What Are PUFAs & Why You Should Avoid Them

PUFAs are in many different types of foods and are really difficult to avoid. Consuming a diet high in PUFAs can slow your thyroid, cause chronic inflammation, decrease cellular energy, drive insulin resistance, and more.

Below you’ll discover the answer to what are PUFAs, why they are dangerous, and the many reasons why you should avoid them.

Bunch of bottles of PUFA oils lined up on counter.

What Are PUFAs?

PUFA stands for polyunsaturated fatty acid. PUFAs are fatty acids with many double carbon bonds. They contain double bonds because they lack several hydrogen atoms.

Saturated fatty acids (butter, coconut oil, ghee) are fully saturated with hydrogen atoms and polyunsaturated fatty acids are referred to as “unsaturated” because they lack hydrogen atoms.

Double bonds are more reactive to oxygen than single bonds which makes them very unstable.

The Problem With PUFAs

The main problem with PUFAs is that they are highly unstable and begin to oxidize when they are exposed to light, heat, and oxygen. So as you can imagine this is not good for the human body which is very warm and requires oxygen. 

When PUFAs are exposed to oxygen, free radicals are generated. Reactive oxygen species are free radicals. A build-up of ROS in cells can cause damage to DNA, RNA, and proteins, and can cause cell death. 

PUFAs also deplete vitamin E levels in the body and can increase your need for vitamin E by six times. 

Importance of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is so important. Its main role is to act as an antioxidant and decrease free radicals in the body that can damage cells.

Vitamin E helps to improve mitochondrial respiration, improve circulation, protect against lipid peroxidation, protect against calcification and iron overload, and so much more!

It also helps to prevent the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids. This is why vitamin E requirements increase greatly when consuming a high PUFA diet.

High PUFA diets take quite a bit of vitamin E out of the body.

Vitamin E deficiency can lead to heart disease, dementia, gallstones, liver and kidney problems, and so much more!

The body does not store vitamin E as well as it stores other fat-soluble vitamins. If you consume a diet high in PUFAs it is so important to replenish your vitamin E levels with foods rich in vitamin E and/or take a vitamin E supplement.

This is the vitamin E supplement I use and recommend. Use the code HAPPYHEART to get 15% off.

PUFA Related Health Issues

Consuming a diet high in PUFAs can lead to many different health issues over time.

Insulin Resistance

Contrary to popular belief, it is not carbs that drive insulin resistance but rather PUFAs. The oxidative stress that PUFAs cause inside the body hinders your cell’s ability to use sugar as fuel.

Excess PUFAs damage the beta cells of the pancreas, which produce insulin.

You can click here to learn more about the connection between insulin resistance and PUFAs.

Sun / Age Spots

Lipofuscin is also known as age pigments. An excessive amount of PUFAs and iron in your body can lead to lipofuscin poisoning. This can eventually lead to sun/age spots that are most often visible in areas that get the most sunlight.

Sun/age spots are not a normal part of aging. They are the result of a high PUFA diet and iron overload.

Weight Gain

PUFAs slow down your metabolic rate which decreases your body’s ability to burn calories efficiently which eventually leads to weight gain. This is why many farmers feed their livestock corn and soy (PUFAs). It fattens them up quickly and it’s cheap!

In the 1940s farmers attempted to feed their livestock coconut oil, a saturated fat, in hopes that it would fatten them up but it had the opposite result. The animals became lean and active because the coconut oil increased their metabolism.

Sluggish Thyroid

Excess PUFAs inhibit various proteolytic enzymes that the body depends on to release stored thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.

PUFAs block the body’s ability to deliver thyroid hormone to the cells resulting in decreased cellular energy production. 

And excess PUFAs inhibit the enzyme necessary to convert T4 to active T3.

You can click here to learn more about the thyroid and PUFAs.

Increased Stress & Estrogen

Overconsumption of PUFAs generates an onslaught of free radicals inside the body. This causes your body to require a higher amount of antioxidants to counteract the increase of free radicals which eventually depletes your vitamin E.

Vitamin E is essential for fertility, hormone production, and metabolic function. Low vitamin E levels can lead to estrogen dominance and increased stress hormones. I highly recommend this book to learn more about the importance of vitamin E.

Foods High in PUFAs

PUFAs are in almost everything and are pretty much unavoidable but there are some foods that are unnaturally high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Below are some of the worst offenders.

  • Sunflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Canola oil
  • Fish oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Nut milk
  • Nut butter
  • Nuts & seeds

The Problem with Vegetable & Seed Oils

Vegetable and seed oils typically contain 3-10 times more polyunsaturated fats than saturated fats. This is an example of a food that contains an unnaturally high amount of PUFAs.

And although vegetable oils contain vitamin E, the vitamin E gets degraded during the refining process.

Most foods that you find in nature contain more saturated fat than polyunsaturated fat. For example eggs, chicken, and pork contain more saturated fat than polyunsaturated.

It is important to note that beef, milk, cheese, eggs, and chicken can contain an unnaturally high amount of PUFAs if the animals are fed a diet high in grains rather than their natural diet.

In nature, cows eat grass and chickens are omnivores that consume a diet of plants and bugs.

And don’t be deceived vegetable and seed oils are far from natural. These are highly processed oils.

When vegetable and seed oils are processed they are heated to extremely high temperatures which causes oxidation. Next, they are extracted with hexane. Hexane is a chemical made from crude oil.

The third step of the refining process is deodorizing the oil to get rid of the rancid odor and remove the color pigments.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, most of the vegetables and seeds used to make these oils are derived from GMO plants and have glyphosate residue on them as well.

History of Vegetable & Seed Oils

The history/origin of many vegetable and seed oils that are used today is a little shady if you ask me. You can read a few of their origin stories below.

The Origin Of Crisco

In the early 1900s large amounts of cottonseed were leftover from harvesting cotton. This was a nuisance to the farmers because they had no use for the cottonseeds.

They tried to mill the seeds but that resulted in oil that was dark, stinky, and extremely unappealing. So the farmers would often just leave the cottonseed in piles to rot.

Eventually, industrial bleaching and deodorizing techniques were developed. Thanks to those techniques cottonseeds were able to be processed into an oil that was tasteless and odorless.

In 1911, Proctor & Gamble began selling Crisco which is crystallized cottonseed oil.

Since it looked a lot like lard which is what most people cooked with at the time, they began marketing Crisco as a superior cooking fat.

It’s important to note that many people were unaware of what Crisco was actually made from due to their misleading advertising. They would often state Crisco was made from “100% shortening” or that it was “purely vegetable”

They purposely tried to deter their customers from the fact that Crisco was made from cottonseed oil because people overwhelmingly associated cotton with clothing and linens, not food.

Proctor & Gamble spent a ton of money to market and promote their product to the masses and they were very successful.

The story of Crisco is really the story of how deceptive marketing trumped nutrition and the health of the consumers and unfortunately, that story is still true for many of the products on our grocery store shelves today.

The Origin Of Canola Oil

Canola oil also has a very interesting origin story.

Canola oil (originally called rapeseed oil because it’s derived from rapeseed) was originally used as a lubricant for ships and steam engines.

During World War II there was a huge demand for this oil and the rapeseed oil industry exploded.

But once the war was over the demand for rapeseed oil began to plummet fast and that was when the rapeseed industry plotted/planned to figure out a way to market the oil for human consumption.

Because rapeseed oil contains high amounts of erucic acid and glucosinolates scientists used breeding techniques to get rid of these undesirable qualities. In 1978 the final product was developed and they renamed the final product canola oil.

The Problem With Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds are nowhere near as bad as vegetable and seed oils. Unlike vegetable and seed oils they are found in nature.

The main problem with nuts and seeds is a lot of people tend to overconsume. Nuts and seeds are being pushed on us like never before in the form of milk, butter, and bars so it’s easy to overconsume without even realizing it.

Nuts and seeds as a snack here and there is no big deal. Major health issues can start to occur when your diet consists of an overabundance of nuts and seeds.

Think about bears and squirrels when they hibernate in the winter – they eat a diet high in nuts and seeds prior to hibernation.

The high amount of PUFAs in these foods helps to slow down their metabolic rate which allows them to sleep through the winter.

And not all nuts and seeds are created equal. For example, walnuts contain around 9.5 grams of PUFAs per serving and macadamias only contain .5 grams.

So it’s just something to be mindful of. I experienced major health improvements once I ditched the almond milk, almond butter, and nut and seed bars.

