Should I use Oil on a Plant-Based Diet?

An issue that often comes up when deciding to eat a healthy whole food plant-based diet is the issue of oil. I can’t tell you how many emails I get with readers asking if they should have oil on a plant-based diet.

Is olive oil healthy? Should I eat olive oil on a plant-based diet?

There are MANY schools of thought on oil. Some doctors swear you need oils to be healthy. Other doctors insist that oils are not only unnecessary but absolutely harmful.

I tend to agree with my favorite plant-based doctors and follow the no oil plan. Doctors like Dr. McDougall, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn, and Dr. Fuhrman; they advise people to avoid oil at all cost.

There are other doctors who insist that people need oil to be healthy. The thing is, you have to decide what to believe.

Sometimes it’s best to agree to disagree. If you are relatively healthy, you may not notice oil causing you harm. If, however, you are overweight or are trying to reverse disease it’s time to jump on the oil-free, whole food train. To be clear, I don’t think anyone needs oil in their diet but you may not notice the toll it takes if you are fairly healthy.

What about Healthy Fats?

There are a lot of people out there that talk about healthy oils and healthy fats. The truth is, the only type of fat that is healthy are those found naturally in whole foods, not those that are extracted from the food through processing.

If you need healthy fats, try those found in nuts, avocados, and olives.

Processed Oil is Not a Whole Food

Oil is an extremely processed substance that has no nutrients, whatsoever. Let that sink in!

Manufacturers take whole foods and take all the fiber and nutrients away and leave the fat to make oil. I’ll admit that was a simplification of the process but my point is that oil is a processed food.

What’s more, oil is extremely dense in calories, with a whopping 4000 calories per pound. To be realistic let’s break that down into servings, which can be about 120 calories per 1 tablespoon (or more if we’re being honest) when used in salad dressings and you can see what a huge effect oil can have on your daily caloric intake. If you are like me, you love to douse your salad in a lot more than one tablespoon of dressing! If you are frying food in oil, forget about it!

Is coconut oil healthy? Should I eat coconut oil on a plant-based diet?

Processed Oil is Not a Super Food

You’ve probably heard a lot about the amazing benefits of coconut oil. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but coconut oil is just fat. Coconut oil is great for your skin though, if you don’t have acne and suffer from dry skin. If you have coconut oil in your pantry, move it to your bathroom and use it as a makeup remover.  

A recent video by Dr. Fuhrman gives a concise answer about the benefit of coconut oil. When asked about the healthy properties of coconut oil, he calls it utter nonsense.

Processed Oil Has Very Few if Any Micronutrients

Some oils do have omega 3 fatty acids, but usually, it’s so minuscule that you’re not getting much bang for your caloric buck when ingesting them. You can actually end up gaining weight, clogging your arteries, or worse if you are using processed oil as a way to get in essential fatty acids. There are better ways.

Healthy Fats from Plants

Finally, let’s go over plants you can eat to get healthy fats into your diet. The healthy fats in these plants actually benefit your health on an oil-free plant-based diet.

  • Avocados – Rich and creamy, the avocado has about 322 calories and is made up of almost half fat. But, it has no trans fatty acids, no cholesterol, and only 5 grams of saturated fat. For this, you also get vitamin A, C, Iron, and Calcium with a nice dose of dietary fiber to help with digestion.
  • Nuts – Full of unsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E and a substance called sterols, which help lower your cholesterol along with L-arginine which keeps your blood flowing helping to avoid blood clots. Nuts are good for you in moderation (unless you have an allergy or other applicable medical condition).
  • Seeds – Hemp, chia, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds are amazing additions to a healthy plant-based diet. They are full of omega-3 fatty acids, low in bad fats, full of fiber, protein, and even calcium. Add them to your salads or oatmeal. You can also blend them into some fruit for delicious and heart healthy dressings.
  • Bananas – Who doesn’t love a delicious banana? It’s packaged just right to take it on the go and is almost a perfect food for plant-based eaters. You can make nice cream, smoothies; use it to replace fat in baking and more. It’s full of wonderful nutrients, the carbs you need with the right amount of healthy fat a good kick of potassium, fiber and more which make it the perfect post-workout food.

In addition to these amazing oil-free plant-based foods, you can add coconut, olives, edamame, etc.  These additions to your diet will fill you up, make you feel satisfied, and keep you healthy without adding oils to your diet.

