Do Vegetable Oils Cause Heart Disease?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Since the 1960’s, Americans have been eating less saturated fat and consuming more vegetable oils, all in an attempt to prevent heart disease.

Unfortunately, these days heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women, killing hundreds of thousands each year, and being responsible for 1 in 4 deaths.1

Since we’ve been anything but successful in our attempts to abolish heart disease, we need to completely re-evaluate the situation. Have we been wrong all along?

Case in point: Research is now showing that vegetable oils may not be as heart-healthy as some have always imagined. In fact, they may even play a critical role in our current heart disease epidemic.

Let’s explore this a little, shall we?

Safflower Oil is Linked to Heart Problems and Death

Between 1966 and 1973, a study was conducted to evaluate the effects of dietary fats on heart health. Researchers split more than 400 men who had suffered a recent cardiac event into two groups.

One group was instructed to avoid saturated fats but include more safflower oil — a rich source omega-6 fats — in their diet. The other group was instructed to continue their usual eating habits.

The data of this study was recently re-evaluated and published in the British Medical Journal.2, and the results were pretty surprising. The men who cut back on saturated fats were more likely to have cardiac problems and die from all causes.

Omega-6 Fats are Inflammatory

So why is something like safflower oil associated with heart disease and even death? It may have to do with it being a rich source of omega-6, an unsaturated fatty acid.

The typical Western diet contains excess amounts of omega-6 fats and too little omega-3 fats. Some estimates show the American diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 8:1, when optimal ratios for heart health3 are not greater than 4:1.

Excessive intake of omega-6 fats is associated with inflammation, blood clots, increased blood viscosity and decreased bleeding time, and even plaque formation in certain populations.4

In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids stop inflammation, have blood thinning effects, and protect against plaque.5

See why some balance is needed?

When it Comes to Fats, It’s All About Balance

Are we advocating that you avoid all omega-6 fats and vegetable oils? No. It’s just an excess that may be causing problems. Your body actually needs a certain amount of omega-6 fats to function properly.

We are, however, advocating that you reduce the amount of omega-6 fats in your diet. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and sunflower oil are big sources of omega-6 fats.

Avoid cooking with them to prevent excessive amounts in your diet. Instead, choose healthier options like olive oil.

Animal products such as chicken, eggs, milk, and beef are rich sources of omega-6 fats as well, but grass-fed animals tend to have a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.6 Consider these when given the option.

Prepackaged foods are another big source of omega-6 fats. Soybean oil, for example, is a major ingredient in many processed foods. You’ll also find omega-6 fats in salad dressings and marinades.

And last but not least, make an effort to get more omega-3s. They will help you tip the balance against the harmful effects of omega-6s.

Get More Omega-3s and Test Your Blood Levels

It’s hard to obtain enough omega-3s through diet alone, so consider supplementing with them. Fish oils and algal oils are great sources. They both contain EPA and DHA, the most heart-friendly omega-3s.

You can also measure your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio with a simple at-home blood test, called the Omega Score®. This simple blood test will tell you precisely where your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is.

The Bottom Line

For optimal heart health, it’s important that you decrease the amount of omega-6s in your diet while simultaneously increasing the amount of omega-3s.

Have you made an effort to do this? If so, has it impacted your health? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


  1. Available at: Accessed February 26, 2013.
  2. BMJ. 2013 Feb[RS1] 4;346:e8707.
  3. CMAJ. 2002 Mar 5;166(5):608-15.
  4. Biomed Pharmacother. 2006 Nov;60(9):502-7.
  5. Drug News Perspect. 2008 Dec;21(10):552-61.
  6. Nutr J. 2010 Mar 10;9:10.
Omega Score® is a registered trademark of Nutrasource Diagnostics, Inc.


heart and blood pressure said...

I am using sunflower oil since ages since i am a vegetarian, and i have no such problem with my heart, i feel eating and doing exercise makes you fit and healthy.

LifeExtension said...

heart and blood pressure - Yes, eating healthy and exercising are the key to being healthy. Thanks for chiming in!

Anonymous said...

Yes Certain oils like vegetable, canola, and even olive oil are intolerant to high heat. When they are used for cooking sauteeing or frying they can turn rancid if heat level rises too high..making them more of a toxin than help to our bodies. Sunflower and Coconut oils remain healthy at high heat temps.

felim said...

High cholesterol is the risk factor causing coronary artery disease. Hence the diet that is high in saturated fats and cholesterol may cause heart problems. So, it would be great to move to truly 'heart healthy' diet.

LifeExtension said...

felim - Thanks for chiming in!

Anonymous said...

Stay away from genetically modified foods such as corn, soy, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and sugar beets as well as supplements that include these food ingredients unless they are certified organic or identified as non-GMO.

Linda said...

I use safflower oil for cooking, I hope my health will be ok

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