Unsaturated Fats vs Saturated

For thousands of years, people consumed saturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats were consumed as well but nowhere near the amount that they are consumed today.

And when they were consumed via whole foods (remember processed foods weren’t widely available until the 1920s) they were always accompanied by vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants to protect the body from the unstable fats.

Saturated fats are extremely high in bioavailable nutrients. Butter for example (grass-fed butter) is rich in vitamin A, E, D, and K2 as well as zinc, chromium, copper, and selenium.

Coconut oil helps to increase your metabolic rate. It consists of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that can be metabolized as quick energy. And the main MCT, lauric acid, is antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial.

Beef tallow from grass-fed cows is rich in vitamins A, D, E, K, and B1.

Saturated fats are also extremely resilient to oxidation. They help to decrease inflammation in the body, protect your heart, regulate blood sugar, and boost your metabolism.

So why are so many people convinced saturated fats cause heart disease and clog arteries?

Could it be we have been purposely manipulated and brainwashed to believe that they are bad?

Heart disease began to rise in the 1920s and the American Heart Association was founded in 1924. Prior to the 1900s, heart disease was a very rare condition.

The AHA was poorly funded and remained very small for many years. But in 1948 Proctor & Gamble (the creators of Crisco) awarded the AHA 1.7 million dollars from its radio show contest.

This money helped the organization immensely and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that soon after the AHA began promoting vegetable and seed oils as “heart-healthy”.

Heart disease was continuing to rise and in 1955 President Eisenhower had a heart attack which caused many Americans to realize how serious of an issue heart disease was.

It was shortly after Eisenhower’s heart attack that saturated fats began to be demonized and blamed for heart disease. The AHA began recommending that people replace their saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats to prevent heart attacks and stroke.

The AHA made this recommendation based on studies they claimed proved saturated fats increased the risk of heart disease and polyunsaturated fats prevented heart disease.

But these studies were terribly flawed and many of the researchers who were conducting these studies failed to publish the actual results of their studies.

I highly recommend reading this article to get a better idea of what I’m referring to.

The consumption of saturated fats does not correlate with the rate of heart disease. People consumed saturated fats for thousands of years and heart disease was extremely rare up until the 1900s.

The increased rate of heart disease does correlate however with the increased consumption of vegetable and seed oils. It also happens to correlate with the rise of diabetes, Alzheimers, and obesity.

Heart disease is the number one killer in America even though Americans are consuming more polyunsaturated fats than ever before.

So why have these vegetable & seed oils been pushed on the masses and why are they in absolutely every single processed food? Is it due to greed? Or is it malice? In my opinion, it’s both. But I’ll let you be the judge.

How to Protect Yourself From PUFAs

Here’s the deal – PUFAs are in everything. You will drive yourself insane trying to completely eliminate them from your diet and the stress that will create will do more harm to your body than the PUFAs.

Plus, you don’t want to actually eliminate all PUFA-containing foods from your diet. Chicken, pork, and eggs are just a few foods that contain PUFAs that can also be good for you.

What sets these foods apart from other PUFA-containing foods is that they are also rich in bioavailable nutrients. Not all PUFA-containing foods are equal.

However, it is important to avoid foods that contain PUFAs in unnaturally high amounts as much as possible.

Avoid Vegetable & Seed Oils

Vegetable and seed oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, peanut, flaxseed, and corn should not be a part of anyone’s diet.

These are the number one PUFA-containing food you should avoid. Use beef tallow, butter, coconut oil & ghee instead.

Cut Back On Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds every now and then aren’t a big deal but it’s when they are overconsumed that they can create problems.

And many people are overconsuming these types of foods without even realizing it. Think about all the nut milk, nut butter, and nut and seed bars that are marketed as health foods.

When I was following a paleo diet I was consuming ridiculous amounts of these types of foods.

Supplement With Vitamin E

As I mentioned earlier, PUFAs deplete vitamin E levels in the body and can increase your need for vitamin E by six times. 

It’s important to supplement with vitamin E to rebuild your vitamin E levels. Even if you cut out PUFAs completely, which is extremely difficult to do and I don’t recommend attempting unless you want to completely stress yourself out, it’s really difficult to increase your vitamin E levels quickly with just food alone.

A high-quality vitamin E supplement is essential to undoing the extensive damage PUFAs have caused. Plus, vitamin E helps to minimize the harm of consuming PUFAs in the future.

