Cottonseed oil: a seemingly harmless substance that you may be eating every day of your life. It is found in a variety of processed foods. It is so cheap, in fact that it costs producers next to nothing to manufacture. Why? Because cottonseed oil is nothing more than a by-product of industrial waste produced during cottonseed processing.
The dirty past of this and other industrially-produced oils like canola, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils is not so well-known. But once you understand about how it is developed and manufactured, you might think twice about ever eating it again.
Cottonseed oil is also genetically-modified because it comes from cotton, the majority of which is grown from GMO seeds. So it is not only in the processed foods you are eating such as cookies, crackers, salad dressings, desserts, and other foods, but also in cotton swabs, clothing, personal care products, and more.
The History of Cottonseed Oil
Source, Mother Linda’s
One of the world’s most well-known products, Crisco, is a product pioneered by Procter & Gamble, a company owned by William Procter – a candle-maker, and his brother-in-law James Gamble, a soap-maker. The meat packing monopoly began regulating the pricing of lard and tallow, which had formerly been the primary ingredient used in the manufacturing of candles and soap. Another factor affecting candle sales was the growing use of electricity. Both events were responsible for a decline in candle and soap-making and the market for these products experienced a downturn.
P & G sought other ways to make revenue and, and by 1905, the company had ownership of eight cottonseed mills in Mississippi. A German scientist named E.C. Kayser developed a way to transform the liquid oil into a solid via a process called hydrogenation – this use of this method introduces hydrogen atoms into fatty chain acids, thereby altering the molecular structure of the oil. It was apparent how much the final product looked like lard, and that the result allowed a longer shelf life. Because hydrogenation decreased the need for refrigeration and extended the product’s store-ability – Crisco was born.
With clever marketing, P&G delivered their new product to households everywhere by convincing the consumer that this innovative substance was not only cheaper but healthier: “A healthier alternative to cooking with animal fats. . . and more economical than butter.” This statement effectively positioned them to stay afloat alongside their competitors – the lard and tallow industry.
The first ad for Crisco, duplicated in magazines and other publications throughout the land in 1912 emphasized the advantages of this new substance over lard – you could fry fish in it and it would not absorb the odor or taste, and then fry potatoes in the same pan. It could also be heated at much higher temperatures than lard and without burning or giving off smoke. Convincing ad campaigns successfully caused consumers to buy “and realize why its discovery will affect every family in America.” They were right.
Then P&G released a cookbook which they gave away, full of recipes everyone was familiar with – all except for the fact that instead of real fats, they included the new product – Crisco. The world was introduced to hundreds of meal preparations including this fantastic, healthy, economical, odor-free substance that would forever alter the world in many ways. Wives and mothers of that generation believed the persuasive marketing tactics of this influential company – that Crisco it was more convenient, easier to digest, cleaner, and a good modern alternative to archaic lard. After all, times were hard and the first world war and Great Depression were looming on the horizon.
Soon health issues like heart disease, infertility, learning disorders, a rise in cancer, and growth issues became much more prevalent. A large effort was made on the part of P&G to dispell any rumors of their product being linked to these occurrences. A scientist named Dr. Fred Mattson who was employed by P&G then unveiled to the public the government’s inconclusive Lipid Research Clinical Trials in an effort to blame heart disease on the consumption of animal fats.
Here are some products you will find that contain cottonseed oil:
- peanut butter
- boxed cereals
- cookies (Update! read the latest post on Dr. Susan Rubin’s web site about Girl Scout Cookies!)
- packaged breads
- salad oils
- other fake fats like shortening and artificial “butter” products
On an annual basis, the U.S. over one billion pounds of cottonseed oil. Exports amount to as much as one-fourth of that amount. It is used in everything from processed foods to personal care products (shampoos, soaps, makeup), and feed for livestock. It is commonly used for deep-frying many popular foods in restaurants and other processed foods to be packaged and sold for sale in grocery stores.
The National Cottonseed Products Association does not mention any human health or allergy hazards on their web site nor on the products they sell – only “benefits” are listed. One of their most famous claims is the “zero-trans fat” content of their product. Cottonseed oil is mentioned as containing natural tocopherols (Vitamin E) and anti-oxidants found in cottonseed oil – yet don’t mention the fact that this delicate nutrient is denatured during the hydrogenation of processing cottonseed oils (how most cottonseed oil is produced).
