Recently I’ve been trying really hard to cut out most of/all the added oil in my diet. It’s been extremely challenging, but I’m going to make it happen. I think it’s worth it. In this post I’m going to try to explain why I’m so emphatic about cutting out oil.
Processed sugar is one of those things that has been so publicly demonized that pretty much everyone can agree it’s not good for us. Oil, on the other hand, is commonly accepted as a reasonable thing to consume every day (and some oils are even considered “heart-healthy”). In essence, however, oil is just isolated, condensed fat, void of hardly any nutritional value. Sounds a lot like sugar, yeah? Ever since I started learning more about plant-based eating, this has been one of the most profound discoveries. I’m going to present a little bit of science that I’ve discovered and a little bit of my own personal logic for cutting oil out of my diet.
Sugar is unhealthy. Most of us still eat it fairly often, but we can all agree that it’s unhealthy. It’s addictive, it’s devoid of nutritional value, and it’s hidden in practically everything.
(Just to be clear, when I say sugar, that includes table sugar, corn syrup, and all its other disguises on nutrient labels. It does not include whole foods that are high in sugar such as fruits and veggies)
What is sugar that makes it so unhealthy? In a nutshell, sugar is carbohydrate that has been isolated from it’s natural context. High-fructose corn syrup, for example, is fructose that has been isolated from corn. Corn is a healthy, whole plant food. High-fructose corn syrup is the isolated version.
In his book, Whole (one of the best books I’ve ever read), Colin Campbell outlines his theory of “whole”ism. “Whole”ism, when it comes to nutrition, is the idea that nutrients interact in concert with each other, and our body doesn’t know what to do with the isolated forms. This is why corn (and fruit and beets, etc) is good for us, but the sugar isolated from them is not so good. The sugar in the whole food is digested with all of the fiber and nutrients found in the whole food, slowing its digestion and enhancing your body’s ability to use it for energy rather than just store it as fat. In addition, the micronutrients found in fruit and other whole foods have a truck-load of other benefits. I’m obviously not a nutritional scientist, but this theory of “whole”ism is one of the frameworks that I use when researching nutrition myself.
Following this logic, oil is just as bad as sugar. In the same way sugar is isolated carbohydrate, oil is isolated fat! Olives are a healthy whole food. Olive oil? Not so much. When you take the fat and remove it from the context of its whole form, it’s pretty much just concentrated fat, void of hardly any nutritional value. What’s more, oil is primarily omega-6 fatty acids, a nutrient that the standard american diet is all too abundant in. Even Omega-3-rich oils like olive oil have a much higher Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio than is optimal for our health.
The (logical) bottom line? Oil is an isolated nutrient. Most, if not all isolated, nutrients should be avoided. Thus oil should be avoided. That’s an over-simplificaiton of course, but this is a blog post. This logic is based on more detailed information that I found in books like Whole or How Not to Die or Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease (links to all three can be found on our Resources page).
It’s general knowledge that fried food is unhealthy. We all know french fries are not exactly the pinnacle of heart-healthy food. The issue lies more in the so-called “heart-healthy” oils like olive and coconut oil. With olive oil, for example, there’s this idea that it’s heart-healthy because it contains more omega-3 fatty acids than other refined oils. With coconut oil, there’s the idea that the saturated fat raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which can have a positive effect on heart health.
I call bullshit.
Let me explain.
First things first: There is a big difference between “healthy” and “not as bad as…” A low-fat twinkie is perhaps better than a regular twinkie, but that does not mean it’s healthy. While this is an exhaggerated case, this is the foundation for discussion around “heart-healthy” oils. Research has show that olive oil isn’t as bad as butter, for example, but it certainly isn’t “heart healthy”. I’m not great at articulating the sciency jargon, so I’ll just show you the resources I’m referencing. Dr. Greger outlines this really well here:
Dr. Esselstyn does the same:
These videos specifically reference the heart-health factor of oil, but what about weight loss? Caloric density is an oft-unconsidered factor in weight loss. I’m not one for calorie counting, because a diet high in whole plant foods allows your body to accurately signal to you when it is full. This graph sums it up:
Source: Forks Over Knives
In other words, oil acts as hidden calories in a way, because your body can’t accurately tell when you’ve consumed too many calories from oil.
I’ve been trying for a while to cut out oil from my diet, and it has been really, really hard. Here’s a few practical considerations for how to eat less (or no) oil.
First of all, oil is addicting. We are programmed through evolution to seek out calorically dense foods, which is why fatty foods taste so damn good. There is no more calorically dense food source than oil, which is why fried food tastes so good and why almost all processed food contains added oil of some kind.
This brings me to my second point which is that oil is in damn near everything. I wrote a post a while ago about how sugary foods are everywhere. The same can be said for oil. It’s in pasta sauce, salad dressing, crackers, chips, granola bars, restaurant food, baked goods, you name it. Not to mention that oil and butter are used so often in cooking. If we too an honest look at the oil we consume throughout the day, the results would be pretty staggering. That’s a lot of extra fat and calories without much nutritional value.
The final consideration for cutting oil out of the diet, which is the same for sugar and salt, is the social pressure. Because oil is in everything, if you decide to cut out oil, it will feel for a while that you can’t eat anything. This is especially true when eating out or eating at social events. For me personally, I value the social importance of food. What I’ve been trying to do is to cut it out entirely when eating by myself and to limit it as much as practically possible when eating with friends an family. Overall, that has reduced my oil intake by a lot.
And that’s my case for cutting out oil! It’s an abbreviated argument, so if you’re interested in more, check out our Resource page for more detailed information.