It can be hard to navigate the world of healthy fats, with the proliferation of misinformation and the disagreement, even among experts, about what types are best for you.
Chief in the debate is grapeseed oil, an oil made from the seeds of grapes used in winemaking. While its consumption makes sense from a sustainability standpoint (we're all about eliminating food waste wherever possible!), is it healthy? Turns out, the answer is complicated. Let's get to the bottom of things.
Is grapeseed oil anti-inflammatory?
Grapeseed oil is high in polyunsaturated (70% by composition) versus monounsaturated fat (17%), as opposed to olive oil, which is the opposite (73% monounsaturated fat). Most of that polyunsaturated fat is linoleic acid, an omega-6, and the oil contains less than 2% omega-3s, giving it a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 of 696:1. "We all know omega-6 fatty acids are considered to be inflammatory and that an excess of omega-6 fatty acids in the Western diet is believed to be partly to blame for heart disease," explains Vincent Pedre, M.D., an mbg Collective member and gut health expert.
Here's where it gets complicated. "Linoleic acid is typically converted to gamma-linoleic acid once we digest it and gamma-linoleic can have beneficial properties, like lowering cholesterol and inflammation especially when it is converted to DGLA," says Robert Graham, M.D., the founder of FRESH Med NYC. According to one study1, "The polyphenols present in grapeseed oil are able to inhibit the release of arachidonic acid (AA), responsible for the production of leukotrienes and prostaglandins, which in turn activates the inflammatory response."
Unfortunately, there isn't much research on grapeseed oil directly. "One study2 showed it improved high-sensitive C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) and insulin resistance in overweight/obese women," says Pedre. "However, the study was poorly done because they compared grapeseed oil to another high-omega-6 oil—sunflower oil. It would have been a better study to compare the intake of grapeseed oil versus cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil."
Other studies3 point to anti-inflammatory effects of grapeseed extract's high vitamin E content. "Grapeseed extracts have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties by inhibiting proliferation and inducing cell death in colon cancer cells due to their phenolic compounds, like proanthocyanidins," says Pedre. "However, in-vitro studies are well-controlled environments that may not translate to how the oil behaves in-vivo. And grapeseed oil is not the same as an extract."
Other key factors in grapeseed oil's health profile.
Beyond the fat makeup of grapeseed oil, there's one big pro and one big con. On the positive side, grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, which means you can cook with it at a high temperature without the fat oxidizing or turning rancid (the healthiest oils become inflammatory when used for cooking above their smoke point).
As for the con? "Most grapeseed oils are processed in factories using solvents to extract the oil. A common solvent used is hexane, which is a toxic substance for the body," says Pedre. "Manufacturers may argue this is found in trace amount in the final product, but the problem is these solvents are fat-soluble, and thus bio-accumulate in the fatty tissues of the body, where they remain for years." Inexpensive grapeseed oil can also often be found in plastic bottles, which can leech microparticles into the oils and allow light in, which causes even the healthy elements to degrade.
The bottom line?
Most experts recommend steering clear of grapeseed oil. While the jury's still out on a few health benefits, they're not worth potentially exposing yourself to inflammatory elements, especially when there are other oils that fall squarely on the healthy side of the spectrum and serve the same function. "I generally recommend avocado oil when you're looking for a neutral-flavored oil, as it's much higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which are also more stable when cooked at high temperatures," says Jessica Cording, R.D., mbg Collective member and founder of Jessica Cording Nutrition. And if you do want to go for grapeseed oil, always look for a cold-pressed version in a dark bottle.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.