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Are plant derived oils good or bad for our health?

It’s a very controversial topic and definitely worth a look at. I often face the dilemma; shall I design healthy or indulgent dish?

Plant based recipes often call for generous serving of coconut or olive oil. It’s true, more oil might improve the taste or texture but they are not really part of whole food plant based diet, which eliminates not only meat and dairy but also all processed products. Oil, just like sugar is a processed food. It’s better to add some sunflower seeds, olives or flax seeds, as opposed to oils made from them. 24 green olives are needed to get just one tablespoon of olive oil…..would you really want to eat that many all at once?

Olive oil in particular is widely advertised as ‘heart friendly’, and often we don’t even question it, but is it really the magic ingredient of the healthy Mediterranean diet? It turns out that even consumption of the high quality of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) doesn’t help our heart, it’s rather their diets fruits, vegetables, legumes which promote good health.

There is an interesting comparison which Dr. Michael Gregger made, he compared olive oil to both sugar and corn oil. He showed that taking so called ‘healthy’ ingredients like beetroots or corn made little difference once they been turned into an oil which stripped out the original nutritional benefits.

He also compares olive oil to a ‘little fruit juice’ : in that, it has nutrients, but the calories you get are relatively empty compared to those from the olive fruit itself.

Dr Esselstyn, who had great results treating patients with advanced coronary disease, sends a clear simple message : “No oil”. His program is a nutrition-based therapy that has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease. Coronary angiograms (X-Rays) of the patients in his study show an actual reversal of the disease. Long term studies show that olive oil, similar to saturated oil, still worsen the endothelial function (The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. Endothelial cells release substances that control vascular relaxation and contraction as well as enzymes that control blood clotting and immune function, most of the cardiovascular diseases are related to endothelial dysfunction) and contribute to the growth of atherosclerosis, which can restrict blood flow (Atherosclerosis refers to the build up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls (plaque) Dr Esselstyn recommends that the optimal diet consists of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit, with 10%-15% of its calories coming from fat.

This diet minimizes the likelihood of stroke, obesity, hypertension, type II diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus, and ovary. There are no known adverse effects of such a diet, assuming mineral and vitamin contents are adequate.

Although olive oil contains a lot of anti-oxidants, we can easily obtain them from other whole food plant base diet products. It’s probably better to minimise the consumption of olive oil in your diet. Is it not amazing that we can reverse heart diseases using old Hippocrates' wisdom to use food as a medicine.

In our crazy times where there are more than 2 billion overweight people in the world we need to remember that oil has the highest calorie density of all foods and can easily double the caloric value of your healthy vegetable dishes. So even healthy olive oil can easily pile up in a fat around your hips. Since all oils contain no fiber or water (which creates bulk to help fill us up), we have a tendency to over-consume them, and often under-measure the amount of calories we are consuming. Pure dietary fat is also very easily converted into body fat.

This news might require a change of mindset and a few changes in the kitchen. For example, learning how to prepare salad dressings without oil, or to stop using oil for frying (replacing it with water, wine, vinegar or vegetable stock). There are so many possibilities, just explore it, cooking is fun….even without oil.

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