Vegetable Oils and Obesity: Dr. Michael Eades Connects A Very Insightful Dot


Mike Eades’ latest post is: Will the new Dietary Guidelines make us even fatter? Read it. When I saw the feed notice of it, I figured oh, another food policy post. I’ll check it out later. After the years of saturated fat and cholesterol battles with various low-fat and vegetarian zealots, food policy is just one of those things that tends to make my eyes glaze over.

I’m glad I didn’t wait long to check it out, because it’s not really a food policy post, but something quite different and special.

Just another bit of “housekeeping” first, since I’ve been getting questions via Facebook after praising this and other posts, and I can no longer recall what I’ve written here versus there, or what to whom. So let me just come clean with the story. It was about a year ago or so (this was shortly after the “How Many ketogenic Inuit Can Dance of the Head of a Pin” wars that got a bit personal) that I got an email from Mike saying ‘hey, we can still keep the guns blazing, but MD and I are in town, wanna have lunch?’ Quite the gentleman, eh?

So we did, and we laughed a bit about the futility of holding grudges, and we’ve since been good email correspondents from time-to-time. Thing is, we have significant crossover interests and experience in terms of business, government regulation, and consumer-protection enforcement and such, and our “libertarianish” political views have crossover too. So, we’re actually rarely talking about this diet stuff.

Last May, once my Mexico excursion was planned, Mike invited me to lay over for dinner and a bed at his Santa Barbara pad for the night, on my way down. Great SousVide ribeyes cooked to perfection by MD, from their favorite LA butcher. Lot’s of Caffè Americano from Mike’s espresso machine and on-demand hot water system, too. Had a great time and we continue to email each other interesting stuff we find.

So there you have it, and onto the post. First he discusses how the steep rise in obesity begins around 1980, and juxtaposes that with total energy consumption amounting to an average increase of 350 calories per day which, broken down by macros, is accounted for as 65 / 24 / 11; carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Importantly, note that as a percentage of total calories, fat intake actually decreased over these decades, no doubt, owing to food policy and dietary guidelines. Keep that in mind for later.

Not sure I find the total caloric input that meaningful. Bigger people eat more, just like 15 year olds eat more than 10 year olds. I haven’t tried to break out the numbers, but it seems possible that the higher intake is a response to greater obesity, not a cause.

Here’s were it gets interesting. An excerpt to wet your appetite.

As you might imagine, my bias falls in with the notion that the increased carbs are a major force in the hugely increased rate of obesity. You might be surprised to learn, however, that I’ve always had a little niggling doubt that carbs alone were the cause.

Why have I had niggling doubts? Because of observations I’ve made over the course of my life.

When I was a kid growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains, everyone I knew ate sugar. A lot of it. Everyone, and I mean everyone, ate bread at every meal. As far as people then were concerned, it really was the staff of life. Same with potatoes, though they weren’t eaten at every meal. People celebrated holidays and get togethers with pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, etc. Most folks started off their day with a bowl (or two or three) of hot or cold cereal with milk and sugar on it.

I watched my own grandfather eat his breakfast every day while I was eating my cereal and toast. He started off with a big glass of prune juice – which I can’t abide to this day – for regularity. Then be broke into small bits two pieces of buttered toast and put them into a big glass of buttermilk. He threw a few spoonfuls of sugar on top, then mashed the whole thing around and ate it. He finished off with a cup of black coffee. Other than the coffee, it was not exactly a low-carb breakfast. But he was thin, as was most everyone at that time.

Similar to my experience, and I’ll bet for a lot of you who were born before 1970. I don’t think I can recall a single instance of anyone saying “you’re eating too much,” or, “that’s too much fat.” All I can remember is classic stuff like “you’ll spoil your dinner” and “save room for dessert.” People just ate food—mostly at home—and food had a rather sacred status; and while there could be seen mild plumpness here & there, not much obesity. Importantly, leanness was the norm. Go back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s and almost everyone was lean.

Mike goes on to break down the fat makeup and to nobody’s surprise—and remember where I said to keep it in mind, above,—even though total fat decreased, the composition changed radically, with a huge decrease in high-saturated animal fat and corresponding huge increase in high-polyunsaturated vegetable and seed fat. He also ties in the prevalence of eating out vs. eating at home.

