Sugar. It’s a bad word. It bears the brunt of the blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemics. It’s one of the first things that people say they need to avoid when they’re trying to get in better shape or improve their health.

But what if sugar wasn’t the only culprit? What if there was another very highly probable suspect that has just as much to do (if not more) with our current health crises than sugar? And what if that probable suspect was actually something that we’ve been force-fed — told that it’s healthy and advised to eat more of?

We’re talking about vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids. For decades, we’ve been advised to increase our intake of these vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, peanut, and canola oils) and even substitute them for animal fats. A perfect example is the long-standing recommendation to use margarine (laced with omega-6 fatty acids) for butter.

But guess what? This misguidance has led to an exorbitant increase in our intake of omega-6 fatty acids — to the tune of 10 to 20 (or more) times than what’s considered to be ideal. And this is a problem because omega-6s are pro-inflammatory and pro-thrombotic (which means they increase blood viscosity and promote blood clotting).

This dramatic rise in omega-6 fatty acids is associated with an increase in virtually all inflammation-related conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, mood disorders, mental illness, autoimmune disease, accelerated aging, and more.

That’s bad (and sad) news. And while one step in the right direction is to increase your intake of cold-water fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies), which are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats that counteract omega-6s, the most important step is to limit (or better yet, eliminate) your consumption of the aforementioned vegetable oils.

Unfortunately, those pro-inflammatory vegetable oils are “hidden” in many processed, packaged, and prepared foods. And while your best bet is to always read the ingredients on any packaged foods, here are some of the most common offenders:

  1. Mayonnaise
  2. Margarine
  3. Popcorn
  4. Salad dressing
  5. Potato chips
  6. Shortening
  7. Tortilla chips
  8. Fast food
  9. Restaurant food
  10. Prepared foods
  11. Granola
  12. Baked goods
  13. Breads
  14. Sauces