It seems there’s always something you must eliminate from your diet if you really want to be healthy. Or at least, that is something a certain sub-group of the vegan/plant-based community who supposedly have a monopoly on truth and perfect health want you to believe. For many, it’s gluten, for others, it’s soy, but what gets demonized the most nowadays are oils, including and especially olive oil. Oil-free veganism is all the rage these days, with some advocates of this approach getting frustrated whenever they run into skeptical vegans like me who disagree with them. Although they eschew all oil, olive oil is usually the main target of oil-free proponents because of the common, largely accurate idea that it can be healthy in moderation.
Where did this bizarre notion that olive oil is bad for you come from? A group of plant-based doctors have been pushing this idea for years now, based on some flawed studies that don’t always have control groups. To say that there is room for skepticism based on their research is the understatement of the century. Besides the inherent flaws of these studies, another reason I am very skeptical is because I prefer looking at the totality of the evidence, not just what a small group of researchers are saying. Overwhelmingly, the evidence from the wider scientific community doesn’t agree with them. The idea that all fat is bad is something the scientific community repudiated a long time ago.
Beyond just being skeptical, as an animal advocate, I don’t like placing any more restrictions on a vegan diet than is necessary(read Ginny Messina’s articles below for her take on this). Most people think a vegan diet is too restricted as it is. Why recommend eliminating something that science shows is okay or even healthy in moderation? Numerous studies show that people following a Mediterranean diet, which very often includes olive oil, have significantly lower heart disease risk. This isn’t to say that you have to consume olive oil, or that it’s okay to consume it in large amounts, it’s just that it shouldn’t be the big issue it currently is.
I’ll gladly give up olive oil when and if the evidence shows it is harmful in moderation. I tire of hearing “I’m giving up olive oil because I attended a lecture by the brilliant Dr. So and So and he convinced me it’s the most horrible thing ever”. I also don’t care for the often hypocritical whole foodist dogmatism that underpins this anti-olive oil stance and which forbids consuming anything that isn’t considered a “whole food”. For some, overly rigid whole foodism is a stepping stone to the even more extreme and pseudo-scientific world of rawfoodism. Sometimes it seems like there’s a bizarre kind of competition going on to see who can survive on the most restricted diet.
If you care about your health, completely eliminating olive oil from your diet is probably pointless(unless your doctor recommends you do so or if you have a condition that makes it difficult for you to metabolize fat); if you care about helping animals, this is pointless, a big distraction, and potentially a hindrance in vegan outreach efforts. While I follow and recommend a mostly whole food vegan diet, I am not overly rigid about it, though I was more rigid years ago. A little oil or a few sweets are going to harm the health of a healthy distance joggler like me? Really? To me, as a non-expert, it all comes down to what consensus science says, not just a few doctors or scientists with an extreme minority view. For this reason, you won’t see me making dietary recommendations on this blog that have little to no basis in science. I realize that my approach makes me a black sheep to much of the vegan community, but so be it.
- Olive oil, Health, And Advocacy
- Vegan Health: The Fatty Acids
- Mayo Clinic: If olive oil is high in fat, why is it considered healthy?
- Farewell, Low-Fat: Why Scientists Applaud Lifting A Ban On Fat
- Help Animals With Healthful and Practical Vegan Diets
- Nutrition Professor Says “No Broccoli Health Benefits. Ditch ASAP!”
We have an olive farm near us (Arizona). We like to support the local economy. Despite having seen documentaries suggesting we give up oil, we use it–in moderation. I honestly think it helps my skin and eyes in this dry climate.
Thank you for dropping by, Karen. Sometimes I think it helps my skin too, but I’m often not sure. Yeah, those very popular documentaries, I know what you’re talking about. I just don’t understand giving up olive oil just because some people in a documentary say it’s bad based on a few, flawed studies. Some people find this very compelling, but I don’t.
It’s like trying to scare people into abstaining from alcohol by telling them it damages the liver. Yes, even small amounts of alcohol can damage the liver, but in healthy people with healthy livers, the damage is minimal and very often reversible. In moderation, alcohol won’t ruin the health of an otherwise healthy individual(I say this as someone who doesn’t drink).
