You may have noticed none of my recipes contain any added refined fats or oils, such as coconut oil or even the 'heart-healthy' olive oil. (You can read more about my grievances with coconut oil in a previous post here).
After attending last year's International Plant-Based Healthcare conference in California, my personal and professional focus has shifted away from 'vegan' diets to whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diets, which are based on minimally-processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds and legumes (including soy products such as tofu and tempeh). Although I still align with the vegan philosophy and don't use any animal products in my diet or lifestyle, I encourage my vegan clients to adopt this style of eating for the well-documented health benefits. You can read a little more about this on my WFPB page by clicking here.
The reasons I don't use or recommend oils are simple:
1. Oils aren't whole foods
As an example: olives are whole foods, olive oil is not. Olive oil is similar to fruit juice - it is stripped of the beneficial food components such as dietary fibre and water which would ordinarily make it hard to consume very much of. In the same way that it’s easy to drink a large glass of orange juice made from 5 oranges (but very difficult to eat 5 whole oranges!), processed oils are very easy to consume a lot of, compared with their whole food counterparts. Most refined vegetable oils are also chemically extracted, bleached and deodourised. Ew!
2. Oils add hundreds of calories/kilojoules/energy to meals
All oils are highly processed and are the most energy-dense foods on the planet at 3,390kJ/811cals per 100mL, or 678kJ/162cals per 20mL tablespoon. Once of the simplest ways to lose weight without even trying is to eliminate added oils from meals and be vigilant about avoiding oils added to packaged foods (see Recommendation #8 below).
3. Unsaturated plant-derived oils are prone to oxidation
When packaged in clear plastic or glass bottles, the unsaturated fatty acids in the oil are prone to oxidation by light and heat, and exposure to oxygen in the air once opened. Although some oils do naturally contain antioxidant compounds, many oils have synthetic antioxidants added to them to slow the process. Consider any high fat fruit, nut or seed in nature - the oils are protected by the plant from light and heat by thick, dark skins (as per avocados) or hard shells or husks (as per nuts and seeds such as walnuts and coconuts) to protect the unstable fats they contain.
4. Oils aren’t a requirement of a healthy diet
According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, fats and oils aren’t included as a ‘Core Food Group’, but rather are listed as a ‘discretionary’ food. With a little dietary planning, the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 can easily be obtained in the recommended amounts from a whole food, plant-based diet.
But what about olive oil in the Mediterranean diet?
The health-promoting aspects of the Mediterranean diet actually appear to be the high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds rather than from the olive oil, which is summed up nicely by Dr. Michael Greger, the plant-based Physician behind NutritionFacts.org here.
Using olive oil in place of saturated fats has well-studied health benefits, such as reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol and increasing good (HDL) cholesterol, and extra virgin olive oil does contain antioxidants, but my advice on oils is similar to that of red wine: if you’re going to drink, it’s a better choice than other types of alcohol (or oils in this analogy), but I would never encourage someone to start drinking red wine (or adding oil to your food) just to get the benefits of the antioxidants. You can easily obtain an array of powerful antioxidants from fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.
If you're still not convinced and still wish to have oil in your diet: I would advise using high quality, mechanically (not chemically) extracted, cold-pressed oils such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Make sure it's grown and produced in Australia (to ensure it is fresh and hasn't travelled far), store it in dark cupboard (away from sunlight and heat), and use within a few months of opening to minimise exposure to oxygen.
My oil-free diet recommendations:
- Get your omega-3s from whole food sources such as ground flaxseed, chia and walnuts and consider an algal DHA supplement (such as this one) to optimise your omega-3 status
- Consume whole food sources of fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds (and their butters/pastes) and coconut milk in moderation, particularly if you're trying to lose weight
- To replace butter/spread/oil on bread or toast: use tahini (which goes fantastically with Vegemite), nut butter (e.g. almond butter) or a spread of soft avocado
- Use avocado or silken tofu as a creamy base for pesto or salad dressings (just blitz in a food processor or blender)
- Sauté food using water or vegetable stock instead of oil
- Coat baked potatoes wedges in a thin paste of brown rice flour and water (and a pinch of turmeric) for a crispy coating (I’ll post a more detailed recipe for these crispy potatoes soon)
- You can use mashed banana or silken tofu to replace oil in certain baked goods
- Read labels on packaged foods to minimise or eliminate oils from sneaking into your diet. Aside from all the obvious processed foods containing oils (such as potato crisps), foods that often include adding oils include UHT soy milk and other plant-based milks, curry pastes, stir-fry sauces, muesli bars, mueslis, ‘air-popped’ popcorn, marinated tofu/tempeh, peanut butter, breads and wraps and whole grain crackers. Start reading those labels!