Soybean Oil, Meal, and Beans

Obesity Solved: Toss Out the Soybean Oil

Remember when fructose was the villain behind obesity? Then you’re from the old school. Today’s villain is soybean oil. “Soybean oil causes more obesity than coconut oil and fructose.” That word comes straight from UC Riverside — with a little help from PLOS ONE, a university press release, Medical Xpress, and plenty of other media outlets.

Of course, the headline is just an extrapolation from studies in male mice. Sorry about that, girls. No doubt there’s a good scientific reason to leave you out. No humans were studied in this effort to vilify soybean oil while exonerating coconut oil and fructose.

We can’t really blame PLOS ONE. The study they published is straightforward animal toxicology, without discernible overreach. In their publication, the authors simply conclude:

Our results indicate that in mice a diet high in soybean oil is more detrimental to metabolic health than a diet high in fructose or coconut oil.

The hyperbolic claims about the meaning of this research seem to come from the interaction between the university press office and the researchers. That’s where the zippy headline originates. Nevermind that it’s misleading. Along with the press release, they even issued a Q&A with the investigators and a YouTube video urging people to forswear soybean oil.

Any time you see a university pimping research as hard as this, beware. Translating research for consumption by the public is a worthy endeavor. But the problem is that a lot of junk food for the brain is coming out of the process. Professional ethics and standards for truthful reporting in health and science need to catch up with changing PR practices.

And by the way, you probably don’t need to be overconsuming any of these three food ingredients. Too much of anything is too much.

Click here to read the study and here to read the reporting from Medical Xpress.

Soybean Oil, Meal, and Beans, photograph © United Soybean Board / flickr

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July 25, 2015

2 Responses to “Obesity Solved: Toss Out the Soybean Oil”

  1. July 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm, Carolyn said:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the press office. It could be the researchers. PLoS publishes studies as long as there is nothing scientifically wrong with them, rather than some kind of judgment on relative merit. And because their scope is so wide, reviewers are often not really expert in the topic. This makes it relatively easy to get something published there, as there is not that much scrutiny beyond looking for actual errors. Thus a tactic I have noted some researchers using is to publish something bland in PLoS and then hype it to the max to reporters, including conclusions that go well beyond what the study really shows. This gets their ‘message’ out and it appears to be part of a peer-reviewed study, but the conclusions don’t really come from the peer-reviewed study.

    • July 26, 2015 at 4:15 am, Ted said:

      You have a good point Carolyn. Thanks for sharing it.