No Added Oils Healthiest for Vegans and Omnivores Alike

Although you may just be considering a vegan diet for the first time, you probably already know that the fewer animal products you eat, the better–with a 100% plant-based diet being best for health, as well as ethically and environmentally.

However, given all you’ve heard about the Mediterranean Diet, “healthy fats”, and “good cholesterol” you may be surprised to learn that a diet containing NO (zero!) added oils is both optimum AND possible to achieve.

While it is true that a Mediterranean diet is superior to a Standard American Diet, this is mainly because the Meditterean diet contains less animal protein and more fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

A big reason for the confusion over dietary fat is that “healthy” is a relative term, and even foods that exclude animal products can be health-promoting OR health-degrading.

Olive oil is healthier in comparison to animal fats such as butter, but unfortunately cannot be considered health-promoting. In fact, olive oil (even extra virgin) has virtually no nutrients, except fat. Excess dietary fat from any source contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Many people have become obese on the Meditteranean diet consuming too much fat, mostly in the form of olive oil.

According to Dr. John McDougall, the oil extraction processes remove the “naturally-designed and balanced environment of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and ten thousand other chemicals” of the whole food (olives, corn, soybeans, etc.) to such a degree that “Free-oils are not food—at best these are medications, causing some desirable effects, and at worst; they are serious toxins causing disease.”

Rather than using olive oil (or other processed oils), choose instead to eat the whole food, such as olives. One tablespoon olive oil has 126 calories vs 154 calories in one cup of olives. Olive oil may contain traces of the benefits of olives–such as polyphenols–but has none of the fiber, mineral or vitamins contained in whole olives.

If you become lost at the thought of cooking without oil (I was!), check out FatFreeVegan for quick and easy, original recipes that use little to no oil at all. Susan’s delicious Caribbean Beans and Quinoa (photo above) uses olives in place of olive oil. She also has a completely no-oil recipe for Low-Fat Tahini-Chickpea Dressing that has all but eliminated olive oil and vinegar dressing in my house.

Many of the recipes Susan develops are based on the Eat to Live plan of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who recommends no oil whatsoever, but believes canola oil is relatively better than olive oil because of it’s lower percentage of saturated fat.  Two other great low-fat cooking resources are Rip Esselstyn’s Engine-2 Diet  and Dr. Neil Barnard’s Food for Life.

Like olives, other high-fat whole foods–such as avocados, nuts and seeds–also promote health, however they should be eaten in moderation due to high caloric content. Your overall goal should be to eat health-promoting and nutrient-dense foods, those with maximum number of nutrients per calorie.

A major advantage of eating a whole foods, plant based diet comes from greatly reducing processed foods like extracted oils that have little or no nutritional value nor health benefits. One reason raw vegan diets are more health-promoting than typical vegan diets is that they usually contain none of the processed oils that are contained in cooked or baked foods.

For further reference, including medical research, refer to this informative article by “Soul Veggie” Mark Sutton 15 REASONS TO AVOID VEGETABLE OILS.

This post is also available in: Japanese

16 thoughts on “No Added Oils Healthiest for Vegans and Omnivores Alike

  1. Jim Dunlop

    Hey Will,

    I thought this was an interesting read. I have definitely cut down on our oil and fat consumption in our diet, but not entirely.

    I’m not sure if I agree with Dr. McDougall’s assessment though. While it’s true (and your link to a detailed nutritional breakdown of olive oil shows) that there is really nothing that would make olive oil healthy. And yet… Doctors even at the Mayo Clinic are quick to point out the health benefits of olive oil. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/AN01037

    There have been studies done to show that olive oil may indeed have health promoting benefits such as lowering of LDL and raising HDL cholesterol, offering protection against heart disease. It has also been cited as being helpful in the prevention of gallstone formation, and having a positive effect on gastritis and ulcers.

    Further, some research coming out of Spain suggests that olive oil may also help protect against colon cancer.

