Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nope - Oil is Still Not Healthy!

I’ve already blogged on the vagaries of oil.  You’ll remember back in October of 2011 I made some salient points about the research on oil:

  • The Lyon Heart Study turned olive oil into a health food when they found that the Mediterranean Diet, high in olive oil, helped people who had had at least one previous heart attack reduce their chance of further cardiac events by 50-70%.  HOWEVER, what you never heard was that a full 25% - one out of every four people on the Mediterranean diet – still had another heart event or died.  (de Lorgeril, et al.  Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascular Complications After Myocardial Infarction; Final Report of the Lyon diet Heart Study.  Circulation, 1999 Feb 16;99(6):779-85.)
  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, on the other hand, published his results of patients who had had an average of three previous cardiac events before he put them on a vegan diet with no added fat – including oil – and not one patient ever had another cardiac event in twelve years!  (Esselstyn CB Jr.  Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology).  Am J Cardiology.  1999 Aug, 84(3):Pages 339-341)
  • In yet another study, students were assigned to a group who ate a fat free breakfast of 900 calories versus a fatty breakfast of 900 calories.  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 is 100% fat.  Even olive oil.  (Vogel RA.  Brachial artery ultrasound: a noninvasive tool in the assessment of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins.  Clin Cardiol.  1999 Jun;22(6 Suppl):II34-9.)
  • Researchers at the University of Maryland found that eating bread dipped in olive oil reduced the arteries’ ability to dilate by 31%.  (Vogel RA, Corretti MC, Plotnick GD.  The postprandial effect of components of the Meditterranean diet on endothelial function.  J of Amer Col Card.  2000 Nov;36(5))

In addition to all this disconcerting research on oil’s affects on your heart and blood vessels, there is new evidence that vegans may be putting themselves at a health risk that meat and dairy eaters don’t face to the same extent:  Their omega 6 versus omega 3 ratio is dangerously high.

Omega 6 fatty acids have the potential to increase blood pressure, inflammation, platelet aggregation, thrombosis, vasospasm, allergic reactions and cell proliferation; omega 3 fatty acids have the opposite affects.  We need both, but we don’t want to let omega 6 acids get too high in our bodies compared to our omega 3s.  A healthy omega 6:omega 3 ratio is approximately 4:1 - 6:1.  However, now that the vegan diet has become so popular and physicians are getting more data about vegan health, they are finding that, while other measures like cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels are astoundingly good, the omega 6:omega 3 ratio is not:  Many vegans’ ratio is shockingly high – even as high as 120:1.

If the vegan diet is so healthy, why are many vegans’ omega 6:omega 3 ratios so bad?  Because many types of oil are high in omega 6 fatty acids, and most vegans eat diets high in oil.

Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids compete for enzymes involved in their conversion, so eating high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids can compromise the omega 3’s ability to work, and this can harm your health and cause disease.  If you use huge amounts of oily salad dressings, eat out at restaurants often, or cook with a lot of oil, you could actually be putting yourself at a high risk for future health problems. 

Here are some tips from Brenda Davis, RD, for keeping your omega 6:omega 3 ratio healthy as a vegetarian or vegan:1
1.       Avoid the worst types of oil for their high omega 6 acids: corn, grapeseed, safflower, sesame and sunflower oil. 
2.       Include omega 3s in your diet by eating flaxseeds, hempseeds, walnuts, green leafy vegetables and soybeans.
3.       If you are going to use oil, use flax oil, hempseed oil or canola oil.
4.       Avoid saturated fats.  Vegans can do this easily by avoiding coconut and tropical oils; vegetarians must give up most all dairy and eggs!

Be healthy!  Don’t assume that as a vegan, you are immune to disease and poor health.  There are still a few things that you need to be mindful of to have optimum health, and eating a diet with an appropriate omega 6:omega 3 ratio is one of them!



  1. Thanks for this. I've been slowly growing aware of the info pointing even at olive oil as unhealthy. Oil is a difficult one to decrease in my vegan cooking. Is there a comparison available of benefits/risks of different oils? Also, if you know of a vegan cookbook with low-oil recipes, please do share. I have a lot of vegan cookbooks, none minimize oil as a goal. Thanks!

  2. Hi Gordon,
    There is a lot of debate about the benefits/risks of different oils. It depends on whether you are interested in minimizing the type of fat, getting more Omega 3's, etc. In general, I suggest minimizing oil altogether, and do a little more research if you plan to eat it with any regularity. For no-oil cooking, try "Fat Free and Easy", "Kitchen in the Clouds", and the recipes in the backs of the following diet books: Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn, Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn. I think the tastiest recipes come from the Esselstyn books and the first two cookbooks I recommend. There are others, but these are the first to come to my head. McDougall's books have lots of oil-free recipes, but I find the recipes rather tasteless. Also try