In the vegan community, there is a lot of debate whether we should be consuming oil at all. Some say it’s unhealthy for you and we should be getting our fats only from plants, like avocados, nuts and seeds. Others say oil protects against heart disease. I find the whole thing very confusing because on the one hand you have these videos from dr Esselstyn, Klaper and McDougall where they tell you that oil contributes to heart disease, breast cancer, obesity and so on. And on the other hand you have other videos from dr Theresa Ramsey and Everyday Health where they say it’s healthy for you!! Others claim some oils are good and others are bad. For a person who don’t have a degree in nutrition, like me, how the heck do we find out who is right?? Especially when they all seem to be having scientific evidence on their side!! I decided to do some research on this topic and here is what I found:
When I used to eat meat I usually didn’t fry it in oil or butter. I just let it cook in the pan until water oozed out from it, then let i cook in it’s own water. I also never liked using fatty milk products. Only the skimmed versions appealed to me. So when I went vegan it wasn’t difficult at all for me to cut out oil and butter from my diet. I did what a lot of YouTubers say, eat nuts, seeds and avocados for fat instead of oils. However, after I got sick… twice, I talked to a nutritional expert who had a masters degree in clinical nutrition who told me to eat a tablespoon or two of a healthy oil, everyday. This recommendation was actually shocking to me because I’d been hearing for so long that oil is unhealthy!! I even told her I was eating about 1-2 tablespoons of flax seeds everyday + a handful of different kinds of nuts and seed, which is recommended by well know doctors. She said that was great however, I should still also be eating 1-2 tablespoons of oil.
As I had learned the hard way, when you cut out oil a 100% you might decrease the chances of one disease but increase the chances of another one, so I decided to start getting my information from the people I consider to be experts on the field. Since I don’t know the first thing about what to look for in a study, publication or a analysis, I basically wanted to have someone to go through all of that for me. Someone who knew what they were doing and could make a easy to understand summary or a report. That’s why I ended up at these organizations:
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, health organizations on the planet. They go through different health risks globally and make a report of what works and what doesn’t. Here is what they say about fat and oil:
“A healthy diet contains: Less than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Unsaturated fats (e.g. found in fish, avocado, nuts, sunflower, canola and olive oils) are preferable to saturated fats (e.g. found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oil, cream, cheese, ghee and lard). Industrial trans fats (found in processed food, fast food, snack food, fried food, frozen pizza, pies, cookies, margarines and spreads) are not part of a healthy diet. (…) Also, the risk of developing NCDs is lowered by reducing saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy intake, and trans fats to less than 1% of total energy intake, and replacing both with unsaturated fats.”
The American Heart Association
AHA is an organization that has over 22.5 million volunteers and supporters with a goal to improve the lives of all Americans. They have a really nice illustration of different fats that is healthy and unhealthy called “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” were they show that many vegetable oils are good for you. There are however, unhealthy vegetable oils like tropical oils and trans fat, which they recommend limiting and/or avoiding. Instead, use these healthy oils.
In this easy to understand video they explain more about healthy and unhealthy oils:
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The FAO is an organization under the UN. Some of their goals is to give advice on sustainable and healthy food intake. They recommend a lower limit of 15% of fat and a maximum of 30-35 for a normal adult. The maximum limit of saturated fat should also be no more than 10%.
World Cancer Research Fund
Another popular health organization I like to quote is the WCRF. They are the world’s leading authority on cancer prevention research related to diet, weight and physical activity. Unfortunately they don’t have any upper/lower limit recommendations for fat as far as I know. They do however, say obesity is a risk factor for cancer.
Fat also helps us absorb nutrients according to WHO’s report on “Fats and fatty acids” (chapter 1, page 3). In other words, it’s not just about the nutrients you eat, but also the nutrients you absorb.
Who do you trust?
All in all, it all comes down to who you trust. I personally don’t trust one doctor, or one book, which might seem a bit contradicting since I trust one summary or one report from one of the above mentioned organizations. But to my defense, reports from the WHO, WCRF, AHA and FAO is in my opinion more trustworthy than a report from a doctor. These major health organizations have done extensive research within their field with numerous experts, not only on health, but also on how to do good research. Personally, I don’t need oil in my diet to feel satiated, but I do include it for health reasons because the people I consider experts recommend it.
I hope the future of the vegan community will start using phrases like: “According to fill-in-the-blank, this and that is healthy or unhealthy”. This will hopefully minimize the confusion and give the audience the freedom to be critical in their decision to wether a claim or source is trustworthy or not.