Here’s where I have a bit of a quibble. I think the engineered food industry is a contributory piece of the puzzle too, and for exactly that reason. So perhaps not in the sense that it’s engineered for you to consume more because palatability and reward, but because so many of these products also contain these same oils. So, from what I see when I look at shopping carts full of pre-prepared, packaged, frozen stuff that fills them, to the extent that they contain fat—apart from the few grams of actual, processed meat—it’s going to be some vegetable or seed oil abomination. So, in other words, I’m kinda adding a precision to Mike’s point. They’re eating “in,” but in effect, eating out, and consuming the same crap they’d get in a greesy-spoon diner or fast food that uses the cheapest stuff.

The next couple of sections focus on the biochemistry and metabolic pathways to argue why the shift from animal fats to vegetable oils is fattening in humans. Perfect geek stuff and I’ll leave it at that for you. Go take a look.

So now comes the principle tie-in, or dot connecting, which is the new dietary guidelines. While I’ve seen a lot here and there to suggest that there is an easing of the low fat dogma, all is not what it seems, as Mike runs down. However, it’s impressions that stick with people and that’s definitely the impression. And if food manufacturers find that they can make their product a bit more appealing or competitive by some cheap craftiness with soybean oil, and LOW IN FAT on the label is no longer a perceived plus, then they’ll do it.

And if the foregoing analysis is correct then once again, the dietary guidelines make people even fatter.

In a follow-on post, I’ll outline how I treat fats at home and abroad, now and have been for some time.

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  1. Robert17 on February 4, 2016 at 21:50

    Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been considering ditching fried foods when eating out as a way to avoid the pufa. This adds to the decision.

  2. Waltermcc on February 6, 2016 at 06:34

    Richard, very interesting.

    For many years, I thought a roast automatically came with a blanket of suet. It was not until I went grocery shopping with Mom on the day she bought a roast that I learned that the suet came separately. And I learned that bacon grease was saved specifically for frying chicken.

    All the fat from 3 pounds of 75/25 beef/pork stays in my chili or meat loaf. Even though I have soybean oil on my salad, the ratio of saturated animal fat to vegetable oil is probably the same as it was 55 years ago.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 6, 2016 at 07:52

      I tend to drain the fat from ground meats before using in stews or soups or sauces (I don’t make roux gravies much). Not particularly for any health reasons, but taste an texture.

      One exception is taco meat. With 80/20 ground beef, the taco seasoning takes up the fat perfectly.

  3. Amy on February 6, 2016 at 07:17

    Vegetable oils are the ELIXIRS OF HELL and omega-6 fat is IMO a worse danger to liver and gut health (that’s aside from the obesity angle, and how they contribute to insulin resistance in cells) than even fortified iron and fortified folic acid. IMO if it wasn’t for all the omega-6 fat we’d probably be able to detox the fortified substances in our processed food much better. Maybe they wouldn’t affect us much at all. But we’ll never know because the two always come hand in hand.

    Also, if you want to drive my cravings sky high, give me a diet heavy in omega-6 fat. Esp. omega-6 + carbs. I believe omega-6 is a worse craving driver than carbs. When I eat omega-6 foods I just want to keep eating and eating and eating. But saturated fat + carbs is a craving killer.

    Problem with omega-6 is that you don’t always know where it’s coming from. Even meat that is traditionally heavy in saturated fat is not necessarily any more. Industrially-farmed, grain fed animals have a lot of omega-6 in their fat and flesh.

  4. Richard Nikoley on February 6, 2016 at 08:00

    I discount the n6 in meat, even factory meat because the total is so low. It gets into dancing on pinheads territory.

    Remember that n6 is essential. That suggests a J-curve where none is very bad, too litte is bad, there’s a sweet spot and beyond that, progressively worse.

    • Amy on February 6, 2016 at 09:08

      Well, I just got done eating two rashers of “conventional” bacon, if that tells you just how worried I am about the omega-6 in industrial meat. :-) I do agree with you there and in fact was going to point that out when I had to quit typing and go do something else. But I do try to limit industrial meats, particularly pork and chicken, for that reason.

      I also really love oatmeal, and I eat that a couple times per week. Try it with honey, chopped dates, a banana, and tad of butter. Yum.

      But I recently had an experience that confirms my anti-omega-6 prejudice, so I’m sticking with the stance Since the holidays started I’ve been kind of having a hard time staying on the dietary path that has provided me in my middle age with better health and energy than I’ve ever experienced in the whole of my adult life (basically, saturated fat, no-grain fed protein, healthy complex carbs, and a bit of omega-9). Holidays knocked me off and then I had a lot of stuff going on at work that required some extra hours which cut into food prep time. So instead I was eating what is considered a fairly healthy standard diet, mostly of “real” food made from scratch (gourmet places in my neighborhood). Italian, gourmet sandwiches, meat & veggies, etc. No packaged food, no fast food.

