A whole foods plant based diet does not include vegetable oils, not even olive oil.
The facts that you should know about olive oil and other vegetable oils are:
- Vegetable oils have more than twice the calorie density of refined sugar
- Vegetable oils contain almost no vitamins, minerals or fibre
- Olive oil is harmful to your arteries (see Dr Esselstyn’s video above)
- The Mediterranean diet was healthy because it was mainly plant based
- Whole plant foods contains all of the essential fats that our bodies require
Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet
“Isn’t olive oil good for you”? Is the surprised reply we get when we say “no oil, not even olive oil”. Doctors, dieticians, nutrition advisory groups and the media all promote olive oil as the good oil, the heart friendly oil, the key ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet. How could they collectively get this so wrong? The following is a summary of some of the evidence that olive oil is not a healthy addition to your diet.
Olive oil contains significant amounts of saturated fats – 14%. It has less than 1% omega 3 oil giving it an unhealthy omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 13:1. (Total dietary target 4:1). It is mostly omega 9 oil which has no benefit to humans other than calories. Olive oil is a poor source of polyphenols (plant anti-oxidant) in comparison to whole plant foods.
Mediterranean Diet of Crete:
Observations of the people of Crete post World War II found a low incidence of heart disease. The people there were physically active and their diet consisted of grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes and small amounts of olive oil, wine and fish. Not exactly the Australian version of the Mediterranean diet. Fifty years later a follow up study found that those individuals who consumed the most olive oil had the most heart disease. A similar positive association between olive oil and heart disease has been found in Greece.
The Lyon study:
This is the study that really launched “The Mediterranean diet”, and by proxy, olive oil, as heart healthy. The study group were instructed to make healthier food choices, including eating more vegetables. The vegetable oils used were not exclusively olive oil but included omega-3 enriched canola oil.
Dr Lawrence Rudel compared the effects of saturated fat vs olive oil on African Green Monkeys (which have similar fat metabolism to humans). The monkeys eating olive oil had higher HDL and lower LDL than those eating saturated fat. But at the end of five years both groups had exactly the same amount of coronary artery disease.
Dr Robert Vogel published a study (Vogel et al 2000) on the effect of vegetable oils on the arterial flow. Olive oil reduced arterial blood flow by 31% and canola oil by 10%. It is thought that olive oil blocks the production of nitric oxide by the endothelium. Nitric oxide dilates arteries.
The ultimate junk food?
Vegetable oil has the highest energy density of any food, more than twice that of sugar. And like sugar, it has no fibre and almost no vitamins and minerals. It is a highly processed food. Even the addition of small amounts of oil to otherwise healthy food promotes weight gain and reduces nutrient intake. See related pages: Energy Density and Nutrient Density.
Australian Dietary Guidelines:
It is noteworthy that the guidelines regarding oil were carefully worded to remain consistent with the science while at the same time encouraging the consumption of olive oil and other vegetable oils. It is recommended that Australians replace saturated fat with unsaturated vegetable oils, not add vegetable oil to the diet. Our interpretation of this dietary guideline is that since our diet contains very little saturated fat, and none that can be readily replaced, we can use no vegetable oils and still be following the dietary guidelines.
- Energy density – explains why the fat you eat is the fat you wear
- Nutrient density – gives vegetable oil a minus number for nutrients
- Energy Pie – explains why low carb means high fat
- Vitamins and minerals – encourages food sources of omega 3
- Essential Fatty Acids – discusses omega-6 to omega-3 ratios
- The Truth About Olive Oil - Jeff Novick, RD
- No Oil — Not Even Olive Oil! – (4 min video) Dr Caldwell Esselstyn Jr, is quite adamant about why we should use “no oil” and gives his reasons in this excerpt of a longer talk.
- Olive Oil Is Not Healthy – (10 min. video) Michael Klaper, MD. This is a short excerpt of his longer talk at the 2012 Healthy Lifestyle Expo.
- The Newest Food-Cure: Coconut Oil for Health and Vitality – Dr John McDougall exposes the myths about coconut oil.
- Marketing Junk Food: Don’t Go Cuckoo Over Coconut Oil – Jeff Novick
- Is Coconut Oil Bad For You? – Dr Michael Greger, NutritionFacts.org blog post
- Lithander, F. E. et al. (2013). Postprandial effect of dietary fat quantity and quality on arterial stiffness and wave reflection: a randomised controlled trial. Nutrition Journal, 12(1), 93.
- Rueda-Clausen, C. F., et al. (2007). Olive, soybean and palm oils intake have a similar acute detrimental effect over the endothelial function in healthy young subjects. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, 17(1), 50-57.
- Vogel, R. A., Corretti, M. C., & Plotnick, G. D. (2000). The postprandial effect of components of the mediterranean diet on endothelial function. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 36(5), 1455-1460.
More on oils:
- Salt, Sugar and Oil: What You Need To Know (video) – Dr Michael Klaper, available through Vimeo
- No Oil? – Engine 2 website has brought together many links and information about why we should cook without oil.
- Also, this update from Engine 2 (29/1/14): The Oil Problem
- Q&A with Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr, MD – scroll down to ‘More Commonly Asked Questions’
The Mediterranean diet:
- Olive Oil is NOT Health Food but Sick Food – (10 min. video) Jeff Novick, RD discusses the myths behind the Mediterranean diet and olive oil
- NEJM Study Promotes Olive Oil and Dismisses Low-fat Diet – John McDougall, MD
- Does a Mediterranean Diet Really Beat Low-Fat for Heart Health? – Dean Ornish, MD
- The Mediterranean Diet Study: Bad Science, Worse Journalism – (5 min. video) Howard Jacobson, PhD
Healthy Librarian blog posts about oil:
- The Mediterranean Diet Myth – Vegetables, Fruit, Naturally Low Caloric Density, Hard Physical Work, Yes! Olive Oil, Nuts, Seeds, & Chocolate? I Don’t Think So!
- And this more recent post from the Healthy Librarian: The Mediterranean Diet – It’s Better Than the Western Diet – But, It’s Definitely Not the Best! Why Settle for Less?
- And this post giving the full story behind some research into monounsaturated fats: Dr. David Jenkins Finds Monounsaturated Fats – Like Olive and Canola Oils or Nuts – Raise HDLs and Boost Heart Health. There’s More to the Story
- Cooking without Oil – Cathy Fisher
- Substitutes and Techniques for Fat-free Cooking – Fat Free Vegan
- How to Replace Oil – Happy Herbivore
- And an updated posting from Happy Herbivore including a video: How to Cook Without Oil (plus a video!)
- Wellness Forum Foods – How to Saute Veggies Without Oil – (6 min. video) Chef Del Sroufe demonstrates how to saute vegetables without using oil
Last updated 25 August 2014