What’s the deal with oil? There’s quite a lot of misleading and controversial information out there regarding our consumption of oils. Are they healthy or not? What about the so called “miracle” powers of coconut oil? Today I will break it down to help us understand the good and the bad about oils. I will also show how you to incorporate a healthy amount of fat into your everyday life while minimizing or eliminating your use of oils.
Reason 1: Oil is 100% pure fat
Products like olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil and sesame oil are all extracted from plant foods to create pure oil. With 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, oil is the most calorically dense food there is. This means that oil in itself doesn’t offer any nutritional value. But the marketing schemes like to make us think otherwise. It’s basically eating concentrated calories! It’s really easy to use more oil than we need to. Especially in salad dressings or when sautéing vegetables on the stove. Many raw vegan desserts use coconut oil which add to the already high fat content from the nuts and seeds. These raw gourmet treats can be deceiving! I’m guilty of loving these desserts and creating recipes with oils here on my blog, but I’ve been making a conscious effort to reduce my oil intake. I’m not saying to cut them out completely because its unrealistic to say you will never eat dessert or something with oil again (unless you want to eliminate it completely which would be ideal!) Minimizing your intake of pure oil is essential to thrive in any healthy diet and it will only help your waistline too 🙂
Reason 2: Oil is Nutrient-Lacking and Processed
When you think about it, since oil is extracted from plants, it has become a processed food. The good nutrients like vitamins, phytochemicals and fiber that the plant originally offered are stripped away. So the healthy elements are missing and unfortunately, it’s no longer a whole food. There are better options to look out for when it comes to oils. Since many brands use different procedures, you have to become a label detective. If you are going to buy oil, make sure to purchase raw and cold-pressed oils as they aren’t heated to high temperatures during the extraction process. This means they are able to preserve more of the nutrients, making it a higher quality option.
Reason 3: It’s best not to single out specific nutrients like oil
When looking at the nutrients in whole foods, we know their effect is greatest when they are working together in conjunction with the other nutrients. That is the idea behind the “whole foods” diet. Eat the whole food and you get the whole package. But traditionally, we’ve been taught to take supplements that single out specific nutrients such as fish oil supplements for omega-3 fatty acids. According to plant based expert Dr. Esselstyn, “Fish oil is not essential. Fish get their omega 3’s from plants. It is difficult to be deficient in omega 3 if you are eating 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seed and green leafy vegetables at several meals. There is also research suggesting those who eat plant based become highly efficient in their own manufacture of omega 3. Patients on fish oil are at increased risk for bleeding.” Dr. Esselstyn recommends a low-fat plant based diet with about 10% of your total calorie intake coming from fat. He also recommends using NO OIL in your diet because of the saturated fat which injures the endothelial lining in your arteries.
Replacing supplements with specific nutrients from actual food is a much healthier option. So instead of adding flax oil to a smoothie, just add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds and call it a day. The same goes for a supplement like vitamin C. Instead of taking a pill, eat some strawberries as they are packed with vitamin C and other beneficial nutrients.
What about Coconut Oil?
There are conflicting arguments regarding coconut oil and whether it’s truly beneficial over other oils or whether it’s just like them. I always have coconut oil on hand. It’s the only oil I’ve been using nowadays for cooking and baking. It’s all the rage in the health world right now and it’s easy to get sucked in to the hype. Some view it as a “miracle food” and others view it as damaging. It claims to aid in weight loss and speed up your metabolism. It’s perfect for beauty-related remedies but is it as healthy as its cracked up to be? I’m not as convinced as I was at first. While the raw, organic, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil is the better option, as opposed to the refined brands, I still think we should treat it like any other oil and minimize our intake.
Coconut oil is one of the rare plant sources of saturated fat, but there are different types of saturated fat. According to this article from Julieanna Hever, “About 87% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated. Depending on the carbon chain, the fatty acids have different effects on our health and cholesterol levels. The predominant fatty acid, lauric acid, does raise total cholesterol, but it appears to raise HDL cholesterol to an even greater extent than LDL cholesterol, favorably altering the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol. In addition, lauric acid is converted in the body into monolaurin, a powerful antiviral, antifungal, and antiseptic compound—and coconut oil is among the richest food sources of lauric acid.”
Overall, it seems to offer more benefits than most oils but I’m still going to treat it like what it is – oil! If you are trying to lose weight, you should avoid oil altogether or have about 1 tablespoon per day at max. But if you are healthy and not wanting to lose weight, you should be fine with minimizing and monitoring your intake.
How Should I Incorporate Healthy Fats?
Healthy fats like monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3’s are essential for health, just like carbohydrates and protein. We need them for healthy cognitive function but the source of fat is most important.
Make sure to get your healthy fats from a variety whole plant foods like:
- Leafy greens: kale, spinach, collard greens
- Seeds: hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds (1-2 tablespoons per day)
- Nuts: walnuts, sunflower seeds (a handful or about 1/4 cup is all you need)
- Soy Products: tofu, tempeh, edamame
- Algae Products like E3Live
I know oil seems essential for cooking and baking but there are alternatives. Instead of sautéing your vegetables in oil, try vegetable broth or a little water. Or better yet, steam your vegetables. Or keep your vegetables raw for exceptional health. For baking, I love to replace oil with organic all-natural applesauce or mashed bananas. As far as eating out goes, that’s always a challenge but food without oils like steamed vegetables and/or plain rice should never be a problem when eating at a restaurant. I think I will keep cutting back on my use of oils, maybe eliminating it is easier than we think!
What do you think about oils? How about coconut oil? Do you eliminate them completely or use small amounts?