      My energy dropped noticeably within a couple weeks. Sleep was disrupted after only one week. My hormones went wonky after two weeks (and I mean scary freaky bitch mode wonky). The little inflammatory rash across the bridge of my nose that I’ve had for over a decade but that went away in the past year eating low omega-6 came back by the third week. Etc. Worth noting is that I wasn’t taking in any omega-3 (ran out of krill oil and didn’t eat any fish) which is necessary to balance omega-6, but still. Even back when I was taking fish oil regularly I had these problems when eating a standard type diet.

      I think the term essential confuses a lot of people (not you), because they assume that nutritional scientist mean it in the every day sense of essential, so more must be good. But there seems to be no lack of health among populations that don’t eat grain products or animals that are fed grain products. From that I take away that the amount of omega-6 contained in most non-grain starches and veggies is enough to support optimal health. We don’t really need to add any by eating a preponderance of omega-6 heavy food. YMMV.

      • Richard Nikoley on February 6, 2016 at 09:56

        I certainly agree that grains are not essential for anyone. OTOH, by sticking nearly exclusively to whole grains, and I by whole, I mean from the artisan bakeries that use the whole grain, often fresh ground—not the Orowheat or other mega brands where they add back bran to refined flour, I’ve had pretty damn good outcomes with it after a few weeks of gut adaptation.

        There may be a Duck Dodgers post in the future on some of these elements.

      • Amy on February 6, 2016 at 10:41

        What you’ve done with whole grains is probably the real litmus test as far as omega-6 goes. And like everything, it may vary from person to person as to how well the tolerate it. Women may be more vulnerable to omega-6 since it seems to impact female hormones to a larger degree. I would actually like to try a real whole grain type of experiment but where I am and my schedule doesn’t support it. I don’t have time to do it myself and there’s nowhere convenient that I know where to get real whole grain products or even the ingredients for them. I looked at the shelves in Whole Foods yesterday and all their flour seems to be fortified. Sadly, the local independents (at least the ones convenient to me) tend not to be any better than Whole Foods as far as the truly arcane foodstuffs go.

        The other thing about omega-6 I’ve noticed is that the higher the omega-6 content of the food, the more it drives my munchies. Even when I’m eating my healthiest that naturally curbs my appetite and the amount of food I can eat at one time, if I add in some walnuts (which I love), I’m soon wanting to just snack endlessly on walnuts. I can go through a pound of those in no time. Seems like the omega-6 drives cravings as well as doing something bad to my internal “stop-eating-o-meter”. Since I’ve noticed this when eating all whole, unprocessed food, I’m assuming it’s the omega-6 and not something in food processing.

      • Kyle on February 22, 2016 at 13:27

        So, the great Dr. Eades hasn’t ventured any explanation why this is so. Couldn’t be because PUFA’s suppress the thyroid and increase estrogen? What’s a little hypothyroidism anyway?

        Hope you find the following useful-

  5. disqus_OrB4Q7acue on February 6, 2016 at 09:30

    Shrimp with broccoli from a Chinese takeout is my default fast food option –sometimes twice a week. You can see theses empty big-ass 5 gallon boxes of soybean oil on the curb ready for trash pickup. The Chinese restaurant workers are not fat though. However whenever I see the workers eating on a break its never of the menu – usually steamed fish with rice or a stew. Also proper wok cooking shoud not result in oily food. Sometimes I ask them to cook my shrimp with broccoli Chinese style, limiting the oily sauce.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 6, 2016 at 10:01

      There’s a lot of decent places around here where you can get something like a rice bowl, topped with a small portion of beef, pork, shrimp or fish, some steamed or flash fried bok choy, or even fermented veggies, and topped with scallions.

      I’ve always found that to be a very satisfying “fast food” meal.