This is the vitamin E supplement I use and recommend. Use the code HAPPYHEART to get 15% off.

Eat Out Less

It is almost impossible to find a restaurant that doesn’t use PUFA oils to cook with. So if you want to reduce your PUFA intake you should cut back on eating out.

I love Mexican food but every time I would go out to eat I would feel absolutely terrible the next day.

It wasn’t until I learned about PUFAs that I realized it was the oils they used for cooking that were making me feel terrible.

But what I discovered was that if I took vitamin E immediately after eating out I felt fine the next day.

So you don’t have to completely eliminate eating out. You should live your life and enjoy it as much as possible but I would recommend increasing your vitamin E supplementation if you eat out often.

Cut Back on Processed Foods

Almost every single processed food that you’ll find on the grocery store shelf contains vegetable/seed oils. Every single one! It’s crazy.

Vegetable and seed oils are in bread, salad dressing, mayonnaise, granola bars, potato chips, and a gazillion other things.

So an easy way to reduce your PUFA intake is to simply reduce the number of processed foods you consume.

Eat Quality Animal Protein

Animals fed a diet of corn and soy have a high amount of PUFAs stored in their tissues. So when you consume these types of animal proteins you are also consuming high amounts of PUFAs.

It’s best to eat pasture-raised pork, chicken, beef, and eggs. Especially if you consume large amounts of animal protein.

PUFA Detox

When you consume a diet rich in PUFAs for a prolonged period of time the PUFAs begin to accumulate in your adipose tissue. The PUFA will begin to move out of the adipose tissue naturally as you begin to consume fewer PUFA-containing foods and more saturated fats.

But it could take years to clear out the PUFA completely.

Some people experience detox symptoms from the PUFA clearing out of their system. These detox symptoms can include breakouts, headaches, and fatigue.

To minimize detox symptoms it’s important to make sure you are consuming high-quality saturated fats. The saturated fats can help prevent too much PUFA from being released all at once which is the primary cause of detox symptoms.

It’s important to get plenty of vitamin E as well.

Frequently Asked Questions About PUFAs

Is peanut butter a PUFA?

Peanut butter does contain PUFAs but it also contains saturated fats and monounsaturated fats. It’s not unnaturally high in PUFAs. But most peanut butter is made with vegetable oils.

Peanut butter is definitely not as bad as some of the other foods I mentioned above. Although, it’s also not super healthy either. But it is delicious!

Try to find a peanut butter that is made with just peanuts and salt – like this one.

Is olive oil a PUFA?

Olive oil does contain PUFAs but it also contains saturated fats and about 10x more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated. That means olive oil is considered a MUFA, not a PUFA.

But since it does contain PUFAs it should never be heated. Use butter, ghee, or coconut oil to cook with instead.

Is Avocado oil a PUFA?

Just like olive oil, avocado oil is considered a MUFA rather than a PUFA because it contains about 5x more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated.

Although avocado oil is a bit more stable than olive oil at high temperatures, I still wouldn’t recommend it for cooking. Just use butter, ghee, or coconut oil to cook with instead.

What is a MUFA?

MUFA stands for monounsaturated fatty acid. MUFAs have only one double bond in their chemical structure. Olive oil, avocados, and certain nuts are foods rich in MUFAs.

Which is better MUFA or PUFA?

MUFAs are considered to be much more stable than PUFAs because they have only one double bond in their chemical structure whereas PUFAs have many.

This means that MUFAs are more stable therefore they are safer/better than PUFAs.

But they are not as stable as saturated fats which have no double bonds. MUFAs are generally safe to eat as long as they are not heated.

This information is not to create fear around food but to inform and equip you with knowledge. Knowledge is power and at a time when people are sicker than ever, it’s important to be your own health advocate.

I consumed vegetable oils for years because I was completely unaware of the harm they were causing and I consumed nut milk, butter, and bars for years because I thought they were good for me.

It wasn’t until I started consuming a pro-metabolic diet and reduced my PUFA consumption that I started to experience true healing.

Much of what I know about PUFAs I learned from Dr. Ray Peat. And although I don’t agree 100% with everything he teaches, I respect him and greatly appreciate all the work and research he has done.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic I recommend checking out his website and reading the various articles that are located there.

Sources:

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