If you’re not sure which oils to buy these days, and which to skip, you’re definitely not alone. The world of cooking oils can be really confusing — with all the talk about different methods for “pressing” the oils, ideal cooking temperatures, various smoke points and so on. Then there’s the whole issue of whether or not certain oils are healthy or not.
Grapeseed oil is one such cooking oil that’s been controversial for some time now. On one hand, it’s similar to benefit-rich olive oil in that it contains some monounsaturated fat, but mostly it’s made of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) like omega-6s and omega-9 fatty acids. In the right doses, these can be anti-inflammatory healthy fats that are good for hormones, brain health, heart health, tissue fibers and so on. But on the other hand, grapeseed oil’s high levels of PUFAs and omega-6s are likely actually bad news — since most people already get way too much of them their diets.
You’re probably aware that “good fats” are absolutely essential to overall health, since every cell in your body requires fatty acids to help build to its protective outer layer. Certain fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, also help reduce disease-causing inflammation. But aside from omega-3s, things can get fuzzy — especially when it comes to other fatty acids like omega-6s and omega-9s.
Grapeseed Oil Nutrition Facts
One tablespoon of grapeseed oil has about: (1)
- 14 grams fat (about 10 percent of which is saturated fat, 16 percent monounsaturated and 70 percent polyunsaturated)
- 120 calories
- 9 milligrams vitamin E (19 percent DV)
Just like with other vegetable oils (such as corn, safflower, soybean or sunflower or canola oil), you might have heard that grapeseed oil is healthy because it contains unsaturated fats known as PUFAs, in addition to small amounts of vitamins like vitamin E. Grapeseed oil has been tied to lower cholesterol levels, improved heart health and certain other health benefits, so it’s easy to easy why people assume it’s a good choice. And it can be — it just depends on how it fits in to someone’s overall diet and how it’s used.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Grapeseed Oil
The Good: How Grapeseed Oil Can Be Healthy
Grapes themselves are packed with nutrients, especially certain types of antioxidants — which is why wine (especial red wine) that supplies resveratrol can be beneficial in small to moderate amounts. (2) But how about oil made from the seeds of grapes? It’s not exactly the same thing — and not beaming with the same vitamins, resveratrol, dietary fiber or “proanthocyanidins.”
Grapeseed oil does have some positive attributes and nutrients to offer, but at the end of the day, it lacks in vitamin K, vitamin C, copper and potassium compared to eating actual grapes. Calorie for calorie, if we consider the available nutrients, you’re better off probably eating grapes and using another cooking oil like olive or coconut oil.
However, there are some attractive qualities of grapeseed oil to consider. Here are several reasons why grapeseed oil isn’t always as bad as some portray it to be, and why it can be a good cooking oil in some cases:
1. Very High in PUFA Omega-6s, Especially Linoleic Acids
As the University of Maryland Medical Center points out, “there are several different types of omega-6 fatty acids, and not all promote inflammation.” (3) A very high percentage of the omega-6 fatty acids we get come from various vegetable oils, which usually include high levels of linoleic acid (LA). LA is converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) once we digest it, and GLA can have protective roles in the body.
GLA might be able to lower cholesterol levels and inflammation in some cases, especially when it’s converted to yet another molecule called DGLA. (4) One study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition even found that compared to other vegetable oils like sunflower oil, the consumption of grapeseed oil was much more beneficial for lowering inflammation and insulin resistance in overweight or obese females. (5)
According to results from high-performance liquid chromatography tests, the chemical composition of grapeseed oil is identified as: linoleic (65 percent), linolenic (1.5 percent), oleic (17 percent), palmitic (8 percent), stearic (4.4 percent) and arachidonic (0.6 percent) acids. (6) The highest percentage of fatty acid in grapeseed oil, linoleic acid, is a type of essential fat — meaning we can’t make it on our own and must obtain it from food.
