Oil, Healthy or Not?
The topic of oil seems to be everywhere in the culinary world right now. Some people are claiming oil (especially coconut oil) is a superfood and should be consumed everyday while others are adamant that it is evil and you should avoid it at all costs. Confusing, I know!
Let me start by saying that I am not a Doctor or a nutritionist, this post is about my personal views with some facts thrown in for good measure. I am not a purist on this topic, I don't have strong feelings on either side of the argument. Everyone can and should make up their own minds about what works best for you, I am simply trying to help make some sense out of this confusing topic.
So, with all that out of the way, here I go. I think we all agree that a healthy diet is filled mostly with whole foods and the least amount of processed food as possible? And that the closer your food resembles how it is found in nature the more nutritious it is? Yes, great! Then taking this idea a little deeper----white flour isn't as healthy as the whole grain it came from. And, olive oil is not as healthy as the olive it came from. Make sense? Once a food has been processed it has lost some of its nutrition.
Cooking oil is not found in nature, it is processed from whole foods. Yes, it's true that some oils are better for you than others, BUT, just because something is better, doesn't make it good.
Example: Take an Oreo, it's vegan (I think accidentally vegan, but still) I believe that the Oreo
is better for me than one of the other million cookies on the grocery store shelf that have lard
or dairy in them, but that doesn't magically make it a health food.
All oil's are highly processed, incredibly high in fat and calories, AND they are lacking almost all nutrition. I don't believe that makes it evil but it certainly doesn't land it on my 'healthy' list either. It takes 24 olives to make 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 1 tablespoon of oil doesn't go very far and I don't think anyone would say that it would fill them up---BUT the 24 olives might?
I think comparing olive oil to white sugar might help here. We know that 24 olives are used to make 1T of olive oil, which is pure fat. It takes 3ft of sugar cane to make 1teaspoon of sugar, which is pure carbohydrate. Both final products are extremely calorie dense and nutrient deficient.
So what do we do with all this information? I don't believe everyone needs to take all oil out of their diets (I hear that sigh of relief) We know that here in the western world, we suffer from diseases of affluence---cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Anyone who has these diagnosis AND those of us with them in our family histories would most likely benefit from cutting back.
There are 3 groups of people I believe should not shun oil
1. People who have a hard time meeting their calorie requirements. Some athletes and people who are sick (I know from personal experience with my Mom that chemo takes everything out of you including your appetite) an anyone else not eating enough to meet your needs.
2. Anyone with a past eating disorder. It's sooo much more important to make peace with your food than adding any rules or restrictions.
3. Anyone struggling with, or new to plant-based eating. I don't want to add 1 more thing to take off your plate. Everything you recently changed is a HUGE step in the right direction for your health and the health of the planet.
If you want to start cutting back on the amount of oil you eat, here are some helpful cooking tips. Saute with water or broth, it's important to start with a very hot pan and to keep your food moving. Steaming, baking and roasting are great oil free cooking methods; for the roasting use some water or broth to keep your veggies from drying out. When baking, use applesauce, pureed prunes, beans, tofu and bananas in place of oil (google the best substitution for your recipe). Using non-stick pans, baking mats and parchment paper help as well. Maybe even just switch to a mister bottle and think of oil more as a condiment than an ingredient and see how you feel.
Cheers, Chef Steph