high amounts of vegetable oils, this means that the membranes of your cells are at a higher risk of oxidation. When cells oxidize, it can damage DNA and increase your risk of certain health issues (23).

4. Vegetable Oil Is High in Linoleic Acid

Vegetable oil contains high levels of linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid that can alter neurotransmitter signaling and make you eat more than you need (24). In an animal study, mice were fed either a diet high in soybean oil and coconut oil, or just coconut oil. Those fed the soybean oil diet showed significant increases in weight gain, adiposity, diabetes, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance (25).

What this study shows is that as one consumes more and more vegetable oil, their levels of linoleic acid increase, along with their body fat. When body fat increases, a whole host of issues arise: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more (26).

Today, linoleic acid accounts for nearly 8% of our caloric intake. This is a stark increase from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who consumed just 1 to 3% of their calories from linoleic acid (27).

19 Foods Where Vegetable Oils Are Hidden

A key thing to remember is that the vast majority of restaurants use vegetable oils to cook their food. And we’re not just talking fast food—many high-end restaurants do the same. Most packaged foods lining grocery store shelves contain vegetable oils, as do harmless-seeming products like oat milk and even baby formula. Here are some common foods that usually include vegetable oil:

  1. Margarine
  2. Baked Goods
  3. Candy
  4. Ice Cream
  5. Coffee Creamer
  6. Dairy-Free Cheese
  7. Oat Milk
  8. Potato and Corn Chips
  9. Fried Food
  10. Crackers
  11. Vegetable Shortening
  12. Frosting
  13. Salad Dressing
  14. Mayonnaise
  15. Pre-Made Dough
  16. Microwave Popcorn
  17. Pre-Packaged Nuts and Seeds
  18. Pre-Packaged Snack Foods
  19. Baby Formula
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So What Can You Do?

There are four things you can do to cut back on vegetable oil intake…

1. Check Ingredient Labels

Senior woman shopping in a grocery store, standing beside shopping cart. She is reading the ingredient label on product.

Before adding an item to your grocery cart, do a quick scan of the ingredient label. Keep an eye out for the following words or phrases…

  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils
  • Trans Fats
  • Soybean Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Rice Bran Oil

2. Ask Your Server

Blonde woman at restaurant asking server if there's seed oil in the meal she's ordering.

When eating out at a restaurant, ask your server what oils they use to prepare your food. LocalFats.com is a handy website that shows your which restaurants in your area use healthy fats in their kitchen.

3. Audit Your Fridge and Pantry

Woman in front of the fridge looking at which of her food and beverage products contain vegetable oil.

Search your kitchen for foods, drinks, or other products that contain the following oils:

  • Soybean Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Rapeseed Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Rice Bran Oil

4. Choose Healthier Alternatives

Avocado oil in clear bowl and fresh sliced avocadoes on wooden board.

Olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are three of the most popular substitutes for vegetable oil, but they’re not the only ones. There is a wide range of healthier oils and fats to try: Our Skinny On Fat Guide shows you the ins and outs of cooking with healthier oils and advises on the safest temperature to use for each oil.

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Made with 100% coconut oil, NativePath MCT Powder provides you with fast energy, enhanced mental clarity, and curbed cravings.

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The Bottom Line

Vegetable oils are a hidden danger to our health. Most of us are surrounded by them, as they’re in countless foods and restaurant meals. Take steps to switch out vegetable oils for alternatives like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, and be aware of the ingredients in the foods you eat. You can cut back on vegetable oils—it just takes awareness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vegetable oils can contain trans fats and may pose a risk to heart health. They also include high levels of omega-6, which can put you at risk for chronic inflammation and associated health issues like cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Vegetable oils also have a high risk of oxidation, which can cause cell damage and risk of illness.

Soybean oil may have a link to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression, and vegetable oils may increase your risk of cancer (28). Vegetable oils have also been linked to an increased risk of cancer (293031).

Claire Hannum
Article by

Claire Hannum

Claire Hannum is a New York City-based writer, editor, wellness seeker, and reiki practitioner. Her writing has appeared in Self, Health, Prevention, and over a dozen other publications.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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