Maybe you’ve noticed that the benefits and uses of cooking oils are getting lots of attention lately. People are trying to decipher between the “good” and “bad” oils. One that’s often brought up is cottonseed oil — a commonly used cooking oil that’s made from, you guessed it, cottonseeds.
It’s actually known as America’s original vegetable oil. So why is cottonseed oil considered one of the danger foods in the American diet? Let’s dive in.
What Is Cottonseed Oil?
Cottonseed oil is a cooking oil made from the seeds of the cotton plant. It belongs in the same category as canola oil, soybean oil and safflower oil, as it’s really an inflammatory “vegetable” oil that’s processed and can easily oxidize when exposed to high heat, light and air.
Cottonseed oil is refined in order to remove gossypol, a naturally occurring toxin in the seed’s oil that works to protect the plant from insects. If consumed, this natural pesticide may be toxic, so it’s always removed from the seeds that are used to make cooking oil or flour.
You’ll find hydrogenated cottonseed oil on the ingredient list in many processed and packaged foods. It’s used in salad dressings, baked goods, cereals and more.
Cottonseed oil has many uses. It’s well-known for its use as a cooking oil, much like canola or soybean oils. But it’s also used in shortenings and packaged foods.
Some products that may contain cottonseed oil include:
In foods, it’s used for frying, to add moisture to baked goods and to provide a creamy consistency in whipped creams and icings.
Oil from cottonseeds is also used topically in some cosmetic products. It’s used as an oil and emollient that can soften the skin.
It’s fragrance-free and used as a skin-moisturizing agent. You may find cottonseed oil in face and body cleansers, eye makeup and lipsticks.
1. Contains Linoleic Acid
About 55 percent of refined cottonseed oil is made up of polyunsaturated fats like linoleic acid. This is an omega-6 fatty acid that, when consumed in moderation, has been shown to help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease, improve brain function and boost immune function.
Linoleic acid is also found in safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and sesame oil.
These types of omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed along with omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the standard American diet consists of way too much omega-6 fats, which can actually have adverse effects on your health.
2. Provides Oleic Acid
Almost 20 percent of oil from cottonseeds contains oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that’s found naturally in vegetable fats. Oleic acid is known for its ability to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
It may also help prevent type 2 diabetes, fight infections and promote brain function.
Olive oil, almond oil and avocado oil contain even higher amounts of heart-healthy oleic acid.
3. Promotes Skin Health
Cottonseed oil benefits the skin because of its moisturizing and soothing properties. Unrefined cottonseed oil contains vitamin E oil, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects.
Although there isn’t any scientific evidence of this cottonseed oil benefit, it’s commonly used topically for these reasons. Keep in mind, if you aren’t using an organic product, there may be pesticides present.
4. Protects Hair
Cottonseed oil for hair helps moisturize your hair and scalp, and it may help reduce or eliminate dandruff. It can also be used as a styler, helping add shine and tame your hair, reducing the need for hair products that contain chemical additives.
Your hair may be less likely to break when you use just a bit of cottonseed oil before styling.
1. Gossypol Toxicity
Research published in the Scientific World Journal indicates that consuming high concentrations of gossypol can lead to clinical signs of gossypol poisoning, which may include respiratory distress, weakness, apathy and impaired body weight gain.
In addition to the possibility of health issues related to gossypol poisoning, the compound can also cause male and female reproductive issues, and it may interfere with immune function.
Cottonseed oil that’s bought for cooking goes through an extensive refining process in order to remove the gossypol content. To experience gossypol poisoning, you’d have to consume high concentrations of the compound.
2. May Contain Pesticides
Because cotton is not classified as a food crop, it’s often grown with high levels of pesticides. If you are buying a stand-alone cottonseed product, look for an organic option from a reputable source. But do be careful of packaged foods containing this ingredient, as they likely contain conventional cottonseed oil.
3. High in Omega-6s
Like many vegetable oils, cottonseed oil contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. A diet high in these fats, and low in omega-3s, can lead to inflammation.
Omega-6s are found in many unhealthy, convenient foods, like chips, pizzas, salad dressings and processed meats.
If you’re consuming cottonseed oil with processed junk foods, it’s not contributing to your health. This is exactly why vegetable oils like cottonseed are foods to avoid.
Because of the potential toxic compounds present in cottonseed oil, and because it contains high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, there are healthier alternatives out there. They include:
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is higher in heart-healthy oleic acid and other monounsaturated fats. It’s known to reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s best for drizzling on top of salads or using to add flavor to dips and prepared dishes.
Coconut oil contains MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides, that help increase metabolism, boost energy and support brain function. It’s excellent in smoothies, in baked goods and can be used for cooking.
If you’re looking for an oil that’s great for high-heat cooking, choose avocado oil. It’s rich in antioxidants, like lutein, and much higher in monounsaturated fats than cottonseed and other vegetable oils.
- Cottonseed oil is considered a vegetable oil, and it’s often used in processed, packaged foods.
- Although when consumed in small amounts, it has potential health benefits due to its fatty acid content, it’s usually consumed along with unhealthy, inflammatory junk foods.
- There are healthier oils out there that contain more heart-healthy fats and less omega-6 fatty acids. Some of the best options include coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil.