There is nothing more controversial these days, even in the plant-based community, than the topic of oil. Strict Whole Food Plant Based camps say oil is a processed food and should be avoided. Others claim it is required for a healthy diet to get enough omega-3s. What’s the truth?
Fast fat facts
First of all, all oils are a processed food with little to no nutrients left from the whole food it came from. Any oil, including coconut or olive, are 100% fat. 1 tablespoon = 120 calories of pure fat. It doesn’t matter if its organic, cold-pressed, or expeller.
Fat is 9 calories per gram, where as carbohydrates & protein are both 4 calories per gram. That makes fat very calorically dense.
Fats that come from whole foods are also bound with fiber which actually slows digestion, keeps us full longer, and even helps remove some of that fat without it ever being digested.
But oil has all of the fiber stripped away and most of the nutrients removed so it becomes a very calorie dense, nutrient poor food. It is stored directly as fat on the body very efficiently, only losing about 3% calories in the process. As Dr. McDougall has said, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”
If you are trying to lose weight, avoiding oil will be crucial because it is empty calories with no satiety.
Is olive oil good for you?
There is so much confusion about olive oil when it comes to heart health.
Many claim the heart health benefits of olive oil due to the Mediterranean diet. However, what the headlines don’t say about the study of the Mediterranean diet is that the people of Crete (the Island in the study) were actually eating a mostly WHOLE FOOD Plant Based diet, with a little added olive oil. So was it due to the olive oil or the 80-90% calories from the whole plants they were consuming?
Americans (and the oil industry) took that message to be, “Great I can keep eating my same diet, but add olive oil and get the same effects”!
The Mediterraneans’ lower risk of heart disease was more likely due to the majority of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits they were eating. They were also eating very little meat or fish. Actually now-a-days, the people in the Mediterranean are eating a much more Western diet like the Standard American Diet and have similar heart disease risk as Americans.
You eat the Standard American Diet, you get the Standard American Diseases.
In fact, olive oil has been shown to damage the endothelial cells that line the arteries just as much as a McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffin. Check out this video from Nutrition Facts about Olive Oil & Artery Function.
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Dr. Caldwell Esselsytn, the famed surgeon from the Cleveland Clinic and author of “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” recommends NO oil, not even a drop. Especially for those who are trying to reverse heart disease or who are at risk for developing coronary heart disease, which is sadly, most of America.
What about coconut oil and MCTs?
Coconut oil is again a processed food that is 100% fat. And coconut oil is the “most concentrated source of saturated fat in the food supply” with 87% of its fat being saturated.
Increasing blood cholesterol levels are more strongly correlated with saturated fat intake than dietary cholesterol.
What about the claim of coconut oil raising good HDL and that since coconut oil contains MCTs (medium chain fatty acids) that it’s healthy? These claims are simply not supported by science. Coconut oil only contains about 10% MCTs because again, it is 87% saturated fat. And coconut oil actually raises LDL because of the types of saturated fat it contains.
The studies the coconut industry uses to claim their product is healthy are studies that involved populations that eat lots of WHOLE coconut, not coconut oil. Whole coconut contains fiber and nutrients that the oil does not. It’s like the sugar industry saying you should eat more refined sugar because whole fruit is healthy and contains sugar. We all know that isn’t true and it’s the same with oil.
Learn more here from this Nutrition Facts video “What about Coconuts, Coconut Milk, and Coconut Oil MCTs?”
Want over 50 delicious (I promise!) whole food plant based recipes that take 30 minutes or less? Check out my Quick & Easy Plant Based Power Pack!
How to get enough Omega 3’s
Omega 3 is an important healthy fat that we need for brain health and preventing heart disease. You’ve probably heard you need to eat fish or use olive oil to get omega 3 fatty acids. Olive oil is actually not high in omega 3’s, but is lower in omega 6 than other vegetable oils, it’s actually high in omega 9’s. Confused yet?
Really, it is about the balance of omega 3’s to omega 6’s, the latter being pro-inflammatory. Most of us get way too many omega 6’s from fried foods, processed foods, and grain-fed animal products.
The ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids should be about 2:1. Most people these days are getting around a 16:1 ratio due to the use of vegetable oils, like soybean, corn, and others that are high in omega 6s. Processed foods are a major contributor of pro-inflammatory omega 6s.
By eating a whole food plant based diet, you are naturally keeping your Omega 3 to Omega 6 balance in the correct ratio by avoiding processed foods, vegetable oils, and animal products.
Related Reading –
- Are you eating enough Fiber Daily?
- How to Get Enough Protein without Eating Meat
- How to Get Enough Calcium on a Plant-Based Diet
Whole plant foods that are high in Omega 3
We can get omega 3 fatty acids from whole plants like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and seaweed. The bonus of using a whole food source instead of processed oils is that you get so much MORE good things than just the omega 3s. You also get all that healthy fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants along with the omega 3s.
For flax seeds, it’s best to buy it ground because the tiny seeds will pass through you undigested otherwise. I like to add a tablespoon of ground flax seed to muffins, pancakes, waffles, sprinkled on homemade muesli, and even in smoothies. Keep ground flax seed in the refrigerator or freezer to keep it fresh for longer.
Ground flax seed is also a great egg substitute in baking – simply whisk together 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed with 1/4 cup water and let sit for 5 minutes so it creates a gel consistency. Substitute this for 1 egg in any baked recipe.
Chia seed puddings are great because they gel up when soaked creating a pudding consistency. Here are 5 Easy Chia Seed Pudding Recipes.
Seaweed is high in omega 3 and you make be thinking EWW seaweed! But that’s what the black sushi nori wrap is made of – thin sheets of seaweed! Check out my How to Make Easy Cucumber Avocado Sushi Rolls! They are delish!
Omega 3 and DHA/EPA Supplements
Some doctors like Dr. Greger & Dr. Fuhrman recommend taking a vegan algae-based Omega 3 supplement with EPA & DHA for brain health. Because vegans aren’t eating fish, they can be low in EPA & DHA which is what our body makes from Omega 3. Some people may also not convert Omega 3 into the longer chain EPA & DHA as well as others, so a pollutant free vegan supplement could be helpful to maintain a healthy brain.
Most all fish, including the touted salmon, are polluted with mercury, heavy metals, PCBs, POPs, dioxins, microplastics, and many other contaminants which is why fish and fish oils are not safe foods to eat anymore to get your Omega 3s. This is true for both farm-raised & wild caught, although farmed-raised are much more polluted than wild-caught.
See Dr. Greger’s video on “Should Vegans take DHA to preserve brain function?”
What about adding oil to my salad?
Fat DOES help absorption of fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin E & Vitamin K from raw veggies, however, you don’t have to use oil. Just add a few nuts, seeds, or avocado or a nut-based dressing to those greens and you get the same benefit and MORE because those whole nuts/seeds/avocados comes with fiber & nutrients that the oil does not.
Try this Pecan Balsamic Dressing or No-Oil Roasted Red Pepper Hummus to top your salad with.
How to saute without oil
It’s so easy to saute foods without oil!
First, make sure you have a good non-stick pan. I like ceramic coated pans and also Scanpan brand which is amazing!
When sautéing, you can use water, vegetable broth, or even wine or sherry for flavor. Just add a little at a time so the food doesn’t burn. As it evaporates add a little more as needed.
How to bake or roast without oil
Baking & roasting without oil is very easy, too.
When it comes to a baking recipe, you can substitute many things instead of oil. Oil is used to keep your baked item moist. I like to use unsweetened applesauce, but you can also use a banana. Another idea is to use corn starch mixed with water over heat until desired consistency – err on the side of watery if you aren’t sure. Let cool and then use in place of oil in a recipe.
To keep food from sticking to baking sheets & pans, there are a few options here as well. One way is to use parchment paper to cover your baking sheet or line the pan instead of foil.