    But why? This seems pretty unlikely for something that supposedly has been stripped of all nutritional value and content and contains nothing but fat. Perhaps Dr. McDougall is looking at the wrong things. Olive oil contains high levels of antioxidants, vitamin E, and phenols — something that may not be on a standard nutrition label (even a detailed one like the one in the above link)…

    Actually, when I did a Google search for vitamin E in olive oil, I found this link from Oregon State Uni. that confirms this http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminE/ and yet, the WHFoods link above shows that olive oil contains NO vitamin E whatsoever. Strange. As a matter of fact, elsewhere on the WHFoods website, olive oil IS touted as containing Vitamin E and being healthy. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=111 But just to be sure, I also checked with a link through Ohio State University: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5554.html.

    A little more digging also revealed an in-depth article on the World’s Healthiest Foods site about the health benefits of olive oil. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=132

    Now of course, I don’t imagine anyone in their right mind would INCREASE their consumption of fat an oil in response to this, but maybe an outright elimination of fats, especially ones that are considered healthy, is not necessarily the best track to follow.

    What do you think, Will?

  2. william Post author

    No doubt olive oil is a healthier fat than animal fats (which is the baseline), because animal foods are generally much higher in fat than plant based foods. I think you have seen in Forks Over Knives how Dr. Esselstyn cured dozens of cases of heart disease with no-fat diets alone, so it stands to reason that oil is not health promoting for the average person. If you refer to the relative nutrient-richness of olive oil, it is also extremely low, compared to other foods as discussed http://www.eatrightamerica.com/PR1DallasMorningNews
    “A lack of nutrient density dooms olive oil to low scores in both systems. Eat Right America’s Nutritarian Handbook, which lists all the ANDI scores, notes that “All oil is low-nutrient, high-calorie food … .” The handbook is available at Whole Foods. If you’re still foggy on the concept, think about 100 calories. With oil, that’s less than a tablespoon. Now think 100 calories of kale: That’s 1 ½ cups, cooked – a heaping helping, teeming with nutrients – which earns the ANDI’s highest score, 1,000.
    You want to get the biggest nutrient bang for your calories, right?

  3. Jim Dunlop

    True… But to twist up an old saying… Man can’t live on kale alone.

    While it’s true that Dr. Esselstyn cured numerous cases of heart diseases with a no-fat diet — no bones about it, I do wonder whether the effectiveness could be tweaked even further. While it’s easy (and convenient) to think of diet as an all-or-nothing system, (where theoretically NO fat whatsoever would be the healthiest) I for one would be curious to see a study that played around a bit more with optimal mixes. To allude to a bit of a non-sequitur example, as you know in business, an optimal marketing mix often requires a lot of research and isn’t always as simple as maximizing your revenue-generating lines while eliminating or divesting your unprofitable ones, even though simple logic might tell us otherwise.

    I.e. Is a 100% no-fat diet the OPTIMAL way to cure heart disease? Or could it be enhanced even more by introducing a little bit of olive oil?

    I say this because there have been other studies on the health effects of red wine, beer, coffee, etc. that show how small quantities of these can enhance health. Why couldn’t small amounts of olive oil (as an example) be similar?

    As for me, when I cook, I rarely use more than about a tablespoon of oil — which, diffused into 4 or more servings, really doesn’t add all that MUCH in the way of calories, while still enhancing taste and quite possibly having some health benefits as well…

  4. william Post author

    Indeed, it may taste better, it’s only a little, and that may be worth it. I don’t use oil for cooking anymore, but still haven’t eliminated it completely in baking. Dr. Esselstyn’s approach doesn’t tolerate moderation. Patients seeking his treatment must agree NOT to say “This little bit won’t hurt”. While this applies to those with coronary artery disease, research http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/4/1447
    has shown American children of age 12 have thickening of their carotid artery to the brain, and 80% of 20 year old GIs from Vietnam and Korean wars have “gross evidence of coronary artery disease”. So it’s no surprise that everyone exposed to a traditional Western diet has cardiovascular disease by the age of 60 or 70, even though we may have been lucky to have not had a stroke or hard attack yet.
    In Esselstyn’s words: “Ever hear me say no oil? No oil! We don’t want you to injure your endothelial cells. You are doing it with oil and you are doing it with dairy, and you are doing it with anything that has a mother or a face.”

