The other day I was in the supermarket and while meandering through the aisles I was really impressed by the amount and variety of different oils being offered to us…the consumer. When I see so much of any particular food along those aisles, I see the stamp of multi-billion dollar businesses as well as major consumer purchasing. The questions I ask myself is, how healthy is oil…anyways?
As is the case with processed sugar, all oils are heavily processed and as a result lose almost all of their nutrients that were available in the original fruit, nut or seed. These include vitamins, minerals, fiber, proteins and anti-oxidants. What we´re left with is mostly 100% liquid fat. With 120 calories per tablespoon, oils are one of the most fattening, calorically dense foods on the planet. Just put 3 tablespoons on your tossed salad and you´ve reached 20% of the recommended calorie intake for the day.
But the story doesn´t end there.
The endothelium, which is the inner lining of our blood vessels, secretes nitric oxide, a substance that promotes the flexibility that the vessels need, in order to adapt to the ebb and flow of the blood as it circulates through our bodies. Recent evidence is showing that processed oils damage this one cell thick lining. The result is that production of the nitric oxide decreases while the danger of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), increases. This doesn´t only affect the heart but the brain as well, which requires a constant flow of oxygen…to avoid deterioration.
The olive oil craze began during the 1980s as a result of studies showing that, in general, Europeans were suffering and dying less than Americans from chronic diseases. They were following the “Mediterranean Diet” (MD) which was heathier than the Standard American Diet (SAD). Their diet included more fruits, vegetables and grains than the SAD, which includes more meat, dairy and processed foods. The Europeans also used and still use olive oil. For some reason, for those on the SAD, what was adopted was the olive oil instead of the more nutritious plant based foods. As a result, the health of people on the SAD has continued to degenerate for the past 25 years. Still, olive oil is considered healthy, even among most health professionals.
According to Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of the perennial best seller “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”, the book behind Bill Clinton´s Life – Changing Plant Based Diet:
“No oil! Not even olive oil, which goes against a lot of other advice out there about so called good fats. The reality is that oils are extremely low in nutritive value. Both the mono-unsaturated 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. Avoid ALL oil”.
Coconut oil, with its sweet smell of the tropics and its purported claims to cure what ails you, is everywhere. People are using it in their shampoos, skin creams, cooking, and even in their smoothies and coffee. There are even claims that it helps to prevent and cure dementia and alzheimer´s. Recent studies are showing the opposite, that these diseases result, at least in part, from vascular problems, stemming from the build up of plaque in the blood vessels to the brain…similar to the relationship between atherosclerosis and heart disease.
A new science advisory in 2017, from the American Heart Association recommended against ingesting coconut oil. Frank Sacks, M.D., lead author of the advisory is a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The advisory, an analysis of more than 100 published research studies dating as far back as the 1950s, reaffirmed that saturated fats raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil contain high levels of saturated fats, and the authors reported that coconut oil raised LDL cholesterol in seven controlled trials.
“One of the real problems in transmitting health information is that generally people who are writing about it don’t look into what’s come before,” he said. The media also don’t pay much attention to new studies that support or extend current dietary recommendations. “The overall effect has misled the public on the science of dietary fats,” he said.
People are also quick to believe trends that aren’t supported by science, he said. A prime example is coconut oil, widely touted for its health benefits. “I just don’t know” who is pushing it, but it’s not scientists, Sacks said. It may be driven by manufacturers looking to profit, or some countries’ economic dependence on coconut oil, he said.
According to the advisory, coconut oil is 82 percent saturated fat, and studies show it raises LDL “bad” cholesterol as much as butter, beef fat or palm oil.
In “HOW HEALTHY ARE OILS? – Part 2, I´ll offer healthy alternatives to cooking with oil as well as tasty options for salad dressings.