As medical doctors, we are baffled that certain oils are presented as “health” foods. Olive oil is not a health food. Neither is coconut, grape seed, flaxseed, or any other oil you’ve heard you should add to your diet because it’s good for you. From The Forks Over Knives Plan: A 4-Week Meal-by-Meal Makeover.
Sure, if you replace some or all of the butter in your diet with vegetable oil, you may do a little bit better, but that’s not at all the same as doing well. Oil is a bad idea because it is highly refined and its nutritional package is inadequate.
How is it that we know that processed sugars are junk foods, yet we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that certain oils are somehow good for us? Oil follows essentially the same model as processed sugar, which is also pressed from plants. Think about what oil is: fat—and nothing but fat. All the nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, have been thrown away. Oil of any kind has more calories per gram than any other food we know. And without any fiber or water in it, oil lacks the bulk to convey to your senses how many calories you have eaten; this virtually guarantees you will consume more calories at the meal than you need. So we ask you: Why would you waste calories on something that has no nutrients in it other than fat? And why would anyone believe that highly concentrated fat is healthy?
So let’s look at where the “good oil” hype came from. Its origins lay in data collected in the 1960s that showed the people on the island of Crete at that time had the lowest all-cause mortality rates over twenty years when compared to people in other Mediterranean countries. A main contributing factor was their diet, which included some animal products and a little bit of olive oil, but otherwise consisted primarily of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In the years since then, unfortunately, the phrase “Mediterranean diet” has become synonymous primarily with olive oil. What subsequent researchers—and marketers—took from those early studies was that olive oil was the Holy Grail. But it never was.
More recently, the largest Mediterranean diet study to date looked at 22,000 adults aged 20 to 86. Researchers found that olive oil produced no significant reduction in overall death rates. The real benefits of the Mediterranean diet were its high intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. They noted that there was moderate fish intake and the intake of meat and dairy was low. Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, one of the nation’s top nutrition scientists, observed, “If the main message that Americans get is to just increase their olive or canola oil consumption that’s unfortunate, because they will increase their caloric intake and they are already getting too many calories. What they need to do is eat more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and fewer foods rich in saturated fats” [emphasis added].
And as for the very real dangers? All oils have a negative impact on blood vessels and promote heart disease. Furthermore, they may also lead to increased bleeding through thinning of the blood; negative effects on lung function and oxygen exchange; suppression of certain immune system functions; and increased risk of cancer. Not to mention that excess calories from fat get stored as fat no matter what type of fat calories you consume.