There is a lot of controversy over the consumption of cooking oil. Is it bad? Is olive oil good for you? How about coconut oil?
If you are accustomed to the standard American diet and are switching to a whole food, plant-based diet or becoming vegan for ethical reasons, oil might not the first thing you should be concerned with. It’s much easier and most important to first replace dairy, meat, eggs, poultry, and fish on your plate with vegan or plant-based alternatives.
Here is what I know: extracted oils are 100% fat and are calorie-dense. Oil is 4,000 calories per pound, and one tablespoon is over 100 calories. So, for those experiencing health issues due to obesity, it’s best to significantly reduce or avoid oil.
Olive oil is the fat extracted from olives. A study shows that 100% olive oil contains small amounts of healthy fat. So does avocado oil. But you can get the healthy fat, in addition to the beneficial fiber, from eating the whole food like an olive or a piece of avocado. Walnuts, flax, and chia seeds (which are also calorie-dense but are whole and unprocessed and full of fiber) provide plenty of healthy fat. So do many other nuts and seeds.
I enjoy nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados almost daily as garnishes to dishes and additions to salads. I use nuts and seeds to make sauces, spreads, and salad dressings. I love olives in my pasta and on pizza. I often use avocado as a mayonnaise or butter substitute, and I love a good avocado toast for brunch.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat, so in addition to being calorie-dense, it isn’t “healthy.” I try to avoid it, but since I do not use it at home (and I mostly eat at home) I will have it if the meal I am eating out is vegan and that is the only option. My strict oil-free friends will ask for no oil (sometimes they can get it, sometimes not).
If you are ready to go whole food, plant-based, and oil-free, there are many resources available. I have helped many people do it and I have witnessed incredible health transformations with friends, colleagues, and clients who have reversed their heart disease, lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, and reversed insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, as well as other chronic conditions, by adopting a whole food, plant-based diet. And I have also witnessed drastic health improvements with those who have gone mostly plant-based.
My dear friend Lauren Bernick with Well Elephant reversed her heart disease switching to a WFPB no oil diet after her doctors told her it wouldn’t make a difference. They were shocked when she came back and they saw her lab results. She is strict about no oil and says if she consumes it her numbers go up.
However, once you cut out animal flesh, dairy, eggs, and junk food you will have greatly reduced unhealthy, cholesterol-promoting fats from your diet.
I overcame asthma and acne when I switched to a primarily plant-based diet (that still included oil and occasional seafood). I found dairy to be the most inflammatory and health-reducing food I was consuming, along with refined sugar and highly processed foods. Replacing refined grains/flours with whole grains and eating lots of beans, greens and vegetables did wonders for my skin and lungs. I then became vegan (I stopped consuming fish and anything containing animal products, including wearing leather, wool, and silk, and avoiding products containing gelatin).
I mostly do not cook with oil at home. I love a few drops of toasted sesame oil in some of my Asian dishes and will sometimes use a small amount of pure olive oil in Italian dishes (mainly to sauté garlic as I find it does not come out as flavorful sautéed in veggie broth or water). But I keep my olive oil in a spritz bottle to limit the amount I use. At restaurants, I prefer dishes with little to no oil.
I also enjoy some of the very creative vegan products that are processed and made with oil. When I consume them, I treat them how I advise my clients who still consume animal products – as the smallest portion of a plate filled with lots of veggies or to include just a couple times a week. And I encourage those who choose to use them to replace animal products, as they are a much better choice!
My point in writing this is to remove the fear or anything that prevents you from switching to a whole food, plant-based or vegan diet. Again, focus first on removing or replacing the animal products from your meals. If you want to reduce and cut out oil, I can help you with that as well!
If you choose to reduce your use of oil then ask yourself, does the oil in this dish make a difference – or would I not even notice if it were gone? Stews, soups, chilis, curries, molé, and a host of other dishes taste the same without oil, and one wouldn’t even notice it missing because those dishes are delicious from all the flavorful seasonings. So I encourage you to experiment without it. If you typically use three tablespoons of olive oil for your pasta sauce, try experimenting with one instead. See what your homemade chili tastes like without it. Do you notice a difference? I prefer my baked goods with little to no oil now as I have found so many substitutions made from unprocessed plant foods that come out great.
But for the love of Goddess, Eat More Plants! Start with whatever most supports you in cutting down or cutting out animal products and eating more plant food. It’s better for you, it’s better for the planet, and it is definitely better for the animals.