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Linoleic Acid: When is it good and when is it bad?
The conversation around fats can be confusing. What is a healthy fat? Are seed oils good or bad? (Spoiler: they’re bad). What is omega-6 and omega-3? We busted some fat myths in our resource guide on healthy fats: eating fat won’t make you fat; fat won’t clog your arteries; and fat actually is a great source of energy! But we want to get a little more specific and focus in on one compound, linoleic acid, which is one of the main factors that helps us determine what is a healthy fat and what fats we should eat less of or avoid altogether.
What is linoleic acid?
Linoleic acid, or Omega-6, is considered an essential nutrient. This means that we don’t make this polyunsaturated fat in our bodies, so we have to get it through the food we eat. But the amount of linoleic acid in the average American diet is way above the recommended amount – 6 times more than the recommended amount. Overall, linoleic acid only needs to be about .5% of our caloric intake daily, and the absolute maximum is 2%. In fact, a handful of cashews will provide you with all the linoleic acid you need in a day!
When we consume more linoleic acid than we need, it gets stored in our adipose tissue and cellular membranes. This excess is pro-inflammatory and can lead to many chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, migraines, and cancer. And if that’s not bad enough, it isn’t a good source of energy, so it can lead to less satisfying meals and more carb cravings.
How much linoleic acid do we need?
Dietary guidelines suggest that our bodies need both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in the right ratio. Together, these essential fatty acids work to keep your body healthy and inflammation in check. But, as we know, the standard American diet is way higher in Omega-6 than it needs to be, and, to make matters worse, many Americans aren’t getting enough Omega-3s! The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is as close to 1:1 as possible. A ratio of 3:1 is okay. Most Americans are closer to a 20:1 ratio or even higher!
Linoleic acid is found in high concentration in seed oils, which are used in most processed foods nowadays. Seriously. Go to the grocery store and look at the packaging on any processed food – it’s likely you’ll find sunflower oil, soybean oil, or another seed or vegetable oil on the ingredient list. However, reaching your daily Omega-3 content is much harder. This means that there’s a big imbalance in the regular American diet.
How do you get your Omega-6 to Omega 3 ratio closer to 1:1?
Many people intentionally eat foods like fish and flax seeds specifically for the Omega-3. Eating more Omega-3s is a great step, but it’s also crucial to drastically reduce consumption of Omega-6 (linoleic acid). Since seed oils are our main source of linoleic acid, the best place to start is in the kitchen.
Swapping out your cooking oil from a seed oil to tallow, ghee, or unrefined coconut oil is an easy way to get your Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratio in check. Our e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding Seed Oils in Your Kitchen, is a great resource to help you with the switch to healthier fats in your kitchen.
Let’s take a look at the linoleic acid content of different cooking oils.
How much linoleic acid is in your go-to cooking oil?
We’ve organized these cooking oils with our favorites towards the top and the oils we avoid at the bottom. There are some in between oils that are fine in small amounts, but we don’t use them all the time.
- Butter – 2% Linoleic Content
- Unrefined Coconut Oil – 2% Linoleic Content
- Grass Fed Tallow – 2-3% Linoleic Conten
- Ghee – 2-3% Linoleic Content
- Suet – 2-3% Linoleic Content
- Pastured Lard – 6-10% Linoleic Content
- Unrefined Avocado Oil – 13.4% Linoleic Content
- Palm Kernel Oil – 2.4% Linoleic Content
- Not to be confused with palm oil which comes from the fruit instead of the seed (kernel).
- Palm Oil – 10.6% Linoleic Content
- The palm oil industry has huge issues with deforestation and labor abuses. If you are buying palm oil, be sure that you have researched the company and are supporting fair trade and sustainable palm farming.
- High Oleic Sunflower Oil – 10% Linoleic Content
- Safflower oil – 78% Linoleic Content
- Grapeseed oil – 73% Linoleic Content
- Sunflower oil – 68% Linoleic Content
- Corn oil – 59% Linoleic Content
- Cottonseed oil – 54% Linoleic Content
- Margarine and Shortening – 52% Linoleic Content
- Soybean oil – 51% Linoleic Content
- Canola oil – 21% Linoleic Content