However, I’ve really enjoyed silicone baking mats! Silicone mats are perfect for baking cookies or even roasting potatoes and vegetables. I like that they don’t shift around on the sheet like parchment paper when I’m trying to flip things. They clean up fast either rinsing by hand or can be thrown in the dishwasher. I have 4 of them for my batch cooking days so I can always have clean ones ready to go.
There are also silicone muffin molds, loaf molds, and pie molds. If you want a good non-stick wrapper for muffins, I like to use the parchment paper lined muffin wrappers.
When roasting, you don’t need to soak your vegetables in oil. Just use dry spices and coat well. You will get plenty of flavor and won’t miss the oil! Again, silicone baking mats or parchment paper will be your best friend.
The take home message about oil?
Oil is not a whole food and adding it to your food will not make it healthier. It is much better to avoid oil as much as possible for best health especially for preventing or reversing heart disease and maintaining a healthy weight.
The hype about consuming gobs of oil has more to do with the oil industry bottom line & profits than it does with your health. It’s easy for them to take things out of context and twist the science to their benefit so you will buy more of their product.
Oil is NOT something you need and it’s best for you to minimize the use.
Oil Free Recipes Galore!
All the recipes on this site are oil free, but here are some you might want to try:
- Zesty Mango Quinoa Salad
- Pumpkin Spice Muffins
- Healthy Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
- Healthy Nacho Cheese Sauce
- Easy Vegetable Sushi
- Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Tofu Scramble Seasoning (that tastes like real eggs!)
- Oil Free Pecan Vinaigrette Dressing
- Garlic Cashew Cream Sauce (great for sour cream or Alfredo!)
- Easy Vegan Instant Pot Chocolate Cake
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I’m very grateful that I found your website. Your information is clear and easily understandable. There is so much genuine health and nutrition information here. Thank you very much for sharing this with us.
You’re welcome & thanks for your sweet comments!
I’m very thankful I found your website. The concise easy to understand information is great. I also appreciate the links to products and other in-depth information. Thank you! Yes we are still friends.
You’re so welcome! I’ve glad you are here!
I may have missed this question if I did I apologize, but what is a good salad dressing vinegarette I can make if staying awY from oil is better for u
It’s best to use just flavored vinegars without oil. You can blend with some nuts like walnuts or cashews to create a creamy dressing that is healthier than processed oils.
Love your posts. I learn something new every time and it keeps me motivated. THANKS
Awwww! I’m so glad!
Generous & Helpful tips! Making a difference by sharing information. Thank you! 🙂
You’re so welcome! I’m glad it was helpful 🙂
I am a newcomer to the plant based diet and I am inspired by your information and food recipes!:-) Well done!!!
Awww thanks! You are so sweet!
How to get list of 50 high fiber foods.
Hi Brenda, you can get the 50 High Fiber Foods here – https://simplyplantbasedkitchen.com/50-high-fiber-foods
I especially appreciated 30 minute meals. When I first started WFPB – I was in kitchen so long and yes long recipes and ingredients you can’t find in small town. I am thankful for your approach to cooking.
I appreciate the feedback, thank you!!
Hi Kim I am very grateful for this forum. It’s very informative and super helpful. Thank you thank you
You’re so welcome! I’m glad you are here!
How do you keep the potatoes and vegetables from going dry in the oven with only spices?
Hi Erin! Mine don’t dry out – I don’t use any oil. I put a silicone baking mat on my baking sheet so they don’t stick.
Thank you so much for being so generous with your time and talents. I look forward to my book and future learning from you.
You’re welcome and thank you for your kind words!
I echo the sentiments of the other ladies and gents. Your site has been a valuable tool in my education. I am learning so much and implementing as I go. Thank you for your effort to educate our community of Plant Based Living.
Thanks Lori! You are so sweet!
Good article!! Only thing I would clarify is not only are the whole food sources you mentioned great, they are in fact the only true high source of Omega 3s! Fish and other animals get it from plants. In fact these farmed salmon are supplemented to have Omega 3s and they are fed an artificially colored feed to give color to their deficient grey flesh!!
Thanks! Yes, I totally agree – we need to cut out the “middleman” and go straight to the source!