Is This Potentially Harmful Oil Lurking in Your Favorite Healthy Restaurant Dish?

Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

Choosing a cooking oil is an extremely intricate dance. (Like, Tracy Anderson-level complicated.) Olive oil's great, as long as you don't turn the burner up too high. Coconut oil can withstand a little more heat, but some experts say you should consume it in small doses. And although flaxseed oil is full of omega-3s, it's a little temperamental. (Store it the wrong way and it'll go rancid really fast.)

As if you needed another cooking oil conundrum to contend with, right? Well, according to brain health expert Max Lugavere, grapeseed oil is another one that you should put on your watch list, since it's extra-high in potentially inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. "A lot of the problems associated with Western diet are thought in part to be because our omega-6 to omega-3 balance is so skewed toward omega-6s, which provide the precursors to our bodies’ inflammation pathways," he says.

No sweat, you may be thinking. I don't use grapeseed oil. Okay, so you may not have it in your pantry, but you're likely eating it without knowing it—it's cheap, flavorless, colorless, and odorless, which means it's often used as a cooking oil in restaurants. (Even healthy ones—as  Lugavere points out, it's one of the top-listed ingredients in Sweetgreen's salad dressings.)

Is this truly a concern, however—or merely more nutritional fake news?

Keep reading to find out whether you should avoid grapeseed oil while cooking at home and dining out.

The complex truth about grapeseed oil

Here's the thing: Omega-6s—the demonized fatty acids in grapeseed oil—aren't always bad. In fact, they're an essential nutrient, and one that our bodies must obtain from food. (They're present in many vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.)

The issue, however, is that most people consume way too many of them. "While our brain needs both long-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fats, the current overwhelming increase in omega-6 fats in popular cooking oils such as grapeseed oil has put the ratio way out of balance," says The Plant Paradox author Dr. Steven R. Gundry. "This can potentially cause inflammation." (Not to mention obesity and cognitive decline.)

"It’s thought that for the vast majority of our evolution, we were consuming [omega-3s and omega-6s] in a ratio that was 1:1 or maybe 1:4 in favor of omega-6s, but definitely not the 1:25 ratio—or more—which people today are consuming," adds Lugavere. 

Think that sounds excessive? Get this: Grapeseed oil, Lugavere says, has an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:700. (No, there is not an extra zero on the end of that number.) 

What's more, grapeseed oil is extracted at high heat, possibly posing an additional health risk. "Because it’s predominately a polyunsaturated oil, it can be easily oxidized or, in other words, go bad really easily," Lugavere says.  "A lot of people get confused because grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, but there's actually no relationship between the smoke point and the temperature at which an oil can oxidize."

An argument in favor of grapeseed oil

With all of that said—and here comes the confusing part—the verdict on grapeseed oil is not definitive. Some studies have found it to have beneficial effects on human health; however, even then, "excessive supplementation" is cited as being pro-inflammatory. 

So if other people are preparing your food the majority of the time, it never hurts to ask if grapeseed oil's been used to make your meal or its dressings. (You can always ask them to swap it for a different oil.)

And know that there's a way to counteract the effects of an unintentional omega-6 overdose—simply up your omega-3 intake whenever possible. Studies have shown that those who consume a Mediterranean diet, which offers a better balance of omega-3s to omega-6s than typical Western diets, have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Bring on the mezze plates.

Here's how to sneak more Omega-3s into your diet for balancejust beware of fake supplements.

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