Do Restaurants Serve Healthy Oils?

When you go out to eat and read the dinner menu, do you think about cooking oils used by the restaurant where you are eating your food? Many people don’t, but the reality is, most of the oils used by restaurants, unless otherwise noted, are highly-processed, industrially-produced, genetically modified, rancid vegetable oils that are unhealthy to consume.

In my teens and twenties, I remember having conversations with people about eating low-fat dressings on salads that were supposedly “healthier” choices than the full-fat choices. The idea was that fat was unhealthy to consume, and therefore low-fat was better (not unlike the mentality about fat now).

This idea has persisted for some years, and really, this notion is false. Because medical and health communities have mislead the public about health information for so long, everyone believes the issue lies in fat. But real, whole fats are good for you. What’s more, the oils contained in 99 percent of the salad dressings and condiments you eat in restaurants are not good for you… and why? Because they are usually soybean, canola, cottonseed, or safflower oil. Just ask your server, and it may take some digging to find this out, but what you will learn is that your salad is covered in a toxic substance that has no place on the dinner table.

Case in point: one night some years ago I went to the Olive Garden with my husband and son who was still a baby at the time. This was during the years when we used to eat out a lot. For some reason it occurred to me to ask the server about the dressing. I asked her what type of oil they used in their famous salad that everyone believes to be so healthy to eat. She replied that she would have to ask in the kitchen and would let me know. Upon her return she confirmed my suspicion: the oil they use is soybean oil. All those years I had been eating that same salad and thinking how good it was for me…only to find out all that time I was eating rancid, toxic oil! I felt duped and lied to, and began to realize that probably every restaurant I ate at did the same thing.

Even when you see olive oil on the menu at a restaurant – which is usually served on some type of meat or fish (and it is called out specifically on the menu; the restaurant won’t just sneak it in somewhere because olive oil is too expensive), you have no idea what kind of olive oil they are using and whether it is good quality. For all you know, it could be rancid as well. Olive oil can become rancid easily if stored improperly, for too long, or is subjected to high-temperature heat.  So unless noted, anything cooked in oil in a restaurant, is most likely prepared in vegetable oil of some type.

Now there may be some exceptions, such as when the server brings out a bowl for dipping your bread with vinegar and a bottle of oil – in those cases, the oil is often olive oil. Still, the quality is probably not up to standard. The name of the game in the business of restaurants is making money, after all. Their margins are razor-thin and they have to make every expense count. And let’s not even get started on the bread…it MAY be fresh baked, in some cases, but the flour is most likely not organic and the flour used to make the bread is also probably rancid (and likely from a genetically-modified source). Best to avoid the bread and the dipping oil altogether.

What’s wrong with vegetable oils? Other than the fact that they are trans-fats, rancid and industrially-produced, and originate from genetically-modified sources, their main fat content comes from polyunsaturated sources. According to Rat Peat, PhD, a physiologist who has studied dietary fats and hormones since 1968, polyunsaturated fats are not healthy and cause heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, premature aging, and various auto-immune disorders. They are so unhealthy, he believes their only place is in industrial uses such as for painting. Read the following two excerpts from ‘Unhealthy Vegetable Oils‘ by C.J. Puotinen:

“The main problem is that polyunsaturated oils contain long-chain fatty acids, which are extremely fragile and unstable. The unsaturated oils in some cooked foods become rancid in just  a few hours even when refrigerated,” says Peat, “and that’s responsible for the stale taste of leftover foods. Eating slightly stale food with polyunsaturated oils isn’t more harmful than eating the same oils when fresh, since the oils will oxidize at a much higher rate once they are in the body. As soon as polyunsaturated vegetable oil enters the body, it is exposed to temperatures high enough to cause its toxic decomposition, especially when combined with a continuous supply of oxygen and catalysts such as iron.”

“Senate hearings on the health implications of tropical oils brought testimony from Harvard Medical School researcher George Blackburn, Ph.D., University of Maryland research associate Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., and U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., all of whom defended coconut oil. They pointed out that coconut oil has been a mainstay in the diets of millions of people for thousands of years, and those who still follow their traditional diet, such as Pacific Islanders, enjoy long, healthy lives with none of the heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses that plague America. The media paid little attention and instead promoted the anti-saturated-fat hysteria with headlines (“The Oil from Hell!”) that sold newspapers. In the end, fiction triumphed over fact, and restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King replaced the saturated fats they had been using with more “healthful” vegetable oils. The switch, according to FDA tests, increased or even doubled the fat content of fried foods.”

What’s the solution? For one, don’t make eating out regularly a habit. Most food is sure to be bathed in these toxic oils. Prepare most of your meals at home and from scratch. Pay attention to the types of oils you purchase and from where they originate.

What are healthy oils and fats to consume?