Don’t worry, oil free food has a lot of flavor! Check out my list of oil-free salad dressings and sauces!

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  1. People are always confusing healthy fat with oil. They wonder why I don’t put butter in my coffee, cook with coconut oil and drizzle olive oil over my salad or pasta. If I tell them it’s not something I enjoy, the first thing they say is but what about healthy fat?”. Thank you for this post. Your recipes rock!

  2. Michelle says:

    Agree with everything you just said! I no longer make my dressing with oil and sauté my veggies with water or veggie broth. I also purchased an air fryer which also helps with oil free cooking.

  3. Debbie Goddard says:

    Holly, you are awesome!!! You explained this PERFECTLY. Thank you for taking the time to educate us especially in coconut oil. You are right that it needs to be moved to the bathroom. It is more healthy on the outside of your body than the inside. 🙂

    • sunlightmind says:

      Only problem with that is that coconut oil is still absorbed through the skin. It’s actually not bad for you, in moderation, whether taken orally or on the skin. So long as you go for unrefined Coconut (ie virgin) oil then it’s got great health benefits. Lauric acid consumption has lots of benefits including antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer and immune and metabolism boosting effects. I’m with Dr. Mary Enig, a nutrition research scientist for the Weston A. Price Foundation on this.

  4. Cyd notter says:

    All extracted oils, whether it be from a plant or a fish, are very detrimental to health. All are 100% pure liquid fat (14 grams of fat per TBS), and coconut oil is one of the worst because 92% of its fat is saturated. Proponents of coconut oil state that it’s made up of medium chain fatty acids, which are metabolized differently than long-chain fatty acids. Like much faulty health advice, there is some truth to the statement ; but only a small portion of coconut oil is made from medium chain fatty acids, while the majority of the fatty acids in coconut oil are long-chain fatty acids, such as lauric, myristic and palmitic acids. These long-chain fatty acids have a deleterious effect on health. All oils cause inflammation as well. I’d be happy to share the independent research on this topic if anyone is interested. Eat the olives, seeds or other whole plant foods; that way your getting the fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in the complete package, the way its meant to be eaten, the way your body can process it.

  5. Angela Dunn says:

    why is cold pressed, unrefined, organic virgin coconut oil still considered processed?

    • Because you can’t crack open a coconut to get it. It still has to be processed to turn it into oil. Coconut butter is different as it’s just the coconut meat blended. Cooking oil is not found naturally in nature. I think the only natural oil would be crude oil.

  6. There is a Difference between Processed Oils and Cold pressed Organic oils which still contain ALL their necessary health and nutrient benefits.
    I do not like the way you lump OILS into One category and then give incorrect information across the board.

    ANY OIL EXPOSED TO HEAT becomes Toxic…and sometimes often Carcinogenic.
    BUT ..THIS IS NOT The case with Cold-pressed Organic oils that retain their Nutritive VALUE.

    To DEPRIVE THE BODY OF THESE .. is to court serious neurological damage if not careful…I personally believe that the raised Altzheimers epidemic is as a direct result of Low fat or No fat Marketing propoganda and Hype…other neurological conditions too..
    Organic Coconut oil is one of the few Oils that does not change its chemical composition under heat ../ frying and so does not become unsafe when heated.

  7. No one is saying that we don’t need essential fatty acids…..we do – that why they’re called essential. But those fats can easily be consumed in whole foods, and not the extracted fats. There are too many health concerns with extracted oils no matter their source or whether or not they are heated. It would be like saying that Coca Cola is healthy because it contains water. Proponents of coconut oil state that coconut oil is made up of medium chain fatty acids, which are metabolized differently than long-chain fatty acids. Like much faulty health advice, there is some truth to the statement ; but only a small portion of coconut oil is made from medium chain fatty acids, while the majority of the fatty acids in coconut oil are long-chain fatty acids, such as lauric, myristic and palmitic acids. These long-chain fatty acids have a deleterious effect on health. Here is an article on the health detriments of oil for anyone that is interested.

  8. Hello. I am very new to this way of eating and still educating myself but one thing Im confused about is, when eating a meal high in carbohydrates wont the added fats eaten from avocado/nuts and seeds be stored as fat since our insulin will be high due to the carbs and the fats will be stored as energy?

What do YOU think?

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