Obesity is a complicated issue. The condition has many contributing factors, and nutritionists, scientists, sociologists, policymakers and many others are trying to determine what, exactly, contributes to it. A new report has suggested an interesting theory – there may be one, specific food that is the primary culprit in the global obesity epidemic.
That food is vegetable oil, a formerly rare ingredient that has become ubiquitous in foods throughout the world. A University of Leeds professor named Tim Benton said in an interview with the BBC that soybean and palm oil are considered two of the eight food groups that yield 85% of the calories consumed by human beings. The other six are wheat, rice, corn, sugar, barley and potato.
The boom in vegetable oils is a direct result of trade agreements that have lowered its price to next to nothing. Vegetable oil isn’t a great satan – its proliferation has also seen a reduction in famine, giving the extremely impoverished access to calories they would not have been able to afford. But this begs the question – why should they not have access to good food, instead of merely cheap food?
Since 1980, the global obesity rate has doubled. This may be due to an increase in imports of vegetable-oil-containing foods. The director of the Centre for Food Policy at the City University of London, Corinna Hawkes, says that the influx of cheap vegetable oil has also led many countries to alter their food preparation methods in a way that promotes obesity. In China, more foods are now deep-fried, and in Brazil, many traditional dishes are now made with significantly increased amounts of oil than were formerly used.
And as these countries import vegetable oil and foods rich in it, they are increasingly exporting healthier foods that are more expensive to grow, like quinoa. This may create nutritional vacuums that are filled with unhealthy alternatives.
The vegetable oil question, and nutrition in general, is further complicated by our modern sedentary lifestyle. We spend an increased amount of time sitting, and physical activity, for many people, has to be deliberately integrated into their lives in the form of exercise.
Knocking vegetable oil out of your diet may not fix your weight problems. There are no silver bullets, despite what the fitness and dieting industries may tell you in their marketing. But it may be a big step in the right direction. When you cook, use healthier oils – olive oil is extremely easy to acquire, if a bit more expensive than soybean or palm oil – in your recipes.