We have been taught that oil – especially olive and canola oils – are heart healthy. They are good for us, and we should swap out butter and margarine and cook with these heart healthy oils instead. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.
The heart healthy rumor about oil came from the study that coined the “Mediterranean Diet”, The Lyon Diet Heart Study. In this study, all 605 patients had survived one heart attack. The patients in the treatment group were told to eat a “Mediterranean Diet,” high in fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, nuts, and seeds. They were told to go light on dairy products, fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and wine. They were also told to add in olive oil, for its monounsaturated fats. The people in the control group were given no dietary advice, and ate a diet typical of most Westerners, particularly high in saturated fat.
The study had very good results: The people on the Mediterranean diet were 50-70% less likely to experience any kind of cardiac ailments. Since olive oil was specifically recommended in this study for it’s monounsaturated fat content, this is where the belief that olive oil is healthy originated.
But what we don’t hear about the Lyon Diet Heart Study is this little factoid: Fully 25% of the people on the Mediterranean diet had either died or experienced a new cardiac event during the four-year study. That’s one in four people on the Mediterranean diet!
Compare this to Caldwell Esselstyn’s diet, which is vegan with no oil or other fats included. The patients in this study had suffered from an average of about three cardiac events before the study started. Of all of his patients that fully adhered to his diet, there was not one further cardiac event in twelve years.
If you want further proof, here’s another compelling study: A group of students’ arteries were tested after eating a 900-calorie breakfast, to see the effects of fat on the blood vessels’ ability to dilate and contract. Our blood vessels need to be able to expand and contract to regulate blood flow to the organs that need it most. Half of the students had a fat free breakfast of 900 calories, and the other half had a fatty breakfast of 900 calories. After breakfast, the student’s arteries were tested to see how quickly their arteries could bounce back after being restricted for five minutes. The arteries of the group that had no fat in their breakfast bounced right back after being constricted for five minutes; but the arteries of the group that had the fatty breakfast took up to six hours to regain their ability to dilate and contract normally. All oil, my friends, is 100% fat. Even olive oil.
Heart disease is not really a disease of the heart; it’s a disease of the blood vessels that occurs when blood (and the oxygen it carries) cannot get to the heart because the vessels are blocked up and compromised. When a blood vessel to the heart gets clogged up and closes, then the heart does not receive any blood, and a heart attack occurs. Our vessels are probably the most important part of our overall health, and fat undoubtedly has a negative effect on our vessels – even “healthy” oils, because they are still 100% fat. Therefore, many doctors, including Caldwell Esselstyn, recommend no oil in the diet.
I’ll finish with my personal experience with Dr. Esselstyn. After being vegan for 4 or 5 years, I stood up at a conference and asked Dr. Esselstyn this question: If I am 100% vegan and therefore not ingesting any cholesterol, why does my cholesterol remain so high at 230 mg/dL? He challenged me to get the oil out of my diet. He said that “eating fat causes the body to manufacture excessive amounts of cholesterol,” even if those fats come from plants. I honestly didn’t believe him, but agreed to his challenge anyway. My cholesterol had never been below 200 mg/dL, even when I first had it tested at 19.
After just one month on his oil-free vegan diet my cholesterol fell to 151 mg/dL, and my LDL was so low that it was imperceptible on the cholesterol test! When I added oil back in to my diet, my total cholesterol jumped right back up over 200 mg/dL again, and my LDL to 120 mg/dL. For me, this is personal proof that really hits home: Oil is not healthy!