There Is No Such Thing as "Healthy Oils"

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: FAQ

Anytime I rail on oil, people seemed so surprised — not that I don't use oil but that I firmly believe that all oils are unhealthy.

Since this is a topic I get asked about often, I figured I'd put it all here, in a nicely wrapped blog entry, for anyone who was ever curious why I don't use any oils in my recipes.

The short and sweet answer is: oil is a highly processed junk food full of fat and calories and lacking nutrition.

If we look purely at nutritional statistics — 1 tbsp of oil has the same amount of fat as a Snickers bar.

Except, based on these statistics,the Snickers bar is actually healthier since it also has other nutrients like fiber, protein and carbohydrates — where the oil is nothing but empty calories and fat. (Not that I'm saying a Snickers is "healthy"; I'm saying at least it offers nutrients where oil does not).

In this wonderful video by Jeff Novick, MS RD, he compares putting oil-based dressings on your salad to putting Ben & Jerry's ice cream on your salad, because calorically speaking, they are the same. Exceptthat you can have a 1/2 cup of premium ice cream and still have less fat and calories than in 2 tbsp of oil. (Did you catch that? I'll take the ice cream!)

But what about all the alleged nutrients in olive oil? Flax oil?

If there are special properties or nutrients in these oils, then they would also exist in whole food they came from. Plus, if you're eating olives instead of olive oil, flax seeds instead of flax oil, you're also getting fiber, vitamins, minerals — olives and seeds are not empty calories like oils.

Plus (as said in the above video), oils have a trace at best — you'd have to drink cups of oil before you met your daily needs — when you could eat a handful of whole foods instead and get the same "benefit" plus other nutrients like fiber!

Look at it this way, to hit the same amount of fat and calories in 1 tbsp of olive oil — you would need to eat 24 pitted green olives.  

24 olives vs. 1 tbsp (Or, if we really break it down, 8 olives vs. 1 tsp) — not only is this a lot more food for your calorie buck, it also has fiber so it will fill us up, too! AND it comes with lots of other healthy freebies — nutrients!

So a tiny dab of oil or lots of olives? I'll take the olives.

My point is: Oil is a highly processed food (not to unlike all the other processed foods we all rail against), it's also not a good bang for the calorie buck and it really doesn't offer us anything but lots of fat and lots of calories in the tinest package...

Olive oil has been fortunate to have a good marketing team that convinces is it's healthy, when it's not. (The oil companies have deep pockets, too!)

Think about it this way: We all agree healthy foods are whole foods found in nature like beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables....

There is no oil naturally occurring in nature. It needs to be pressed and extracted out of something else. Our ancestors did not eat oil, but the ate olives. I would rather eat the olives than the oil purely on this logic alone. (*They did use it on their skin, and to preserve the dead...ugh...)

And even if you're not worried about fat and calories, consider this: most oils, especially the popular oils, like canola, olive and flax, have low burning points. When you cook with these oils (such as baking or sauteing) you're damaging the oils and free radicals are created! 

Finally, (since, apparently, I can't get enough of Jeff Novick RD MS today), here is a great article called "The Myth of Moderation: The Impact of "Just a Little Oil", which I think is very eye-opening.


By request, I'm listing various doctors, nutritionists and other accredited medical-professionals who support these statements and encourage an oil-free/low fat diet for further reading. All of these amazing people have published books, and in peer-reviewed medical journals. Some of them are at the forefront of their respective fields. I highly recommend all their books for further reading.

Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Rip Essetlyn, Jeff Novick, and many others.

Additionally, most of the information contained in this post does not need a special education to repeat (sorry RNs and RDs!). The nutrition information was plucked straight from the packaging, the information about burning points is widely available, and the fact oil is "processed" is common sense. 

More Info:

Q&A with Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD

When Friends Ask: Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils? (Dr. McDougall)

OIL TO NUTS: The Truth About Fats (Jeff Novick Video)

The Big Oil Post (Engine 2)

Olive Oil Is Not Healthy (Michael Klaper MD Video)

What about Coconut Oil?

Coconut Oil: Lose weight? Cure Alzheimer's? Clog your arteries? (by David Schardt, via Center for Science in the Public Interest)

Marketing Junk Food: Don't Go Cuckoo Over Coconut Oil (Jeff Novick)

Is Coconut Oil Good For You? (Dr. Michael Greger, via care2)

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