Stop blaming seed oils for obesity

The obvious objection to this is if obesity is caused by seed oils, then it logically follows that solving the obesity crisis is as strait-forward as eliminating said oils, instead of, say, spending $1,000/month on a weight loss drug that took 20 years to develop and cutting-edge research. This is not only too good to be true, but also unsupported by the data.

As I said earlier, in response to customer demand and ‘health awareness’, food manufactures go out of their way to promote their products as being ‘organic’, GMO-free, low-sodium, gluten-free, etc. It’s easy to find and prepare foods without oils. By comparison, in the ’50s and ’60s, TV dinners and other pre-packaged foods, which are full of preservatives and sodium, were very popular yet obesity was not as common.

Calorie counts are displayed prominently on the packaging of food, so consumers can see exactly how much they are eating, yet this has not helped, not surprisingly (for the same reason smoking warnings have not dissuaded many people from smoking even though it’s stated explicitly on the packaging that the product kills, with pictures included to help drive home the point).

Despite these trends, obesity has gotten worse. There is no evidence to suggest that despite increased healthy food choices and consumer awareness that people are more successful at dieting compared to in the past; in fact, every metric of obesity has gotten worse over the past few decades and especially post-Covid. The huge popularity of Keto and the backlash against carbs has not put a dent in the problem either. Or popular low or anti-carb authors and podcasters like Taubes and Joe Rogan who have huge audiences and sales. There is endless health and fitness content produced online, such as podcasts, YouTube fitness content, and other social media. Or magazines at check-out lines promoting the latest diet fad or weight-loss tips. Same for a plethora of fitness apps and calorie trackers. Again to no avail. ‘We’re’ sorta screwed at this point as nothing seems to work.

It does not take a genius to see why oils are not to blame. The problem comes down to CICO, in the end. Even healthy foods can pack a lot of calories, and it’s still easy to overeat. For example, a small package of organic cheese and salami at my local store has about 400 calories, and it would be trivially easy for myself or anyone to eat many of these packages throughout the day mindlessly. Do it long enough at a calorie surplus and fatness will ensue. Same for a largish loaf of 7-grain artisan bread which has no oils–1,500 calories: how hard would it be to eat the whole thing mindlessly throughout the day out of boredom? Not very, as I can confirm having done so on many occasions.

The seed oil hypothesis of obesity also ignores the role of sodas and other junk food. I have seen some make the argument that the ingestion of seed oils early in life permanently alters or damages one’s metabolism. I am very skeptical of this. I think that this is ascribing way too much power to seed oils. Of course, this does not answer why people are overeating, but eliminating the seed oils will not suddenly end obesity if people are finding other ways to overeat, which is easy given how calorie-dense food is overall, including healthy food.

Same for unhelpful or dumb advice such as to ‘eat less calorie-dense foods’. For food to be food entails a minimum density of nutrition of the three macros. Otherwise, it’s not food. To try to bypass this requires either adding water or air–so-called ‘volume eating’, but given the numerous self-reported failures on Reddit of this strategy, the body is not easily fooled. Often, volume eating leaves people feeling temporarily full but still unsatiated, or soon starving after the water, fiber, and air is quickly absorbed. Similar to GLP-1 drugs, we need better advances at adding non-caloric mass/substance to food instead of only water or air. Same for self-reported weight gain with keto, which is a very common problem despite how people keep insisting that the diet works. As it turns out, deliberately eating a lot of fat can make you fat, being that it’s the most calorie-dense macro. Who knew.

Instead of billions of dollars raised and spent on Ai, why isn’t there similar enthusiasm and investment for food engineering. This is people’s health on the line here, and there obviously would be huge demand as evidenced by the success of Halo Top brand and others, as well as huge demand for the new weight loss drugs. [One oblivious explanation for why there is so much tech investment but comparably scant research about food, is because the former has a much higher multiple/valuation, which means VCs can make a profit faster]. Overall, obesity is a complicated and persistent problem that will not yield to simple solutions like abstaining from oils. Better approaches that use the full toolbox or arsenal of modern science, like GLP-1 drugs, are needed.