    • Karl on February 6, 2016 at 13:41

      What you typically get in a Chinese restaurant in Europe or the US is not what the Chinese eat daily, and often not even Chinese. Chinese restos abroad quickly figured out that frying anything in vegetable oils is a cheap way to hook the “waiguoren” on “Chinese ” food.
      At home in China we ate rice, steamed vegetables with a bit of pork, fish or other meat ( like 20 % of a western portion), with some cooked peanuts, some cilantro, stuff like that. I skipped the rice, ate much more meat, later fish.
      A big home cooked diner with family is still several vegetables, jiaozi (the wontons , filled with a mixture of veggies and some meat or shripm), rice, mushrooms and in some seasons delicacies like crab.
      In restaurants , in particular with business friends and even more with gov officials,( until Xi Jing Ping ordered a halt to this, quite recently)there is no limit. From life lobster (looking at you while eating the tail), to any over the top fried food “delicacy” as unhealthy as you can imagine, topped with an even unhealthier sauce. Washed away with compulsory gan bei’s ( bottoms up) of 60° proof rice alcohol or liters of wine if you were lucky. Governments officals were not known for their excellent health.
      Then there are the huge geographical differences between the various enormous regions in China.
      So any generalization about Chinese food and health is bound to be complicated by many factors.
      At home I found Chinese food to be generally ok, and it works for my wife, though I’m convinced that the daily white rice will sometime come back to haunt, like it did with many in her family, slim, healthy looking but diabetic.
      I have drastically altered my regimen just in a few areas, that seem to have saved me from a near fatal situation. Simply; mainly fish in stead of meat( fish daily), a little full grain products, any veggie, bean or nut you can think of, only olive oil or butter and daily eggs, reduce the salt. Many herbs like garlic, ginger, cilantro etc. Raw red beets! And no more beer, but wine. It seems to work for me.
      Occasionally we go to an all you can eat asian food tent. It always looks so attractive, enormous variety and cheap and I tell myself to pick the healthy stuff, but always regret the day after. The food quality and the salt and veggie fat content do matter.

  6. Gary Katch on February 6, 2016 at 10:42

    Last July I drove across Canada. In the prairies, I was overwhelmed by the sight of the vast fields of yellow flowers, extending to the horizon on both sides of the highway.

    That’s canola. It gets into so many foods because it’s vegetarian and cheap. I thought, what a tremendous waste of soil and fertilizer to blanket the earth with this plant that will ultimately fill the deep fryers of America, so we can have our fries and donuts.

    • thhq on March 29, 2016 at 14:38

      Not to mention the deep fryers of Canada. That’s where I’ve seen the most people waiting in lines for donuts. Patiently too.

  7. Jesse on February 7, 2016 at 08:00


    I’ve drifted away from being a ‘Paleo-Taubes’ drone over the past 2 years but, the one thing I learned from my 5 year-ish paleo-Taubes experience is that the veg oils are probably the number one thing to limit, if not eliminate completely.

    This article reinforces my own suspicion from my own experience’s over the years. I travel about 6 months out of the year and spend the other ~6 months at home and have been since 2000. As you can guess, I eat out a lot when I’m on the road and despite ‘watching’ what I eat (and cooking when I’m able) – I ALWAYS gain weight on the road, my skin looks like hell and I’m always freaking hungry.

    On the road I always have lunch and I always eat dinner but, NEVER at fast food joints (Chipotle is about as fast I get). After a few weeks being at home and cooking my own meals, I find that my skin clears up, I loose what I gained despite eating pretty much the same kind of foods. At home I cook with tallow, butter, olive and avocado oil – I know the restaurants don’t use those (Chipotle love’s them some soybean oil and clearly list’s it on their menu).

    I don’t use Facebook, so thanks for sharing this on your blog, Richard.

    • thhq on March 29, 2016 at 14:31

      I used to travel all over, all the time. I blame the enforced sedentarism as much as the restaurants for weight gain while traveling.

      I put myself on a forced march of 1000 calorie per day deficits for 6 months to get rid of obesity and type 2 diabetes. I still had to travel a lot. I created calorie cheat sheets that I kept in my wallet to regulate standard fast foods. The most calorie-friendly place was Wendy’s, where I could get bare baked potatoes and cups of chili. I also walked for miles and miles in strange places. On narrow highway shoulders, around the outer perimeter of airports, over rivers, through woods. Ten miles is 700 calories burned, and by the end of the ordeal most of my deficit came from walking rather than reduced eating.

  8. king of the one eyed people on February 7, 2016 at 08:46

    Please sir, write some more. I know you dislike food blogging but your perspective is one i seek. continue with the second installment asap.

  9. Cth on February 8, 2016 at 14:55

    Hahaha. I often wondered why the increasingly heated Eades feud so suddenly died… Did the questions ever get answered? I can’t remember… Seems like it does not matter anymore. Seemed to be quite important at the time though…

    • Richard Nikoley on February 8, 2016 at 15:41

      Not sure which question, but whichever it is, probably doesn’t matter.

      And yep, isn’t it funny how life is like that, important things fading over time. Hopefully, that will happen with politics and religion, eventually. :)

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