Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oil Is A Processed Food

Corn, flax, canola, wheat, and soy are all seeds. Walnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, and almonds are seeds. Oats, rice, barley, spelt, quinoa, rye, amaranth, and teff are seeds. Sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, poppy, fenugreek are seeds. Lentils and peanuts are seeds, so are kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans, adzuki beans, and peas. Coconuts are seeds. All of these seeds can be sprouted.

Some diets discourage seed consumption. Paleolithic diet followers reason that before agriculture, seeds were not abundant enough to have been a significant food source, and/or for seeds to have been a food source they would have to be ground and cooked. Our human ancestors may not have been grinding and cooking 2.6 million years ago, or even (depending on who you read) 250,000 years ago.

If it's true that our human ancestors did not consume many seeds, or that the seeds they did consume were not ground and cooked, it's also likely that our human ancestors did not consume much extracted seed oil.

Oils are a processed food - not the oils present in food in its natural state, but oils that have been mechanically, chemically, or thermally extracted. Most seed oils are high in polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) and contain relatively high amounts of inflammation-promoting omega-6 PUFA. If our ancestors weren't eating much seed oil, they probably weren't eating much PUFA.

Ironically, one thing the popular meat-based Stone Age diets and the plant-based low-fat diets of Esselstyne and McDougall have in common is their avoidance of oils. Neither of these diets contain concentrated sources of omega-6-rich polyunsaturated oil. And both of these diets claim to defend against "diseases of civilization."


Perovskia said...

How does olive oil fit in this?

Bix said...

Olive oil is a processed food.

(Olives and avocadoes are fruits.)

caulfieldkid said...


I really don't know much about the Paleolithic diet, but why do they presume eating like our ancestors did 250,000 years ago is the way to go?

I can easily see why they would have an aversion to processed foods etc., but shouldn't there have been some adaptations to have taken place over that period?

Bix said...

shaun, I don't know.

I believe our genome has changed enough for us to be able to live well eating food around today, including grains (technically seeds). (I really like Richard Wrangham's idea about how fire has changed us.)

The new field of epigenetics (I know so little about) adds a new crease to Paleolithic diet theory. Epigenetics: changes in the proteins we make that don't even require a need for a change in genes/DNA. Example: Environmental pressures are enough to change how our genes get expressed. So, you don't need generations of mutations and selection for adaptation.

I'm trying to be open. Honestly, I do think some of their tenets are worth pursuing. (Meat is a problem though because it is so unlike meat back then, even Cordain admits this. And there is the modern problem of bioaccumulation of fat-soluble pollutants like pesticides in animal tissue. Although, plants have problems too, e.g. being grown in sewage sludge.) At the other end of the spectrum, the vegan diets, I don't think these are perfect either. But they also have good aspects. I like how Matthew said it in the post before.

About this particular topic, the more I read, the more I think vegetable oils cause problems. Not a teaspoon here and there, but when most things we eat are cooked in oil or have oil added. It adds up. It's no wonder we find benefit in supplementing with extra omega-3.

Anonymous said...

For one thing, they weren't eating beef from cows. I'm not totally sure about the history of cows pre-agriculture but my guess is the places they were, like india, they were probably still considered sacred & not eaten, but I could be wrong. That said, I've never seen a cave drawing of someone hunting cow. Regarding Olive Oil, there's a new study showing how a high-MUFA diet fed to those with metabolic syndrome from olive oil up regulates gene expression that has to do with obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc. So who knows. Jury is still out.

Adam Hirsch said...

One can make clarified butter without resorting to heavy processing, though - maybe folks eating paleolithic-style could cook with that, instead?

Bix said...

Interesting comment about olive oil and metabolic syndrome. I'll have to find that.

Bix said...

Hi Adam,
Clarified butter... It's an option, but I don't think by-the-book paleos eat dairy products. Not sure though. Milk wouldn't have been available, in quantity, before animal husbandry.

caulfieldkid said...

Thanks for the reply Bix. I can buy into both your comments.

It seems that you're finding a lot of good things, here and there, from a lot of different diets, but have yet to buy fully into any of them. Considering all the information that's been shared on this blog (and through links to other blogs/studies), that seems prudent.

That, however, leads me to another question. Have you come up with an informal list or rough outline of what to do/eat and not to do/eat? Maybe it resides in your head and effects what actually makes it to the tip of your tongue? I get the feeling there is also a list of foods that are on your "questionable" list?

Being Nosey,

Bix said...

It's funny you should mention this. I was toying with creating a place where I can collect my thoughts about what constitutes a healthful diet. I've been in this business for 20 years. I've read studies, seen how food affects people, and used myself as a guinea pig for several eating styles. "Paleo Vegetarian" was actually a phrase I made up in the previous post, I'd never heard it before, to describe what I think would make a great diet - Basically, a plant-based diet with some animal products. Minimally processed.

As you know from reading me for a while, I like to think things through before I settle on something. I'm open to changing my mind if I get new credible information. But, do I have an outline in my head? I do.

I may write some things on the blog below, time permitting. Or move some things from here to there. I don't know yet:
Paleo Vegetarian

caulfieldkid said...


virginia said...

I can't wait...