Olive OilDo you use oil – vegetable oils, olive oils etc to cook with? Do you take fish oil supplements? What if I told you that all oil, whether fish, vegetable, coconut, olive, walnut, sesame, sunflower etc are all loaded with calories and offer you no nutritional benefits at all? Oil is 100 percent fat and contains 120 calories per tablespoon. Fats in general provide about twenty times more calories than equal weights of fresh vegetables and fruits. Who would have thought that?

So why has this myth that oil is good for you sprung up? I think it dates back to The Seven Countries Study that began in 1958 when it found that people living on Crete showed ‘promising health outcomes’. They were very active as farmers and ate fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, beans, whole grain breads, fish and olive oil. But it wasn’t the fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and whole grains that got the credit for their well-being, it was the olive oil. This monounsaturated fat-rich olive oil was proclaimed as being heart healthy. Fast forward 30 years to 1997 when the surviving members of the study were reassessed. By this time their activity level had drastically reduced and they had adopted a more western type diet, full of processed foods. It turned out that their blood cholesterol levels had increased, they had gained weight, their blood pressure had increased as had their heart disease risk. It turns out that it was the whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables that had helped to keep them healthy despite using olive oil, not because of it.*

And what of fish oils? They’ve been popularised because of their so called ‘good’omega-3 fatty acids, but did you know that even small doses of fish oil raise our ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol? This is the cholesterol that damages our arteries. And that it raises our blood sugar level by inhibiting insulin?

It turns out that all the oils that we eat whether they’re saturated animal fat, monounsaturated (olive oil) and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6 oils) aren’t that good for either our hearts or our general health. So try to stay clear of them when you’re cooking.  I use plain, old fashioned water for sauteing onions etc and if you’re modifying your existing recipes to make them plant based, just cut out the butter and oils. I bet you won’t notice a difference! If you’re into baking use unsweetened apple sauce or mashed bananas.

I don’t advocate counting calories when you eat a whole food, plant based die,t but when you see that one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories and research has shown that all oils, no matter what they are, are devoid of any nutrients and can significantly interfere with your bodies sophisticated mechanisms, you do wonder why we use them when plain old water will do the job just as well with no adverse effects on us.

*Research references:

The Mediterranean diet: a cultural journey. Lancet. 2011, R Ferrari and C Rapezzi

A Mediterranean diet and public health: personal reflections. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1995, A Keys

Monounsaturated fatty acids and atherosclerosis: opsoing views from epidemiology and experimental animal models. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2007 JM Brown

The McDougall Programme, Plume, 1990, Dr John McDougall

The Starch Solution, Rodale, 2012, Dr John McDougall

Whole, Benbella, 2013, Professor T. Colin Campbell

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