There is no place for oil in a whole foods, plant-based diet. Olive oil, coconut oil and other vegetable oils are processed foods that do not support good health. If that sounds controversial then consider the following facts:
Vegetable oils contain almost no vitamins, minerals or fibre
Vegetable oils are extremely energy dense and lead to weight gain
Whole plant foods contain all the essential fats that our bodies require
Mediterranean diets are healthy because of their whole plant foods
The ultimate junk food – weight gain, nutrient displacement or both?
Vegetable oils, including olive oil, are energy dense and nutrient poor. Foods with these qualities are defined as junk foods and when consumed in significant amounts cause weight gain and/or nutrient displacement.
Vegetable oil is almost pure fat and has the highest energy density of any food, more than twice that of sugar. One Australian tablespoon (20ml) of oil provides 160 calories (670kj), the same number of calories as a can of Coke. Adding oil to a meal adds a lot of calories without any appreciable change in portion size. Most people continue to eat the same portion sizes, but the calorie content of the meal is higher, leading to systemic weight gain over time. Recent olive oil research in Australia (Sarapis et al 2020) had subjects consume 60ml of olive oil per day – that’s 480 calories (2000kj) which is about 20-25% of an average person’s daily energy needs. The study observed that energy intake increased by 428 cal (1800kj) per day when subjects added 60ml of olive oil to their diet. However, in the long term, subjects may partially compensate by eating less of other foods, which leads us to the other half of the junk food problem.
Vegetable oils contain very few nutrients. Most have some vitamin E but virtually zero protein, iron, calcium, dietary fibre, and very little omega 3 fats. The extraction of oil from olives, seeds, etc is a form of food processing that removes most of the nutrients – this includes cold pressed oils. Vegetable oils ‘displace’ nutrients from the diet. When we eat more calories from one source, we tend to eat less calories from other sources: eat more low nutrient ‘junk’ and you are likely to eat less nutrient rich whole foods. If 20ml of olive oil were to displace equal calories of wholemeal wheat pasta the nutrient ‘displacement’ would include 4.9g fibre, 2mg iron, 31mg calcium, 0.7mg zinc and 42mg magnesium.
Consuming vegetable oil adds a lot of calories but very few nutrients. If you reduce food intake to compensate for the extra calories you will have less nutrients. If you maintain food intake to conserve nutrients you will gain weight. It’s either weight gain, nutrient loss or a combination of both.
The term ‘good fats’ is often applied indiscriminately with little consideration to its meaning. One could call ground flaxseed a ‘good fat’ because it is in the context of a complete whole food package, and its fatty acid composition is favourable. But what about olive oil? Olive oil consists predominantly of omega 9 monounsaturated fats which are a source of calories but are not a required nutrient. It may surprise you that olive oil is moderately high in saturated fats – 15% – and therefore no amount of olive oil added to the diet will bring the proportion of saturated fats down to a target of less than 10% of calories.
We need some dietary fats – the omega 6 and the omega 3 essential fatty acids. The omega 6 series are abundant in grains, nuts, seeds and seed oils and it is thought that the Australian diet provides far too many omega 6’s relative to omega 3’s compared to the suggested optimal ratio of 4:1 or less. Olive oil contributes excessive omega 6’s with less than 1% omega 3’s and an omega 6 to 3 ratio of 13:1. See also Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Coconut oil Coconut oil deserves a special mention because its one of the few plant fats that are made up of predominantly saturated fats – fats that tend to raise cholesterol and promote insulin resistance. The MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) in coconut oil may not have the same adverse effects but represent only 15% of the fat content.
Vitamin E Olive oil contains vitamin E. Many vegetable oils are high in vitamin E because it’s a fat soluble vitamin that is retained when the fats are extracted from their whole plant-food source. Vegetable oils appear high in vitamin E because they are a food concentrate – on a per calorie basis, they are no higher than the plants from which they were made. Many whole plant foods, including whole grains, are rich in vitamin E, and its not a nutrient that’s associated with deficiency states.
- If you want to learn more about why we don't use processed oils at V on Wheels meals, continue reading the original article here
- If you want to give it a try, order your V on Wheels vegan meals here