Is olive oil good for you? Maybe you’ve heard it before from a friend or an advertisement: “Olive oil is heart healthy!” Maybe you are like I was, and believe that coconut oil or avocado oil or canola oil is better for you than olive oil. Perhaps you think that you absolutely HAVE to cook with a small spot of it in the pan or else your food will stick to the pan. It’s not your fault. Let’s figure out where all this propaganda came from and why it could be a bit misleading.

It all started back in the 1950s. This whole thing started with a Russian researcher named David Kritchevsky. See, back in 1954, David posted two papers on fats. The first paper discussed the effects of feeding cholesterol to rabbits. In his experiment, he added a cholesterol molecule to the food of these vegetarian rabbits. What did he conclude from studying the rabbits before and after the change to their food? Well, he concluded that when cholesterol was added to a vegetarian rabbit chow, it caused the formation of plaques (also called atheromas) in the heart.  This leads to clogged arteries and, over time, heart disease. At that time, the only place to find this type of cholesterol was in meat, cheese, eggs, and butter.

Here’s where it gets tricky. That same year, Kritchevsky published another paper that said something different about oil. This paper concluded that polyunsaturated fatty acids had a beneficial effect on overall cholesterol, and thereby, the heart as a whole. What are polyunsaturated fats? Those types of fats come from liquid vegetable oils…olive, soybean, safflower, sunflower, avocado, and canola oils. Can you believe that this article was posted in the exact same year as his first paper?

So is there a difference between the type of heart-clogging cholesterol in paper one and the polyunsaturated fatty acids from paper two? Is it as easy as just choosing the right one and incorporating it into our diets? Not really.

As we all know…things can change. It is important to note that the seed oil industry was in flux when these papers were written after traditional paint and plastic production switched to petroleum-based products to save money. In fact, oil producers held onto Kritchevsky’s paper for dear life, and began to sing the praises of vegetable oils by calling them “heart protective.” At that time heart disease was at an all-time high among the general public (nearly 10% of all deaths at the time.) Although this discovery was widely accepted, it was not backed by science. In fact, no trials were ever conducted on humans to test this theory of “heart healthy” oil. This entire hypothesis became known as the lipid hypothesis. The lipid hypothesis simply stated what Kritchevsky’s paper found…that polyunsaturated fats in the blood could actually reduce cholesterol levels.

Fast forward to today and we find ourselves eating more oil than ever and not enough fruits and veggies. It takes approximately 1,000 olives that are pressed and squeezed and smashed to release all of their oils…to make just one liter of olive oil. So what’s left behind when you squeeze all the fat out of the olive? Fiber…and quite a few other things that might be super healthy for you. You are so much better off eating the olive itself, rather than eating the extracted saturated fat from it. But here’s what you don’t see on your oil label. When the oil is being processed, it is hydrogenated. What does that mean? It means that it is heated under pressure to not only increase its shelf life, but also to help it stay more stable under high heat. What happens to oil under high heat? It turns to trans fat. Trans fat is also known as trans fatty acid, or it’s popular shelf name, partially hydrogenated oil.

In his book “Plant Strong,” Rip Esselstyn quotes Dr. Ray Peat, who says, “All oils, even if they’re organic, cold-pressed, unprocessed, bottled in glass, and stored away from heat and light, are damaging.” This goes for coconut oil too. Stay away from it all. It is all a concentrated source of saturated fat that is laden with calories that will contribute to obesity and heart disease. I think there needs to be something added to that. Instead of saying what we shouldn’t eat, we should focus more on what we SHOULD eat. More fruits and veggies.

If you are like most Americans, you eat too much oil each day. I know that it might be hard to get rid of your olive oil altogether, but I have good news for you. If you can significantly reduce your consumption of oil, you might be ok. Recently, Dr. Michael Greger from Nutrtionfacts.org came out with a video that said something I had been thinking about many times before. If you happen to eat a wonderfully healthy diet that is rich in fruits and veggies…could you possibly stave off the negative, artery-clogging effects of oil in the body? The answer is surprising (at 2:30). Watch this to learn more. 

So what do we walk away with after reading this? The answer is simple. We as Americans eat too much oil. But why? Why do we do this to ourselves if we know that it’s bad for us? The answer is that it tastes great. We are addicted. It’s in EVERYTHING! So what do you do? Well, first, take a breath. Eat more fruits and veggies and less oil. It’s ok to indulge every now and then, but you don’t need it for every meal. If you have heart disease, cut it altogether. If you are lucky enough to be a healthy person, then at a very basic level, be aware of how much oil you are consuming on a daily basis; you might be surprised. Consider cooking in your skillet with veggie broth rather than oil. Water also makes an excellent skillet companion and you can heat it up as high as you want without it turning into trans fat! Do the best you can and take every day as a new challenge to be the healthiest person you can be. And if you’re going to eat olive oil, get it from someone who knows what they’re talking about…like the Olive Oil Hunter! Keep going that extra mile for yourself and your family. 

Sources:

Plant Strong by Rip Esselstyn

Dr. Mercola, Secrets of the Edible Oil Industry

Dr. Josh Axe The Truth About Saturated Fat by Mary Enig, PhD, and Sally Fallon

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Cory Warren

Cory Warren is a husband, father of three, and vegan athlete who helps busy families eat more plant-based foods! His blog, Lean Green DAD, helps over-scheduled, busy people (mostly parents) maintain a healthy balance of plant-based nutrition, fitness, and overall wellness so they can go the extra mile for their families.
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