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This post was originally published Dec 2017. Updated August 2019. My original opinion was that oil was to be avoided at all costs, and I have since changed that opinion after experiencing disordered eating. Any super restrictive diet or "fear foods" can lead to disordered eating. I used to look at this issue in a very biased way, and I have since updated this article to truly reflect both points of view and also explained more about my personal experience below.
Is an oil-free vegan diet healthy? Many experts believe it's unhealthy to eat any oil, period.
Oil-Free Vegan Diet: Healthy & Beneficial or Extreme?
We've become very accustomed to eating oil: we use it to make a roux for sauces, we fry and sauté foods in it, and sometimes we like to add a drizzle of olive oil in our soups.
It seems like one of the trends lately is to eat an oil-free vegan diet. Doctors and nutrition experts like Dr. Fuhrman, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Gregor, Dr. Esselstyn, and T. Colin Campbell recommend a whole food, oil-free diet for optimum health.
Benefits of an Oil-Free Vegan Diet
- Oils lack nutritional benefit. Oil is so processed that nearly all benefits are stripped away, according to many plant-based medical professionals. Yes, some oils contain essential fats - but you can also get those healthy fats (and a lot more nutrients) from the whole foods oils are extracted from like avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, soybeans, etc. Receiving fats from whole foods also allows you to reap the other benefits of those foods.
- Decreased risk of heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn recommends a completely oil-free diet to help prevent heart disease. Why? "Both the monounsaturated and saturated fat contained in oils is harmful to the endothelium, the innermost lining of the artery, and that injury is the gateway to vascular disease. It doesn’t matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, coconut oil, canola oil, or any other kind." (source.)
The Case for Consuming Oil
- Oil does contain good fats - monounsaturated fats have been proven to be very beneficial to our health. Monounsaturated fats have been shown to actually lower LDL (aka, "bad" cholesterol)
- Certain types of oil (like canola oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil) contain Omega 3s. Our bodies cannot make omega 3, so it's important to get it from food sources. Flaxseed, walnuts, and other foods, not processed into oil, also contain Omega 3s.
- Extra virgin olive oil (which is unrefined) has been shown in studies to reduce inflammation, which a multitude of diseases can benefit from.
- This does not apply to everyone, but one of the reasons people avoid oil is to consume a very low-fat diet. Unfortunately, a diet too low in fat can cause many issues like hormonal imbalances.
- People who eat a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil have a lower risk of some cancers.
The following sources contain both pro- and anti-oil information from experts and news articles. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to soak up all of the information and make your own decision.
- Nutritionfacts.org - The Latest Research on Oil
- 9 Signs You're Not Eating Enough Fat
- Proven Benefits of Olive Oil
- What's the Difference Between Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
- Coconut Oil Isn't Healthy
- Coconut Oil Health Controversy
My Experience With a Oil-Free Diet
Let me preface this by saying: This is MY PERSONAL experience, which does not define anyone else's experience or opinion. I am including this section because I was a long-time advocate for an oil-free diet before backing away from the low-fat eating lifestyle. Many recipes on my blog are oil-free and some of my readers have noticed that I don't develop many oil-free recipes now. This is my explanation.
- I was left feeling so dang hungry. Many experts will tell you to stop eating oil and eat more whole carbs. So I did. And I was still never satiated.
- I have a history of disordered eating - and restricting oil only fed into that. Oil became a fear food for me and a source of major stress in my life. If I would consume even the smallest amount of oil, my anxiety would go through the roof because I ate something "bad"!
- I did not lose weight. Going oil-free, for me, was my ticket to weight loss. Or so I thought. Even after following a very strict oil-free, low-fat diet for over a year, I did not lose weight. Which caused me to restrict more foods and further dig myself into a disordered eating hole.
- When I started to incorporate some oil back into my diet, my nails and hair came back to life. Stronger and healthier than ever. I did not gain weight and I felt satiated and full.
Now, I consume oil. Somedays, hardly any. Other days, quite a bit. I eat intuitively and listen to my body. For me, a balance is key.
My advice for you, following my own experience: If you do choose to go oil-free make sure it's not because you are suffering from disordered eating. If you feel restricted, it may not be for you. If you become fearful of oil, you may be developing an eating disorder. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Also, continue to consume healthy fats in the form of whole foods - nuts, seeds, avocados, etc.