The Truth About Oils: Are Oils Really a Health Food?

the-truth-about-oilsI have to admit, for many years I was subject to believe that certain “heart healthy” oils made the “good” list of health-promoting foods. Sold in health food stores and marketed as health foods, I believed it all – where else was I going to get all my essential fatty acids (EFA’s)? I didn’t want to be deficient in Omega 3’s! (One of the most widely marketed nutrients of our time.)

I studied nutrition and this is what they taught us at school; that heart-healthy fats are a great source of essential fatty acids and should be included in a healthy diet.

But after diving into the low-fat raw vegan lifestyle and doing lots of research (including reading an excellent book by Dr. Douglas Graham called The 80/10/10 Diet) and personal experimentation, what I discovered was that oils aren’t exactly as healthy as they are often promoted to be.

The Truth About Oils

Oils – all oils – are refined. And hopefully you know what we should do with refined foods:  mainly, avoid them. So why doesn’t the same go for oils? Just as the wheat is stripped of it’s nutrients and fiber to make a refined flour product, so too are fats extracted from whole foods sources to make a fractional product that is now 100% fat. Once something is extracted from it’s whole, it is no longer what it once was, as we know: the whole is much more that merely the sum of its parts. And what we are left with is what we call empty calories.

Despite the fact that many of these ‘healthy’ oils like flax, hemp, olive, almond, avocado, are all deemed to be health foods, they are still stripped of their protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – and what we are left with, the real bang for your buck is calories, and a bigger waistline – oh yes – and an empty pocket.

These expensive oils that are marketed as having extremely precise and technical extraction methods are still refined foods. Whole foods are like complete little packages provided by nature to protect the fats from the damaging effects of light, oxygen and heat and less prone to the damaging effects of free radicals. It’s simply impossible to extract oil from any plant source and not damage it whatsoever as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are extremely sensitive and unstable. It would be hard to argue that the best health benefits from these fats come when they are in their whole food package and when it is through chewing that they are extracted and broken down, as opposed to any kind of machine.

Of course, if you are adamant about keeping oils in your diet, I would recommend cold-pressed organic oils, preferably with a high ratio of omega 3’s, (like flax oil and hempseed oil) but it’s hard to argue that simply going direct to these same whole plant sources (like flax seeds and hemp seeds) for essential fatty acids is a healthier choice still.

Since I dropped oil out of my diet, I’ve noticed a huge difference in how I feel and my clients have as well. Once I learned the truth about oils, it was actually really easy to transition to oil-free dressings like this Oil-Free Orange Celery Salad Dressing and oil-free dips like this Red Earth Dip. I love using vegetables and fruits as the base to most of my dressings (rather than oils, and high fat foods like nuts and seeds), adding even more whole, organic nutrient dense foods to my diet.

Like I say to my clients: experiment! Try going a day, a week, or a month without oils and see what changes you notice. Oils will always still be there for you if you want to go back to them, but honestly, the health benefits far outweigh the perceived need of refined oils in the diet – even the perceived healthy ones!

Just think: there is approximately 120 calories in every single Tablespoon of extra oil that you add to your diet, that adds up extremely quickly. Making one small change to your diet, like removing oils, just might be the little change that will help you to reach your desired health goals.

Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,

Laura Dawn, Registered Holistic Nutritionist

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