What is the Vegan Oil-Free Diet?
As the name suggests, this diet is a plant-based meal plan free from any added oils. When following this diet, you would exclude all liquid oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil, as well as solid oils like butter, margarine, or coconut oil. Whole foods that contain fat are allowed. This includes nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados, but oils made from these foods should be eliminated.
Proponents of this plan suggest that added oils have no nutritional value and are, in fact, harmful to one's health. They also claim that oils lead to weight gain, promote inflammation and blood vessel damage and that eliminating them may reverse chronic disease.
Like all fad diets, many of their claims stem from a grain of truth. Follow along as we dive into the truth about oils and fats and how we utilize them at N4L.
What we learned from the low-fat diet era
We've come a long way since the 1980's when fat was public health enemy number one. As research shed light on the role saturated fat played in heart disease and the link between high-fat diets and obesity, public health agencies, food manufacturers, and the media began to promote the low-fat diet craze. However, over the following decades, as Americans steered clear of fat, waistlines and chronic disease continued to climb. If we’ve learned anything from this low-fat food craze, it's that these diets don't work. The main reason is that we substitute fat with something else in the diet, usually processed carbohydrate-rich foods.
One thing we’ve identified since then is that quantity and quality of your oils are what really matters. Let's dive into the important role that fat and oil play in our health and what the latest research says about their risks and benefits.
Why we need fats
It’s important to know that some types of fat are essential to the diet. This means that you MUST eat them because our body cannot make them. Plainly put, we need them to survive. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the essential fatty acids and must be present in our diet. Nuts, seeds, canola oil, and olive oil are all great sources of omega-6 fatty acids, and fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Essential fatty acids play an important role in our:
- inflammatory response
- cell membrane structure
- brain health and development
Dietary fat is also needed to help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins (D, K, E, and A) and it provides us with a source of energy. We need fat to help protect our vital organs, synthesize hormones, and keep us warm.
And let’s be honest, fat makes food taste good. With so many critical health benefits you can see why we get concerned about any diet that limits this macronutrient.
The problem with fats
Much like everything in our diet, not all fats are created equal. Some have wonderful health-promoting properties, while others can contribute to the development of chronic diseases like obesity and cardiovascular disease. With concerns over the quality and quantity of the fats we eat, it’s easy to see where the Vegan Oil-Free Diet proponents are getting their fears from. Let’s break down these concerns.
Do oils cause you to gain weight?
Fat and oils are more calorie-dense than carbohydrates and protein. They have 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein only have 4. Due to the higher caloric content of fats, it’s easy to see why people assume that fats are fattening. It’s true if you eat a high-fat diet, calories can quickly add up, but a little added oil to sauté veggies, or dress a salad will not add inches to your waistline.
It’s all about the amount of fat you eat. At Nutrition for Longevity we follow the dietary principles identified by Dr. Longo as being the best way to live a long and healthy life. Our meals contain less than 30% of calories from healthy fats, which is consistent with the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which advises that adults should get about 20% to 35% of calories.
Do oils cause cardiovascular disease?
With heart disease being the number one cause of death worldwide, we should all be concerned with reducing our risk. It’s true that certain types of fat have been linked to cardiovascular disease and should be limited in the diet.
Saturated fats, like those found in animal products including beef, poultry, lamb, dairy, and also in coconut tend to be solids at room temperature. These types of fat have been linked to higher death rates and should be limited in the diet. Due to this, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of your calories come from saturated fats. Our meal kits fall well below this guideline.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil, can greatly improve the risk factors associated with heart disease. You don’t need to eliminate oils; you just need to switch your butter for olive oil and your read meat for fish or a plant-based meal.
Do oils cause inflammation?
Inflammation is a hot topic when it comes to health and wellness, with current research suggesting it is a major player in disease progression. Managing chronic inflammation through diet and lifestyle may be a big help in preventing chronic disease. There is a theory that highly processed fats such as vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil and peanut oil can contribute to inflammation. While the research is inconclusive at this point, it appears that a diet rich in healthy oils like olive oil may protect from inflammation and even slow down the aging process. These inflammatory fighting properties clearly demonstrate how oils are more than empty calories, but rather health-promoting superfoods.
The bottom line
With all the science-backed health benefits of consuming healthy fats and oils in limited quantities, we think this fad is one to be skipped, for most people. However, your health care provider is the best person to discuss dietary changes with. Your doctor or a Registered Dietitian can help you decide the best diet for your individual needs.