Among the many crops grown in the United States is cotton. According to the National Cotton Council, roughly 162 pounds of cottonseed are produced for every 100 pounds of fiber.1
The raw cottonseed actually consists of three commodities: linters, which are cotton fibers still clinging to the harvested seeds and which are used to make a variety of products, from paper money to cosmetics to photography film; the hulls, which are pressed into a meal or used as a bulk food in the livestock feed industry; and the kernels inside the hulls, which are crushed to produce the oil.2
As an agriculture product in the U.S., cottonseed oil is considered to be “one of the country’s most important sources for vegetable oil,” according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.3 While cottonseed oil is also touted by the industry to be “cholesterol-free with a high level of antioxidants,” making it a “premium oil” for cooking, baking and use by the processed (snack) food industry,4 fine food magazines such as Bon Appetit warn that it’s one of the top three “least healthy” oils for you.5
This is one reason why I would not recommend it as part of your diet. Before I explain my stand, here is what mainstream recommendations say about this vegetable oil.
Cottonseed oil is a fairly common vegetable oil in the U.S. and was used as early as the 1800s.6 It was called “America’s original vegetable oil” and created a high demand among its consumers.7 Cottonseed oil is similar to canola, corn, safflower, soybean and sunflower in terms of its polyunsaturated fat oil composition.8 In its nonhydrogenated form, it can be used for deep frying to lower the amounts of trans fat in fried foods.9
Cottonseed oil is known for its culinary purposes. It’s used for frying or baking, and added to salad dressings,10 baked goods, cereals and mayonnaise.11 Because of its neutral taste, cottonseed oil will not mask or overpower the other flavors in your dish, unlike other oils.12 It’s a familiar feature of processed foods,13 like potato chips14 and French fries,15 which I absolutely recommend you avoid if you want to achieve optimal health.
Cottonseed oil is added to margarines, icings and whipped toppings because of its potential to help form beta prime crystal, which gives these food products a smooth and creamy appearance and consistency.16
Cottonseed oil is also added to personal care products such as soap and cosmetics,17 lubricants, nail polish removers, fertilizers18 and laundry detergents.19 This oil is even added to soaps used in washing wool. In the first half of the 20th century, cottonseed oil was also used as an excipient in drugs like penicillin and vaccines, but was replaced by peanut oil after cotton seed allergy reactions began being reported.20
Today cottonseed oil is one of many used as emulsifiers and excipients approved for use in a range of drugs and vaccines.21,22
Cottonseed oil is mainly composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), with linoleic acid making up a majority of its PUFA content.23 Other fatty acids that can be found in cottonseed oil include palmitic acid, myristic acid, palmitoleic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid and linolenic acid. The fatty acid composition of nonhydrogenated cottonseed oil is:24
- Saturated fat — 27%
- Monounsaturated fat — 18%
- Polyunsaturated fat — 55%
When partially hydrogenated, cottonseed oil’s fatty acid profile is altered and its monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) concentrations increase:
- Saturated fat — 29%
- Monounsaturated fat — 50%
- Polyunsaturated fat — 21%
Although cotton farming goes back centuries — with the cultivation of it being evident even in prehistoric times — cottonseed oil production is relegated to more recent history, when it became part of a milling process.25 This is different from mills seen today, which are either screw press or solvent extraction facilities.26 Modern processing of cottonseed oil involves numerous steps, and the main techniques include:27
- Alkali refining
Because it’s naturally stable, cottonseed oil requires less hydrogenation compared to other oils, and this results in lower trans fat levels.28
Some of the health benefits you may have heard about cottonseed oil is that it’s “healthy” because of its high unsaturated fat levels that exhibit total cholesterol-, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)- and triglyceride-lowering properties.29 It’s also touted for producing low levels of trans fats when used for deep-frying foods30 and for its low amounts of saturated fat.31
From a nutrition standpoint, cottonseed oil, along with almond oil and wheat germ oil,32 also has high concentrations of vitamin E,33 a nutrient that may play a role in lowering your risk for diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.
Conventional health experts advise getting vitamin E from vegetable oils like cottonseed oil, because people do not eat foods rich in this nutrient on a daily basis.34,35 It is also believed that vitamin E contributes to the long shelf life of cottonseed oil.36
However, I disagree with these health claims. As much as possible, don’t use vegetable oils like cottonseed oil, whether it’s hydrogenated or not, and whether it’s unrefined or processed. It can negatively impact your health in multiple ways, as explained in the remaining sections. There is only one truly stable and healthful oil to use, and that is high-quality organic coconut oil.
Initially, cottonseed contains gossypol that’s responsible for the oil’s yellowish color.37 This substance can be toxic to nonruminant animals (only adult cattle and sheep are known to metabolize it38) and reacts with protein and lessens the oil’s nutritional value.39
Increased amounts of gossypol have been linked to adverse effects like breathing problems, anorexia and heart, lung, liver and blood cell problems.40 This compound also triggered reproductive health problems among female nonruminant animals, particularly by disturbing “estrous cycles, pregnancy and early embryo development,” and among male animals by causing infertility, sperm immotility and reduced sperm counts.41
In attempts to make this oil less damaging to your health, manufacturers came up with the following areas of improvement for cottonseed oil production:42
- Lowering or eliminating gossypol in cottonseed oil
- Increasing the yield of cottonseed oil extraction
- Increasing the oil’s PUFAs and vitamin E concentrations
- Reducing saturated fatty acids
Another step the industry took as far back as 2007 was to implement “educational” marketing campaigns stressing the nutritious aspects of the nonhydrogenated oil, including the fact that “it does not require hydrogenation, the process that produces trans fatty acids,” thus making it “trans fat free.”43,44
And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils in May 2018,45,46 the makers of Crisco shortening, a hydrogenated product, was already prepared, having introduced a new trans fat-free version of its product, made from sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils, in 2008.47
Even though being trans fat-free is a good thing, USDA data from July 2018 still show that 94% of the cotton crop grown in American soil is actually genetically engineered, which could leave questions as to how safe or nutritious cottonseed oil really is.48
Although GE proponents dismiss the concerns,49,50GE crops have been linked in the past to possible reproductive problems, organ disruption,51 digestive problems52 and questions about possible allergic reactions.53 Some published reports have also highlighted that cottonseed oil contains a high pesticide load54 and is susceptible to mold contamination.55,56
Remember that saturated fat is important for many of your bodily functions, and will not cause heart disease as mainstream recommendations have led you to believe. One of the foods most abundant in saturated and other high-quality healthy fats that is an excellent substitute for cottonseed oil is organic coconut oil.
Coconut oil is ideal for cooking because it’s resistant to high heat damage, and at the same time provides benefits for your overall well being. The article, “Use Coconut Oil Daily” outlines some of the reasons you should make the switch to this oil.
Olive oil is another option you can try, but it must be used cold and drizzled over your favorite foods. It shouldn’t be heated because of its low smoke point, which can cause toxic smoke when used at high heats. For more information on some of the most ideal sources of healthy fats, read “Top 13 Reasons to Replace Dangerous Oils With Healthy Fats.”