  5. Linda

    why is olive oil the only oil for discussion? I’ve been reading the benefits of cocunut oil. Do ALL oils damage endothelial cells? I understand that there are different types of saturated fats, and that cocunut has a medium length cell structure(lauric acid)– one that does not promote heart disease.. and that coconut as in any oil should just be a replacement for, not an added oil. Polynesian cultures have used coconut oil as a staple in their diet for ever and show practically not incidence of heart disease…Of course the best is the unprocessed extra virgin variety. If i had to chose between olive and coconut, I think I’d choose the latter…

  6. william Post author

    Thank you for your comments. In fact, we recently had a related discussion about the healthfulness of coconut oil on another post.
    http://vegandietguy.com/wholesome-vegan-halvah/
    To paraphrase, regardless of redeeming qualities of various plant-based fats, all of them damage blood vessels and lead to cardiovascular disease.
    Relying on objective evidence from experts such as Dr. Lederman, I have reached the conclusion that the “best oil” is no oil at all.

  7. Alex

    These diets to me are like religion. It all sounds so rosy, but when you dig down, there are so many unexplained contradictions, it just turns you off.

    Number one–Esselstyn says you can dramatically reverse your cholesterol and unhealthy heart even if it’s been clogged up for years or decades by going on his diet of no meat, no oil, after just few months. Then he turns RIGHT AROUND and says you can never eat meat and oil. Well, which is it? Can you or can’t you reverse the effects of meat and oil if you change your diet?

    Put another way, if you can get healthy by not eating meat or oil, then why can’t you eat a meal with oil on January 1 and then not eat oil or meat for the next 15, or 30, or 45 or whatever number you want to plug in there, to “cleanse” yourself and maintain ON AVERAGE, a healthy cardiovascular system? Why does there have to be this absolutist “NO OIL OR MEAT!”? What if you occasionally ate meat and oily foods for a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas and then stayed on his oil/meat free diet for the other 11 months? Wouldn’t that cleanse your heart out?

    Why can I only get into heaven if I only believe in Jesus Christ? Do you really mean to tell me those people who follow Buddha and Allah are all going to hell? If Jesus is a loving and forgiving God, why would he let Gandhi burn in hell? If heart disease can be reversed by diet, why do you have to be so absolutist about diet?

    Number two–Esselstyn, Campbell, and their compadres love to cite the China Study and virtual lack of heart disease in societies on a traditional Asian diet. But even the traditional Asian diet included a little bit of meat and the occasional stir fry (with OIL!). What’s up with that?! If those people could get along without absolutely giving up oil, why do we have to?

    Number three– let’s say having a little bit of oil and meat very occasionally in your life cuts your life on average by 5 years instead of 25. How come no discussion about whether this is a fair trade off? I’m sure if you refrained from sex all your life (God bless the monks and nuns), you could show an average increase in your lifespan because you would avoid all venereal diseases. We could cure all venereal diseases [substitute heart disease here as appropriate] in this country if we just stopped having sex (population by in vitro fertilization)! But is that the quality or kind of life you necessarily want?

    By saying “you can’t have meat or oil” and implying you are just stupid or obstinate or blind if you question that assertion, is going to push a LOT of people away, even if the underlying message is good. Christians who mean well and want to share the Lord’s blessings by threatening everyone to damnation and hell if they don’t believe exactly as they do only tend to push people further away than pull them in.

  8. william Post author

    I appreciate your comments. I know many people who say they would rather die than give up meat (or cheese, or wine). In fact, I used to be like that myself. I have close friends and family who would rather continue eating poorly even though they know they could quit high blood pressure or cholesterol medications, despite all their expense and side-effects. Reading The China Study and attending the T.C.C Foundation/eCornell Plant Based Nutrition program, I realized we can have significant control over our health (i.e. bad genes do not seal your fate and illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes are almost all preventable through diet. Knowing that I have that responsibility was empowering. I think most people are like I was, afraid of making dramatic changes to something as engrained as eating habits. I agree longer life without quality of life is not necessarily better. But quality means different things to different people. The risks of pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures is something I want to avoid at all costs. The message I want to communicate is that you can avoid medication and heal yourself with a whole food plant based diet, if you choose, AND you will still experience tremendous pleasure from eating, too. I don’t think I even knew what a vegan was 6 years ago, and probably thought they were extreme. I guess it was a case of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.

