Flip over the package of a few of your favorite foods and there’s a good chance you’ll spot soybean oil on the list of ingredients. Not only is it often added to processed foods, but it’s also used as a cooking oil in kitchens around the globe. In fact, between 2019-2020, nearly 57 million metric tons of soy oil were produced worldwide, which is up nearly 10 percent from 2015.
However, the potential health benefits of soy oil have often called into question. So is soybean oil healthy or is soybean oil bad for you? Here’s what you need to know about this controversial cooking oil.
What Is Soybean Oil?
Soybean oil is a type of vegetable oil that is derived from the seeds of the soybean plant. In addition to being one of the most commonly consumed cooking oils, it’s also often used in many salad dressings and condiments as well.
The soybean oil composition is made up mostly of unsaturated fat, with about 81 percent of its fat content coming from poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids. Because it also contains about 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, many people also use soybean oil on the ketogenic diet to help ramp up their fat intake.
But while soybean oil can be included in moderation as part of a well-rounded diet, hydrogenated oils should be avoided whenever possible. These are fats that have undergone a process called hydrogenation, which helps extend the shelf-life and cut back on costs for manufacturers. However, it also results in the formation of trans fatty acids, which are harmful fats that have been tied to a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more.
1. Good Source of Vitamin K
One of the biggest soybean oil benefits is its content of vitamin K, an important micronutrient that is involved in several aspects of health. In particular, vitamin K is well-known for its ability to maintain healthy blood clotting, which can help stop excess bleeding in response to injury.
Vitamin K is also closely involved in bone health and regulating calcium stores in the bone. In fact, according to a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, lower intakes of vitamin K were associated with decreased bone mineral density in women. Plus, other studies have even found that supplementing with vitamin K could be linked to a reduced risk of bone fractures as well.
2. Promotes Heart Health
The soybean oil nutrition profile is comprised mostly of polyunsaturated fats, which are a heart-healthy type of fat found in a variety of foods such as fish, nuts and seeds.
Several studies have found that swapping out other types of fat in your diet for polyunsaturated fats could help enhance heart health. For instance, one study in PLoS Medicine showed that trading saturated fats for polyunsaturated fats in the diet significantly reduced the risk of heart disease. Other studies show that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats could also lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
3. Has a High Smoke Point
Many people prefer using soybean oil for cooking because of its high smoke point, meaning that it can withstand high temperatures without breaking down and oxidizing. In fact, the soybean oil smoke point is around 450 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly higher than other oils like unrefined olive, canola or flaxseed oil.
Not only can its high smoke point help optimize the flavor foods during high-heat cooking methods like baking, roasting and frying, but it can also protect against the formation of free radicals, which are harmful compounds that can contribute to chronic disease.
4. Keeps Skin Healthy
Some companies have started using soybean oil for skin care products, thanks to its ability to moisturize and soothe the skin. Interestingly enough, one small study out of Berlin showed that applying soybean oil to the skin was effective at promoting moisture retention.
Other research has found that applying it topically could protect the skin against redness and inflammation caused by UVB radiation.
5. Helps Nourish Hair
Promoting hair health is another one of the most popular soybean oil uses. In addition to helping the hair retain moisture, it can also help smooth the cuticles of the hair to keep it looking shiny. Some also use soybean oil for hair to increase the effectiveness of other products, such as hair masks and treatments.
For a simple DIY deep conditioner, try heating a few tablespoons, applying to your hair and letting it soak for 30–40 minutes before washing it out and proceeding with your normal hair care routine.
Risks and Side Effects
For starters, many vegetable oils on the market, including other oils like canola oil and grapeseed oil, are highly processed and refined. Opting for unrefined, minimally processed soybean oil is a better option to help maximize the potential health benefits.
Additionally, the majority of soybeans in the United States are genetically modified. Many people choose to avoid genetically modified organisms due to concerns about the long-term health effects as well as issues like antibiotic resistance and increased allergenicity. Selecting soybean oil sourced from non-GMO, organic soybeans is a good way to reduce your exposure to genetically modified organisms.
Soybean oil — like many other vegetable oils — is also high in omega-6 fatty acids. While these fatty acids are very important, the modern diet is typically very high in omega-6 fatty acids and lacking in heart-healthy omega-3s. Consuming a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids can contribute to inflammation and chronic disease over time.
Finally, keep in mind that hydrogenated soybean oil should also be avoided altogether as part of a healthy diet. These fats contain trans fats, which may be linked to a higher risk of chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more. Hydrogenated fats are often found in processed foods, such as fast food, baked goods, cookies, chips and crackers.
While unrefined, minimally processed soybean oil is fine in moderation from time to time, you should be sure to pair it with a variety of other healthy fats as well.
There are plenty of nutritious alternatives to soybean oil that you can easily add to your kitchen pantry. Here are a few other options:
- Avocado oil: This healthy fat has a high smoke point, which makes avocado oil a suitable alternative for high-heat cooking methods like roasting, baking and frying.
- Coconut oil: Rich in saturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides, coconut oil has a high smoke point and mild flavor and can easily be swapped into your favorite recipes.
- Olive oil: Although it has a lower smoke point than other types of oils, olive oil can be drizzled over cooked dishes or mixed into salad dressings and condiments.
- Butter: Grass-fed butter, in particular, is rich in several key nutrients like vitamins A, E and K as well as healthy fatty acids such as conjugated linoleic acid.
- Soybean oil is a type of cooking oil that is made from the seeds of the soybean plant.
- Is soybean oil bad for you? Soybean oil is high in vitamin K, has a high smoke point and can help promote heart health, thanks to its content of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Other research suggests that it may also help support hair and skin health as well.
- On the other hand, many vegetable oils are highly processed, loaded with omega-6 fatty acids and may be sourced from GMO crops. Hydrogenated oils should also be limited whenever possible as they contain harmful trans fatty acids.
- Opting for organic, minimally processed soy oil is a good option to maximize the potential health benefits of this common cooking oil.
- You should also enjoy a variety of other healthy cooking oils as well, including avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil and grass-fed butter.