Nutritional “wisdom” often changes as new research is done. Sometimes the research is sound and should be heeded. More often the research is funded by industries interested in promoting their product and the results are skewed in their favor. Culinary oils are no exception. When scientists successfully genetically modified rapeseed to get rid of two of its undesirable properties, canola oil was born and marketed as the “healthy” alternative to regular vegetable oil. Olive oil has had its time in the spotlight as the “best” cooking oil, with some dietary regimes even recommending direct consumption of olive oil by the spoonful. More recently, coconut oil has been pushed as the wholesome choice and is widely used in all kinds of “healthy” recipes for baking and indulgent treats. While there is some truth to the fact that certain oils have more desirable qualities than others, or at least less undesirable qualities, they are not and never will be health foods. Just as a “better” cigarette will still lead to lung cancer, a “better” oil will still lead to clogged arteries.
Let’s talk a little about how culinary oils are made and used to better understand why all oils are bad for you.
Below is a quick video on the production of canola oil that shows the extensive processes a whole food goes through in order to extract a usable oil: crushing, grinding, chemical solvents, sodium hydroxide washing, separating, bleaching, extreme heating…and voila, a perfectly clear, odor free culinary delight. Yum.
Not all oils are produced in this fashion, but you don’t just squeeze an olive and get cooking oil. Regardless of the method, it takes thousands of pounds of raw plant material to produce a relatively small amount of end product. As such, all oils are a highly processed and concentrated source of nothing but fat (and a concentrated form of whatever toxins were present in the seed/fruit or introduced in the production process). Any so-called benefits touted in clever marketing (e.g., Omega 3s) are so miniscule that you’d never want to consume enough oil to actually get significant amounts because the amount of fat/calories you would consume would be outrageous. Anybody up for an 8 oz. cup of olive oil?? If you’ve got time, the following video from Dr. Jeff Novick does a very good job of explaining why oils are nothing but junk food.
In addition to oil’s lack of nutrients, it has been implicated in contributing to the development of various diseases by numerous reputable studies.
- Heart Disease – All oils cause damage to the innermost lining of arteries, leading to vascular disease. An oil-free diet has been conclusively shown not only to prevent and stop the progression of heart disease, but also to reverse its effects.
- Cancer – The way we use most oils turns them into carcinogens because we heat them past their smoke point (e.g., olive oil ~400F, coconut oil ~ 350F). Excluding oils from our foods prevents us from intentionally ingesting carcinogens.
So not only are oils not improving any nutrient intake but they are increasing intake of harmful, disease-causing factors. Why use them if we don’t have to? It’s actually quite simple to cook without oils. Foods can easily be sauteed or roasted in a splash of water. Oil in baked goods can be replaced with applesauce or really any other liquid. If making something that needs the fat in order to bake correctly, try a nut or seed butter instead of oil. Change is never easy, but you’ll find that once your taste buds adapt to the absence of oil you appreciate the true flavors of your food more and foods cooked in oils taste like…well, oil.
Before I go…all of this is not to say that fat itself is bad. Just that processed fat and/or large quantities of fat are detrimental. Healthy fat IS very important. The brain is made up of 60% fat. With the exception of the Central Nervous System and red blood cells (which use carbohydrates exclusively), every body system requires fat to perform its functions. We NEED fat. So the question is really where do you get fat following a whole foods, plant based lifestyle? Fat is largely misunderstood. Even a carrot has traces of fat in it. So if we eat enough whole, real food, we get enough fat when it all adds up. Whole food, plant based foods that provide larger amounts of fat include pumpkin seeds, walnut seeds, and flax seeds –also three great examples of excellent sources of essential fatty acids. Other nuts/seeds, coconut, avocados, and olives are also plant foods that are rich in healthy fats when consumed in moderation in their whole-food form. When we try to extract anything from a whole food instead of consuming it as God intended, we wind up with an incomplete, and often harmful result. Just eat real, whole food.