  9. Dkinton

    Very interesting discussion. I ate whatever I wanted for over 45 years. However after a series of medical issues including a staph infection that almost took me out and many months in the hospital, my perspective has changed. At first, after having just a feeding tube for 8 months, I ate like crazy to gain back the forty or fifty pounds I had lost. After avoiding most medical problems, other than continuing Chiari (checkout http://www.conquerchiari.org or do Facebook search to find out about this condition that affects more than MS) complications and surgery, I have stayed away from hospitals for about the past four years). In February of this year I was motivated to get a heart calcium scan. The results were not good. I was at the 90 percent level for my age for heart disease. I knew I had to make drastic changes. I did not think that taking statins was a good option even though this was what the doctor recommended. I observed the success by Bill Clinton and talk by Sanjoy on CNN. It seemed like a much better option and after eating nothing with a feeding tube for 8 months, I felt I could do it. So since March 1 I have. I have tried to keep my fat, sugar, and oils as low as possible and have read thousands of food labels. It has been an education. All the unnecessary added sugars and so many oils. Also that most of the foods marketed as healthy, are not at all, especially vegetarian. This has led me to introduce limited meat (1 or 2 get of non saturated fat) into my diet on some days. I also avoid egg yolks, use limited lowfat dairy, whole wheat flour, and brown rice. I could definitely use some more support as I have figured out what I am doing mainly on my own, with limited direction. How poorly we eat in this country and how unreceptive restaurants are to things like ingredient requests and nutritional information has been another education. Feedback greatly appreciated…..

  10. william Post author

    I understand your disappointment with unhealthfulness of restaurant and processed foods, especially vegan ones that bill themselves as “healthy” or “all natural”, etc. If you haven’t tried incorporating regular green smoothies into your diet to obtain the greatest possible amount of nutrient-dense plant sources using the least amount of time and effort, I would suggest that. I also highly recommend attending a detoxification course based on Dr. Ann Wigmore’s philosophy, such as Creative Health Institute in Michigan http://www.creativehealthinstitute.com/
    Not only will you strengthen your immune system from the wheatgrass detox, the education you receive will dramatically expand your understanding of natural health, including science of raw and living foods, food preparation, sprouting, etc., equipping you to maintain optimal health through a living foods lifestyle. If you are not able to attend a program, it is worth checking out Dr. Wigmore’s books.

  11. Gideon33W

    “our body already manufactures all the fat it needs”
    No idea where you heard this but it’s not even close to accurate. As your body processes proteins in needs fat. In fact, without the associated fats you will die of protein poisoning. Even soy based proteins will become toxic in your system without additional fats.

  12. william Post author

    Thank you for reading. It is true that only plants can synthesize omega-3 and omega-6 fats (or “essential fats.”) According to Dr. McDougal, “we, like all other animals, must get these essential fats directly by eating plants or indirectly by eating animals that ate plants and stored these essential fats in their tissues.” However he also states that “Our requirement is very tiny, and even the most basic diets provide sufficient linoleic acid to meet our requirement, which is estimated to be 1–2% of dietary energy…a condition of “essential fatty acid deficiency” is essentially unknown in free-living populations.

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/aug/oils.htm

  13. william Post author

    I use practically no processed oils, and would always choose the whole food, flaxseeds or preferably chia seeds, for fiber and nutrient benefits. Dr. Gabriel Cousens recommends taking ground flaxseeds (2-6 tablespoons) daily, i.e sprinkling in cereals, yogurt, applesauce or salads, noting that “flaxseeds are safer and more effective than seed oils or essential fatty acid supplements”. If using flaxseed oil, use only cold pressed and within 3-6 weeks from date of pressing and store in refrigerator or freezer, as it is becomes rancid quickly. He also says it should not be heated above 118 degrees F.

  14. Carol

    I want to jump into the plant based diet but I don’t know how to cook without oil. Can you tell me how to substitute oil or butter for instance how do I make salad dressing or chick pea salad.

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