  • Organic, extra virgin olive oil, stored in dark glass bottles or metal cans.
  • Organic, extra virgin coconut oil
  • Organic palm oils
  • Other cold-pressed, organic oils eaten uncooked such as pumpkin seed, avocado, flax (Omega 3), borage, evening primrose, blackcurrant, sesame, walnut, grapeseed, hazelnut, or almond.
  • Real, organic butter from grass-fed cows

As much as it does take a bit of time and effort, researching the source of the oils you eat will provide the maximum nutritional benefit out of your food. Just do a quick Internet search and read about the products you buy before you buy.

For more information about healthy and unhealthy oils, read The Oiling of America from the Weston A. Price Foundation.

This article is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival. Please visit her site and check out all the other real food posts there.

8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jen said,

    We have greatly reduced eating out because of this situation! Even when you try to make healthier, real food choices at restaurants… the vegetable oils are ALWAYS there. It’s almost impossible to avoid them. I also feel so horrible about 30 minutes after eating out, that it’s not worth it anymore. I can make delicious meals at home that don’t leave me doubled over.

    I don’t always comment, but I check your blog regularly. It’s awesome! I love the recipes and all the information you provide. Thanks!

  2. 2

    AS said,

    Hello Jen! Thanks for your comment. We rarely eat out either, and this is one of the many reasons why. I can normally tolerate the bad oil once in awhile if I am eating a good choice like protein and vegetables, for example. I stick to a very strict diet normally, and this is no exception when I eat out. I never eat anything fried, rarely eat bread or grains, and I usually order steak, fish, or poultry with a salad or sauteed vegetables. But since our restaurant trips are so rare, it’s not much of an issue. But I know many people eat out with great regularity, and I thought this topic needed to be written about because I’m certain most people don’t think about it at all. I guess that’s why some of us have figured out that eating at home is the best thing to do most of the time – provided, of course, that we use healthy oils and whole, organic foods. 🙂

  3. 3

    Alyss said,

    Great post! You really laid out in easy to understand terms what is going on with unhealthy oils. Blech! I do a lot of cooking at home in expeller pressed coconut oil which has a high smoke point and no coconutty flavor. My other favorite cooking fats are bacon grease, goose fat (one goose has supplied me with almost a years worth of cooking fat!!) and of course, butter 🙂 If I had lard or tallow I’d use those – especially for any frying.
    Thanks for the great post!

  4. 4

    AS said,

    Ooohhh, bacon grease! Love it. Also love coconut oil…here’s an article about that subject on this site:

    I have just started a regular habit again of saving mine when I make bacon in a jar. We used to use it when we made refried beans some years ago, and it was so amazing. I am impressed with how far you have managed to make your goose fat go. I am trying to plan other ways of saving fat and grease from the natural meats we eat to make other things, because they are so incredible in taste and nutrition. It’s funny how people have been doing these things for years and up until recently stopped just because the medical communities got on their kick of telling people to eat fake fats. And no one seems puzzled by our skyrocketing heart disease, obesity, and diabetes rates. Hmmmm. It just goes to show you that when people don’t use the brains God gave them, severe consequences ensue.

  5. 5

    James said,

    Excellent post!! Like you I suspect that a large majority of restuarants use extremely unhealthy cooking oil, that are high in polyunsaturated fat. One solutions is to eat out less or indeed ask the restuarant owner about the oil, although the chances of getting a straight answer are slim! However I must point out it really does depend where you go because for example in Crete, they prepare everything in high quality extra virgin olive oil which is extremely good for you. In fact the mediteranian diet is the most healthy in the world.

  6. 6

    AS said,

    Hello James – Yes, I imagine that in other countries the customs would invariably include using healthy oils in certain restaurants. Mostly, when I talk about eating out I am referring to selections in developed countries, namely the United States. Unfortunately in the States, we tend to be very uneducated about nutrition and place an inordinate amount of importance on profits and do everything possible to cut costs – which usually means the product and/or service is of lower quality. Oils used in much of the cooking in restaurants and many other places are indeed no exception, which is why in most cases eating out in the United States means you will be consuming an unhealthy type of rancid vegetable oil in your food. If everyone ate a diet more closely resembling the traditional Mediterranean type (or other whole food, organic-based, traditional diets) we would all be more healthy. That’s what this site is all about!

  7. 7

    Katie said,

    It’s such a tangled web of info about fats, it’s hard to keep track. Even when cooking at home, choosing the right oil can be a trick. EVOO is touted as so healthy, but many of us probably heat it too much and damage it before we eat it anyway. I just decided that I’m getting virgin coconut oil for smoothies and oatmeal and refined stuff for baking and cooking since the heat degrades the nutrients anyway. Great points about eating out, though — of course I was just at Olive Garden last week. I’ll try not to think about that… 🙂

  8. 8

    Woա, that’s what I was searching for, what
    a stuff! existing here at this աeblog, thanks admin of this site.

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