So I’ll continue to use olive oil. Take care!
My eye doctor has given me grief about not getting enough oils in my diet–because, you know, I’m vegan. He’s always thrusting bottles of fish oil at me. I take vegan oil supplements and have oils in my diet. Since I have severe eye dryness, I think it helps. Plus… well, olive oil makes my hummus taste better. 😉
I can relate, though it’s more about weight than eye dryness. Some people, including medical professionals tell me I’m “too skinny”, and I’ve had doctors tell me to eat animal foods to put on some weight. Why are your eyes so dry, is it the climate or is it something genetic?
Do you take flaxseed oil or vegan algae DHA? All I ever take to get my omega 3s is flaxseed oil, I never take algae or DHA supplements. As far as I can tell, even though I don’t consume any DHA or EPA, I show no deficiency symptoms. My body must be good at converting ALA to DHA and EPA. I hope this eye dryness can be resolved.
Goodness, people can be crazy. This reminds me of the 80’s when the whole low fat thing started and people (Americans are natural extremists) started thinking, “if low fat is good, then no fat would be even better.” Enter hair loss, skin problems, and other varied issues from the fact that fat is necessary to process certain nutrients. Not to mention the role of low fat foods in the explosion of obesity. Olive oil. Yum. Keep eating it!
Thank you for your comments, Arling.
You’re so right about the 80s. Indeed, these oil-free doctors are essentially the last holdout of the low-fat craze. They are over 30 years out-of-date. Everyone but them has learned that there are good fats(monounsaturated) and bad/ neutral fats(saturated) and that we should be avoiding the bad fats and eating more of the good fats.
But no, for reasons that puzzle me, they advocate completely eliminating oil(and sometimes even nuts!). More puzzling still are the people in the vegan community who follow their every word, even though they are generally eating a healthy, low fat diet to begin with. I find this kind of dietary puritanism disturbing. I mean, really, what kind of person enthusiastically adds yet another dietary restriction to an already restricted diet, when there’s no good reason to do so?
I think this type of vegan diet would be harder to stick to if someone loves olive oil or other oils. It’s funny thinking of the puritans promoting this type of vegan diet to people in Italy, Spain, Lebanon, Greece or other Mediterranean countries. People who eat a healthy vegan diet with added oils(in moderation) shouldn’t be made to feel like they are doing something wrong by these puritans(which I sometimes see on social media), especially when it is based on flawed science.
I get tired of saying “I’m not one of those vegans!”
Thank you for dropping by!
Olive oil is an extraordinary addition to ones diet. The ancients knew it promoted good health and helped to preserve precious seasonal foods. It is part of a healthy diet, no matter what your eating habits and is especially good for vegetarians and vegans. Don’t listen to nonsense, do your own research everyone. I’m with Chris, get negativism away from my olive oil!
Thank you for your comments, Constance. I totally agree with you and I am tired of all this endless bashing of olive oil based on the opinions of a handful of doctors. Increasingly, they remind me of global warming denialists, since they are also a tiny minority disagreeing with a consensus. I don’t understand why so many vegans are jumping on this bandwagon. From the outside, it looks like a strange kind of clique, in which abstinence from olive oil and all oil is their defining trait. Whatever it is, I can’t imagine many of them sticking to it for very long. Olive oil is perfectly healthy in moderation, people need to consider the big picture, not just follow the fringe views of fringe doctors/scientists.
I can relate. I am a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell nutrition studies and feel today many of these doctors are getting extreme. My goal is to help someone change their diet and be healthy, but now its no oils, no sweets, and well, that’s just not logical in todays society. A little oil and cookie now and then will keep my followeres happy and on the path to a whole foods plant based life.
Thank you for your comments, Nancy.
This is why I’m not a follower of Campbell, Esselstyn, or McDougall. They take whole food dieting to unnecessary extremes. I do all I can to prevent ex-vegans and based on my experience, they’re not helping.
Thank you for coming by.