Is Soybean Oil Healthy Or Dangerous? Soybean Oil Explained

Pile of soybeans.

You’ve probably used cooking oils such as canola oil, olive oil, palm oil or coconut oil before. You might have even used another seed oil such as rapeseed oil or safflower oil. And some people even enjoy cooking with lard. Everyone has their preference, and different recipes call for specific types of oil. I personally tend to have olive oil and canola oil in my house. But have you ever cooked with soybean oil?

If you are shaking your head, you may be in for a surprise. Have you ever heard of ‘vegetable oil’? You’ve probably seen it in a recipe or two, right? Vegetable oil is a common household staple and actually refers to any oil that comes from plants. Believe it or not, often it includes soybean oil.

Soybean oil is most commonly used for cooking. But it actually has an added purpose of being able to help prevent mosquito bites! Surprisingly, it is an ingredient that is often included in commercial mosquito repellents.

This oil has many fans, but it also has many critics who wouldn’t go near it with a ten-foot-pole. How could that be? Should you introduce “soy oil” into your diet? Or should you stay far away? Keep on reading to find out.

What Is Soybean Oil? How Is It Made?

Soybean oil in a measuring cup and soybean meal.

Soybeans give us oil for cooking, but the benefits don’t stop there.

Soybean oil comes from – wait for it – soybeans (shocker). After being cleaned, the soya beans (also known as Glycine max) are dehulled (shelled) and then heated to around 165-170 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it easier to extract the oil. They are then cut into flakes and solvent extracted (when a particular substance – in this case, the oil – is extracted from a mixture by a solvent – in this case, hexanes – which will dissolve the substance but will not dissolve anything else.)

Once the flakes have given around 99% of their oil, they are taken out and the hexanes are removed through evaporation. The oil is then further refined and purified, before finding its way onto your supermarket shelf as an edible oil. Much of the time, soybean oil also undergoes an additional process known as hydrogenation. This is what makes the oil more stable and a better option for cooking. However, it also adds nasties like trans fats and saturated fats.

You might be surprised to find out that according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (the USDA), the United States produces the most soybeans of any other country in the world. Furthermore, soybean oil production actually makes up about 90% of all oilseed production in the United States! The U.S. Soy industry even made high oleic soybean oil, which gives the oil a longer shelf life and has a better fat profile. It also has a neutral flavor, so it does not overpower foods when you use it to cook.

But the use of soybeans does not stop at oil for cooking. Not at all. Soybean oil is also popular in the production of biodiesel. And soybean meal, the residue from the procedure of making soybean oil, is used to make animal feeds. Lastly, the printing inks industry even uses soybeans to make soy ink. Who would have thought- one plant, endless possibilities.

Is Soybean Oil Healthy For You?

So, one of the most pressing questions of our time- is soybean oil healthy for you?

One of the big plusses of soybean oil is that it contains polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fats are generally found in salmon, vegetable oils, and certain nuts and seeds. The polyunsaturated fatty acids found in soybean oil include linoleic acid as well as alpha-linolenic acid. They can lower a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks more than monounsaturated fats (when used to replace saturated fats). They do so by minimizing the amount of bad cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides in the body.

But that’s not all for soybean oil! It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to improve everything from mood to eye health to inflammation.

If you’re looking for another reason to support soybean oil, we’ve got one for you. A recent study determined that eating salads with soybean oil salad dressings assists in the absorption of carotenoids and fat-soluble vitamins. Plus, soybean oil contains Vitamin E, which has a tremendous amount of health benefits. Vitamin E does everything from protecting cells in the body from free radicals to boosting our immune systems to helping eyesight.

Additionally, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, natural vegetable extracts made from avocado oil and soybean oil, have been shown to help treat osteoarthritis.

Is Soybean Oil Dangerous for You?

Small bottle of blue liquid labeled poison.

Is soybean oil actually dangerous for you?

Well, that really depends on what kind of soybean oil you are referring to and how it has been processed.

Organic soybean oil contains many nutrients, such as essential fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats. When used in moderation, this oil can definitely be part of a healthy diet and provide much-needed nutrients. However, the soybean oil you’re most likely to find is partially hydrogenated.

This type of “vegetable oil” is definitely not good for you. Soybean oil in its natural form is not stable enough to be heated to high temperatures and has a limited shelf life. Because of this, manufacturers put it through the process of hydrogenation in order to preserve it better. However, this process adds trans fats and saturated fats to the oil. It also breaks down the healthy nutrients, turning a previously beneficial food into an extremely unhealthy one.

Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is far worse than the fully hydrogenated version, which does not contain trans fat. Even if you’re using organic oil, keep in mind that consuming soy in excess amounts can be damaging to your health in and of itself. It has been linked to serious conditions such as breast cancer and infertility. To sum up: fully organic soybean oil can provide great nutrients and definitely has a place in a healthy diet, but it should be used in moderation.