Interestingly enough, animals who consume linoleic acid turn it into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in their guts, and CLA (found primarily in saturated fat sources like grass-fed beef and raw cow’s milk) has been shown to help with weight loss, reducing cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and other benefits. (7)
2. Good Source of Vitamin E
Grapeseed oil contains a good amount of vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that most people could use more of. Compared to olive oil, it offers about double the vitamin E! This is huge, because vitamin E benefits immunity greatly, as well as several other important bodily functions. (8)
3. Zero Trans Fat and Non-hydrogenated
There might still be some debate as to which ratios of different fatty acids are best, but there is no debate about the dangers of trans fats and hydrogenated fats, which is why they should be avoided. Trans fats are commonly found in fast food, packaged snacks and fried foods. The evidence is so clear that they’re bad for our health that they’re even being banned in some cases now, and many large food manufacturers are committing to moving away from using them for good.
4. High Smoke Point Compared to Other Vegetable Oils
PUFAs are not usually the best choice for cooking because they’re known to oxidize easily and become “toxic.” However, grapeseed oil has a moderately higher smoke point than olive oil or certain other PUFA vegetable oils (more on this topic below). (9)
5. Beneficial for Hair and Skin
Aside from consuming grapeseed oil, some people like to use this oil to moisturize their skin and hair naturally. Since it’s free from synthetic ingredients, a good source of vitamin E and loaded with moisturizing fatty acids, there seems to be nothing wrong with using unrefined grapeseed oil topically. (10, 11)
The Bad and Ugly: How Grapeseed Oil Can Be Unhealthy
The fatty acid composition of grape seed oil is where things really get controversial. By now you know that grapeseed oil is very high in polyunsaturated fats, but keep in mind that there are different kinds of PUFAs: omega-3s, omega-6s and omega-9s.
Since most of the fatty acids in grapeseed’s are polyunsaturated, this can be considered good and bad, depending on who you ask. While many governing health authorities consider PUFAs to be healthy, while they still shame quality sources of saturated fats, there’s agreeance from everyone that the balance or ratio between different fats is what’s really important. An abundance of omega-6s in the diet compared to other fatty acids (omega-3s especially) is problematic because this increases inflammation levels. (12)
It’s easy for grapeseed oil manufacturers and marketers to promote their product as being healthy because it’s very low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats, but given the information we know today about how fats are actually used in the body, this isn’t a very strong selling point. For decades, saturated fats were given a bad name, but today, we know that some saturated fat (such as the kind found in coconut oil or butter) is essential for overall health — and what we really need to be concerned about is consuming far too much pro-inflammatory omega-6s.
If we compare the amount of omega-6s in grapeseed oil to other vegetable oils, we find that grapeseed has one of the highest levels. Here are how different oils stack up:
- Grapeseed oil: 70 percent omega-6 PUFA
- Sunflower oil: 68 percent
- Corn oil: 54 percent
- Soybean oil: 51 percent
- Canola oil: 19 percent
The omega-3s and omega-6s we get from our diets basically compete with one another. In the body, they both undergo chemical conversions in order to be turned into different molecules that have various roles. Omega-6s and omega-3s are needed for brain function, metabolism, neurotransmitter function and more. Omega-6s aren’t bad by nature; people just seem to get too much of them for their own good.
Different authorities recommend different ratios of omega-3s to omega-6s (such as 1:1 or up to 10:1), but most accept that higher omega-3 intake is correlated with better health. For example, in the Mediterranean diet, the level of omega-6 fatty acids is much lower than in the standard American diet. The Mediterranean diet has been tied to better heart health, weight management and cognitive functioning into older age. People living in the Mediterranean usually eat a diet very low in factory farm-raised animal products, refined vegetable oils and packaged snacks loaded with omega-6s, which is one more reason why the American diet doesn’t look so good.
Here are some downsides to consuming a diet too high in omega-6s:
- Increased inflammation: As you’ve learned, excessive PUFA consumption can lead to heightened inflammation, which increases the risks for diseases of the heart, blood vessels, brain and just about everywhere else too — including forming cancer. Inflammation takes place when free radicals alter the way DNA works, attack cell membranes and change the way the immune system works. The more inflammation you experience, the earlier you show signs of aging and the more likely you are to deal with disease.
- Higher cholesterol: When we obtain free radicals from toxic foods, which can happen in the case of PUFAs that become oxidized and molecularly damaged, our body isn’t able to metabolize and use cholesterol as well. This can up the risk for clogged arteries, heart disease and so on.
- Hormonal imbalance and thyroid disorders: Inflammation damages our ability to produce and balance important hormones. Very high levels of omega-6s might be able to interfere with your ability to produce sex hormones and mood-stabilizing hormones and can interfere with thyroid activity.
