What is Soybean Oil and how is it used?
Move over sugar – there’s a new bad boy in town and his name is soybean oil! Did you know that 90% of all soybeans grown in the United States are genetically engineered? Engineered to do what you ask? Well, it turns out that these little beans have been genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed with herbicides.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer announced March of 2015 that a few herbicides were classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.
This is not good news since soybean oil has seeped in to so many of our foods.
Soy-based foods like soy milk, tofu and cheese substitutes have been controversial for years, at least when it comes to regular consumption. While most doctors and nutritionists agree that foods like tofu can definitely be part of a healthy diet if you don’t have allergies, other soy products haven’t fared as well.
One of the most harmful soy-based products you’ll find in many prepared foods is partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Not only is it in many of our foods, but it is also in the foods that is fed to animals that we eat.
Keep reading to learn more about soybean oil and why we don’t recommend you stock it in your pantry, as well as why we think you should skip products that use it altogether.
How is Soybean Oil Made?
Soybean oil production is somewhat complicated, but the basic process is one that most consumers can understand. Once soybeans intended for oil production are harvested they are cracked, dried for proper moisture content, and heated between 140 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Processed soybeans are rolled into small pieces and the usable oil is extracted with a solvent. The remaining oil is then refined, blended and sometimes hydrogenated, meaning it is processed into a semi-solid state that makes the end product similar to shortening like Crisco.
Partially hydrogenated soybean oil contains trans fats, which everybody knows aren’t healthy. These fats can raise your cholesterol and are high in calories, leading to weight gain.
Over time, trans fats in your diet can lead to cardiovascular and heart disease, which is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, according to Mayo Clinic. Even non-partially hydrogenated oils have health risks though.
Soybean oil contains goitrogens, which are found in all unfermented soybean products, and they can interfere with thyroid function. Soybeans are also rich in phytic acid, which can keep your body from absorbing certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
While the jury is still out, some controversial studies have found a link between soy consumption and estrogen production because of a compound called phytoestrogen. Increased estrogen production has been linked to potential endocrine function disturbances, infertility and breast cancer, though much more research is needed.
Soybean Oil and Weight Gain
Oils are a fat, and as you can see by the chart below fats contain nine calories per gram. Foods that are loaded with soybean oil and loads of sugar really do nothing but promote weight gain.
Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories
What About Natural Soybean Oil?
Natural soybean oil is the non-partially hydrogenated stuff that comes in a bottle for cooking purposes. Often used for cooking and shortening because of its light taste, real soybean oil is low in saturated fat, trans fat free, and high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Natural soybean oil is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.
The problems come in when you realize that most soybeans used for oil in the United States are genetically modified and full of omega-6 fatty acids (omega-6 is not our friend.) In fact, the omega-6 to omega-3 balance in soybean oil means that it really should only be used sparingly, if at all.
A lot of health conscious people wrongly think that anything labeled organic is healthy. Organic soybean oil is definitely a better choice than GMO soybean oil, but that doesn’t mean you should put it in your shopping cart.
Top 5 Uses for Soybean Oil
Soybean oil, both in hydrogenated and non-hydrogenated forms, is commonly used in many prepared food products. For the most part, this is because soybeans can be grown in the US and they are cost-effective for food manufacturers. Since they don’t flavor food in a dramatic manner, they can make products more palatable without altering taste.
The most common foods that contain soybean oil are salad dressing, baked goods like pies and cookies, crackers, premade sauces like barbecue sauce, and non-dairy creamer. If you look carefully at that list, you can see how oil that doesn’t have much flavor, but makes foods more appealing because of fat content, is used by many food manufacturers. Many of these products have tons of added sugar as well so they are extra loaded with useless calories.
That doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you though. In fact, health conscious brands that make those same products won’t be using soybean oil, and they certainly won’t be using partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Partially hydrogenated oils don’t spoil as quickly either, making them even more appealing to food manufacturers.
Soy products aren’t generally harmful to people who don’t have allergies, and the scare that many of us remember from the early 2000s is pretty much over. You can eat soy-based products, but you should so sparingly, and not make them the center of your diet.
Soybean oil, however, is best avoided. Use other oils with more health benefits like grape seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or walnut oil. Even safflower oil is a better choice. But keep in mind that oils are still fats and should be used used sparingly.