People who are allergic to peanuts and other legumes should be careful when it comes to soybean oil, as they may have an allergy to this as well.

Soybean oil is most likely safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. That is, at least, when consumed in normal amounts naturally through food. Research has not been done on the effects of high doses of soybean oil on pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding, so if you fall under one of these categories it is best to play it safe and make sure not to have high doses of the oil.

Soybean Oil Nutrient Breakdown Explained

Soybean oil contains both polyunsaturated fats (the healthy alternative to saturated and trans fats) and essential fatty acids (nutrients your body cannot produce and must, therefore, receive from your diet).  In terms of fatty acid composition, among the fat content in soybean oil is oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid. Yet soybean oil also contains other nutrients, such as (per tablespoon):

There are also no carbs or sodium in this oil, which is good.

Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil Explained

Syringe surrounded by vials and pills.

Partially hydrogenated oils can make you very sick, so choose organic soybean oil!

You’ve heard people bashing trans fats to the point that it’s probably coming out of your ears by now. If you’re one of those people who always checks the label for trans fats, you probably rejoice when you see the words ‘Trans fats: 0g’ boldly advertised. What you may not know is that companies are only required to list trans fats if there is more than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving. If there is even a drop less, they are legally allowed to write ‘0g trans fat.’ This is how they get we, the customer, to unknowingly buy into their scheme (literally). One way to avoid this is to check if the serving size is a ridiculously tiny amount. If it is, it’s probably because the food has trans fat but the company does not want to say so.

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Another way to check if the product you are about to buy contains trans fat is to look for the words “partially hydrogenated oils”. This is a sure-fire way to know, as the process of partial hydrogenation adds trans fats to the oil.

As stated above, soybean oil can be either organic, partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil means that the oil has had hydrogen pumped into it in order to make it more stable. However, ironically, with more stability comes more danger to your health.  The trans fats that partial hydrogenation breed can cause numerous health concerns and diseases such as obesity, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, compromised immune system, increased levels of LDL cholesterol and fertility issues.

What’s the takeaway? If you are going to use soybean oil, always stick to organic. Also, look out for trans fats on the products you purchase by checking the ingredients for partially hydrogenated soybean oil – and stay far, far away.

Soybean Oil Benefits for Skin Explained

Woman looking up with back of hand covering side of face.

Soybean oil can make your skin glow.

Natural oils can do wonders for your skin, and soybean oil is no exception. Vitamin E, which is potent in this oil, is a powerful antioxidant.

The job of antioxidants is to fight against free radicals that are causing damage to your skin. It is part of the process of ridding your skin of dead cells and forming new, healthy cells. This accelerates the healing of blemishes, scars and other skin imperfections. The phytoestrogens contained in the oil also help with your body’s estrogen production, which reduces symptoms of aging like wrinkles and fine lines.

Soybean oil can also help protect your skin against the sun’s harmful rays (but you still need sunblock – yes, even in the winter!). Of course, only organic soybean oil has these wonderful skin benefits. Unfortunately, the easy-to-find, commercial oils contain none of the magic.

Soybean Oil Benefits for Hair Explained

Woman with back to camera.

Soybean oil can make your hair and scalp look healthy and radiant.

We can’t mention skin without mentioning its close cousin – our hair. And as you have probably guessed, organic soybean oil is also great for your hair. The vitamins and fatty acids in the oil keep moisture locked in your hair and boost the effectiveness of your hair care products. The Vitamin E ensures that your scalp is healthy and prevents itching from dandruff or other scalp irritations.

You can add this oil to your conditioner or use it on its own as an oil treatment. People commonly apply it to help combat dryness, frizz and baldness. And it also helps to seal split ends.

Is Soybean Oil Gluten Free?

If you have celiac disease (a gluten allergy), you probably know to avoid soy sauce. But is soybean oil also a no-no for the gluten-intolerant?

Soy sauce is generally a problem for people who are allergic to gluten, but it isn’t because of the soy. It is because soy sauce (unless it is tamari soy sauce) contains flour. Soybean oil, however, is completely safe for those who are gluten-free.

Yet the FDA makes it that any products containing soy clearly indicate so on the label, in order to protect people who have soy sensitivities.

Conclusion

With so many cooking oils to choose from, how do you know which one to use? Where does soybean oil fall on the list? Truthfully, soybean oil is not the absolute healthiest oil out there. If you’re deciding between a bottle of soybean oil or coconut oil, go with the coconut oil.

However, organic soybean oil is generally recognized as safe. It contains essential vitamins and nutrients, so it can be beneficial for you when used sparingly. It also has incredible beauty benefits for your skin and hair, so you can keep half the bottle in your kitchen and the other half in your bathroom to get the maximum advantages of this oil. Just make sure to avoid partially (and also fully) hydrogenated versions– organic is the only option!