- Obesity and weight gain: When inflammation levels rise and your hormones become altered, this can mean a sluggish metabolism and other issues controlling your weight. Your thyroid is your master gland when it comes to your metabolism and ability to burn calories for energy, so the last thing you want to do is interfere with its role.
The Best Kind of Grapeseed Oil to Buy and Use
Another thing to consider is how well grapeseed oil’s benefits hold up before you actually buy it, as well as when you cook with it.
How Grapeseed Oil Is Made
Grapeseed oil is obviously made from grapes, but what you might not know is that it’s usually a leftover by-product of wine making. After wine is made, by pressing the juice from grapes and leaving the seeds behind, oils are extracted from the crushed seeds. It might seem odd that oil is held within the seed of a fruit, but in fact, a small amount of some type of fat is found inside just about every seed, even seeds of grains, legumes, vegetables and so on.
Oils can be made in various ways — for example, some are “cold-pressed” or “expeller-pressed” (like unrefined virgin coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil), while others require chemical solvents and a very lengthy process to draw the oils out. In order to extract the oil from the tiny grape seeds, heavy machinery and sometimes chemicals need to be used. Some modern industrial machines used to make grapeseed oil heat the oil to very high temperatures, which is the opposite of what we want, since this can destroy the oil. So for this reason, the potential benefits of different grapeseed oils depends a lot on how they were processed and bottled.
Can you turn a good fat into a bad fat by cooking some oil at high heats? You bet you can. This process is called oxidation, and it happens when an unstable oil is heated to a point where its molecular composition is changed. This can turn the oil “rancid” and make it increase inflammation, rather than helping us out by doing the opposite. Because refined vegetable oils are prone to oxidation when you cook with them, you want to stay away from potentially rancid oils as much as you can.
The same can also happen when an unstable oil is old and sitting for a long time, especially if it’s exposed to light and high heats while sitting on shelves, whether in stores or your own kitchen.
Cooking With Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil can be a good substitute for olive oil at times when stir-frying and sauteing, and it’s definitely a step up from vegetable oils. In terms of its taste, it’s virtually flavorless and odorless, which some people like because it doesn’t alter the taste of recipes like coconut or olive oil sometimes can.
If you purchase and use grapeseed oil, make it the highest quality you can get your hands on. Ideally, always look for organic, cold-pressed oils — even when purchasing extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil. Cold-pressing, or expeller-pressing, means that the oil wasn’t heated to very high temperatures during the manufacturing process, which keeps the molecular composition of the fatty acids from negatively changing. Cold-pressing is basically using powerful machines to squeeze the oil out, without exposing it to chemical solvents or other ingredients that can make their way into the oil and be damaging to your health.
Look for an indication on any bottle of oil that you buy that states how it was made. You can assume that unless the bottle states that it was cold- or expeller-pressed that it likely wasn’t. To cut costs and speed up efficiency, most manufacturers turn to solvents such as hexane, along with high-heat machines, during the processing period. So you might have to pay a bit more for a high-quality grapeseed oil, but it’s worth it.
When it comes to cooking, grapeseed oil is a better choice than olive oil. It’s more stable than olive oil or other refined vegetable oils and has similar properties to coconut oil in that it can be heated without going rancid easily.
Still, I recommend using coconut oil or even grass-fed butter/ghee when cooking above both grapeseed or olive oil. Coconut oil is usually solid in form since it’s a mostly saturated fat, but this doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy — in fact, just the opposite. Coconut has the highest heat threshold of most common cooking oils and can withstand higher temperatures than monounsaturated fats. Butter and ghee are similar in that they don’t become rancid easily, so use these when cooking at high heats as well (pan frying, roasting, baking, grilling, for example) instead of grapeseed oil.
So, Is Grapeseed Oil Healthy or Not?
The bottom line? Most people can afford to eat less omega-6 foods and more omega-3s, so considering grapeseed oil contributes high amounts of omega-6s, it’s not the best choice for everyone.
Is it possible that cooking with a little grapeseed oil here and there is harmless and maybe actually beneficial? Yes. But it shouldn’t be the primary source of fat in your diet, and you should aim to balance it out with other types of healthy fats from coconut oil, olive oil, wild-caught fish, avocado and so on.