The National Cottonseed Products Association proudly proclaims that cottonseed oil is “refined and deodorized”, therefore making it one of the “purest food products available”. Another claim is made that cottonseed oil will not deteriorate rapidly nor degrade in quality quickly – that it has an unusually long shelf life. The truth is, the processing of oils like cottonseed and other industrially-produced oils causes the substance to become unstable, rancid, and are essentially trans-fats due to the nature of their processing. But you won’t hear the industries producing these products admitting these facts to the public.
What are the health hazards of cottonseed oil and other trans fats?
Mainstream medical experts and sources are fond of blaming dietary fats for many of our health ills and diseases like obesity and heart disease. But the main problem is that in general, medical science lumps all fats together as being equal, when they are not.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, trans fats are more harmful than naturally occurring oils. The National Academy of Sciences has issued a statement that there are no safe consumption levels of hydrogenated and trans fats.
Hydrogenated oils contribute to hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular problems, while healthy fats actually aid heart health, brain development, and maintain proper weight and cholesterol levels.
Dr. John Lee, M.D., well-known researcher and pioneer in medicine states, “Trans fatty acids enter our metabolic processes but are defective for our bodily uses. Our cell membranes, our hormone synthesis, our immune system, our ability to deal with inflammation and to heal, and many, many, other vital systems all become defective when trans fatty acids substitute for the health-giving cis fatty acids. Unknowingly we are poisoning ourselves.”
According to Wikipedia:
“In most naturally occurring unsaturated fatty acids, the hydrogen atoms are on the same side of the double bonds of the carbon chain (cis configuration — meaning “on the same side” in Latin). However, partial hydrogenation reconfigures most of the double bonds that do not become chemically saturated, twisting them so that the hydrogen atoms end up on different sides of the chain. This type of configuration is called trans, which means “across” in Latin. The trans conformation is the lower energy form, and is favored when catalytically equilibriated as a side reaction in hydrogenation.
The same molecule, containing the same number of atoms, with a double bond in the same location, can be either a trans or a cis fatty acid depending on the conformation of the double bond. For example, oleic acid and elaidic acid are both unsaturated fatty acids with the chemical formula C9H17C9H17O2. They both have a double bond located midway along the carbon chain. It is the conformation of this bond that sets them apart. The conformation has implications for the physical-chemical properties of the molecule. The trans configuration is straighter, while the cis configuration is noticeably kinked as can be seen from the following three-dimensional representation.
The trans fatty acid elaidic acid has different chemical and physical properties owing to the slightly different bond configuration. Notably, it has a much higher melting point, 45 °C rather than oleic acid’s 13.4 °C, due to the ability of the trans molecules to pack more tightly, forming a solid that is more difficult to break apart. This notably means that it is a solid at human body temperatures.”
Cottonseed oil is also absolutely loaded with pesticides and other harmful chemicals, as used by the cottonseed industry to ensure the mass production of crops to keep up with demand. Also, the cottonseed plant composition is high in Omega 6 content – one of the reasons people in the developed world have such high numbers in obesity, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases like cancer. See Dr. Susan Rubin’s post about this subject, as it it has some valuable information in it.
So why then, are these products so ubiquitously found on the food markets? After reviewing the history of the development of these types of products, the answer should be clear – it’s all hinged upon money-making and the success of corporations seeking to use cheap, industrial by-products as a means for generating profit.
What are better alternatives to cottonseed and other industrial oils?
For cooking or frying:
- Tallow (beef fat)
- Lard (pork fat)
- Coconut oil (use refined for high heat cooking or frying)
- Palm oil
All of these should be from clean, sustainable (non-GMO) sources. These are healthy fats because they are saturated fats which are loaded with nutrients such as A, D, E, and K2. They also have a high smoke point. For very low heat sautee, on salads, dressings, condiments, and other similar types of foods, use olive oil. These fats are healthy to consume because they are from natural sources that have not been altered. It’s important to know what source your fats are coming from to ensure they are produced sustainably and in harmony with nature.
One reason animal fats have received a bad name is that most of our animal fats come from feedlot and factory farm sources – where animals are fed improperly (corn, soy, grains – and all from genetically-modified origins), and are pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, and housed in small quarters away from pasture and sunlight.
Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats from plant and animal sources are healthy and essential for all elements of health. For more information on fats and health, read The Importance of Dietary Fats.
For more information about real, healthy meat and fats from sustainable sources and why feedlot meats and fats are dangerous to consume, read Whole And Healthy Meat….Does It Really Exist?
What has been your lifetime experience eating fats? Did you grow up believing industrial fats were healthy to eat? Or did you eat traditional fats growing up? Do you have a story of improved health after eating industrial fats and then returning to traditional fats you’d like to share?