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Industrially processed vegetable (seed) oils are ubiquitous in the supermarket. These oils were meant to replace animal fats and improve the health of America when they were introduced during the second half of the 20th century.
Consuming vegetable oil instead of animal fat was the best way to reduce blood cholesterol levels, which was at the time, understood to be a major cause of heart disease. But decades later, obesity and chronic disease rates continue to rise. In fact, the introduction of industrial vegetable oils to the food supply correlates very well with the rise in obesity rates.
Most other industrial vegetable oils were introduced around the 1960s, although soybean oil came earlier in the 1930s. These oils were big hits since they were:
Thanks to their affordability and ease of use, vegetable oils became popular ingredients in processed and fast food.
Animal fats are very stable through storage and cooking due to the high saturated fat content which lack of carbon-carbon double bonds in their structure. This indicates that cooking with animal fat could reduce the number of harmful lipids ingested with a meal which would reduce the burden of oxidative stress.
Animal fats have also been consumed by humans for millions of years. Yet, obesity rates only began to rise during the last century when vegetable oils started being consumed.
Why do animal fats keep popping up as a factor contributing to health in traditional cultures? It could be that animal fats are carriers of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K2.
Animal fats also contain some unique lipid species that are not found in plants. In fact, looking at individual fatty acids in specific foods is likely going to become an important area of study in nutritional sciences to better understand the biological effects of specific fatty acids.
It has to be said that there are real issues with current standards in animal production that impact both the quality of the meat (and fat), and the environment.
These problems will not be easily solved but the recent demand for higher quality meat has paved the way for producers to start raising livestock by means that are much more environmentally friendly.
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