Is an oil-free diet healthier? What are the arguments for and against eliminating oil from your diet?
The Mediterranean diet provides another counterargument to the claim that including oil in your diet will lead you to gain weight. This dietary pattern gets a large portion of its calories from fat, in general, and olive oil, in particular. And yet those who follow a Mediterranean diet pattern are less likely to be overweight than those who follow a standard American diet, which is somewhat lower in fat. (It’s also lower in vegetables.)
Whether or not oil is healthful or unhealthful depends a lot on the company it keeps. Eating a lot of potato chips, french fries, cakes, cookies, and other pastries could definitely lead to excessive calorie consumption. But the oil is not what makes these foods problematic. They also contain high amounts of salt, sugar, and/or refined white flour.
Olive and avocado oil are both high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols.
If you are minimizing your intake of fried foods, refined grains and added sugars, I’m not that worried about how much olive oil you’re consuming.
Some Oils are Healthier Than Others
Although I don't think there's a good argument for eliminating all oil from your diet, some oils are definitely healthier than others.
- Olive and avocado oil are both high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols.
- Coconut oil is very stable at high temperatures, so it’s a good choice for high heat cooking.
- Canola and walnut oil are both good sources of omega-3 fats.
One of the sillier arguments I saw against oils is that "they may also lead to increased bleeding through thinning of the blood;" This blood-thinning action, which helps to lower the risk of blood clots and stroke, is one of the reasons that omega-3 fats lower the risk of heart disease.
Vegetable oils pressed from corn, soy, and sunflower seeds are perhaps the least healthful choices. These oils are very high in polyunsaturated fats, which can create harmful compounds when heated. They are also quite high in omega-6 fats, which can prevent those healthy omega-3s from doing their job.
Which Oils Should You Use or Avoid?
Because different oils offer different advantages, I use a variety of different oils. Olive oil is my primary cooking oil. I use coconut oil if I’m stir-frying at high temperatures. I might also choose coconut, walnut, toasted sesame, or another specialty oil for the specific flavor it contributes. On the other end of the spectrum, I keep a bottle of canola oil around for those times when I need a very neutral flavor. I generally do not use corn, soy, or other vegetable oils.
What do you use in your kitchen? Or do you avoid oil? Post your thoughts below or on the Nutrition Diva facebook page.
Image of different kinds of cooking oils © Shutterstock