Oil-Free, Plant-Based Diets: Extreme or Extremely Necessary?

Categories: Beet Reporter
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The term "fat-free" rarely brings joy to anyone's heart. But a vegan diet free of extracted oils -- including extra virgin olive oil -- can literally save your heart.

The trouble is, as I personally have discovered, it's hard as hell to stick to such a plan.

Have you noticed those "no oil added" signs sticking out of the deli items at Whole Foods lately? Ever wonder why they're making such a big deal of the oil-free thing, especially when olive oil is supposed to be so good for you?


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Whole Foods' Health Starts Here campaign advocates excluding extracted oils from the diet.
​The answer is that olive oil is not so good for you. At least according to Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn and Dr. Joel Fuhrman, two giants in the world of eating for wellness and longevity.

Esselstyn, who was featured alongside Dr. T. Colin Campbell in the acclaimed plant-foods-as-medicine documentary, Forks Over Knives, made "no extracted oil of any kind" a key rule of the plant-based diet he prescribed to a group of near-dead patients with coronary disease. Twenty years later, those who complied are still alive and well.

Fuhrman and Esselstyn agree that all oils are nutrient-poor and calorie-dense. The combination of these two characteristics make oil -- even extra virgin olive oil -- an extremely low-ranking food on Fuhrman's Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.

The scale uses the simple equation of nutrients divided by calories to calculate the value of a food. Kale, which is extremely high in nutrients and very low in calories, is an example of one of the foods that tops the ANDI scale. So even though olive oil may provide vitamin E and omega-9 fatty acids, among other nutrients, its extremely high calorie and fat content gives it a score of just 9 on the ANDI scale, whereas kale, for example, scores 1,000.

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Dr. Joel Fuhrman, an advocate of an oil-free diet, recommends eating two pounds of vegetables a day.
Fuhrman's scoring scale is largely based around the volume of your stomach. Four hundred calories of olive oil takes up less than four tablespoons of space inside your stomach and could be ingested in less than a minute, whereas four hundred calories of spinach... well, it would take you all day to chew, and it would stretch your stomach to capacity.

Fuhrman says it's the stretch of your stomach walls that lets you know when you're full, so people who eat lots of vegetables eat fewer calories, feel fuller, and are better nourished, whereas people who eat lots of oil-rich foods eat many more calories, feel less full, and consume fewer essential micro- and phyto-nutrients.

It's completely logical, and I was so convinced of the doctor's science that I decided to step my vegan diet up to oil-free in accordance with the plan Fuhrman outlines in Eat to Live. But I've got to admit, even for me, a vegetable lover, it was hard to keep up. The doctor recommends eating two pounds of fresh and steamed vegetables every day and consuming minimal fat, and then only from plant sources like raw nuts, seeds, and avocado. As a runner and a CrossFitter, I may have been too stingy with the plant-sourced fats I consumed; the doctor recommends that the very active up their intake of these naturally fatty foods. In any case, feeling like a crazed and ravenous wild animal despite having consumed cup upon cup of mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, and garbanzos, I caved after about a week of the oil-free diet. I am so convinced by the science behind it, though, that I am going to reconfigure and give it another try.

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Marie Jorgensen (left), pictured here at an organic juice party, is a Miami vegan who's also explored the oil-free diet.
I'm not the only believer in the oil free diet who's had trouble sticking to it. Marie Jorgensen, a vegan who lives in Coconut Grove, ate oil-free for a month before falling off the wagon.

"At first I didn't think about the effect oil has on our bodies because that's how we're raised. They teach us that olive oil is healthy; a couple of teaspoons on your salad is a good thing," she said.

She learned about the detriments of oil while doing Rip Essyltein's 28-Day Engine 2 Challenge sponsored by Whole Foods. "Then one day, when I was cleaning the dishes, there was oil on them, and I was scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing on these dishes, and I realized, 'Oh my gosh, if this is how it is on the plate, imagine how it must be inside of our bodies.'" She went oil-free for a month and said she felt lighter and more energetic. "My skin got better and softer, and I wouldn't feel as heavy when I would wake up in the morning."

Jorgensen works up to seven days a week. She said convenience was a big factor in her slide from the oil-free lifestyle, remarking that nearly every prepared product in the grocery store contains some sort of oil. Like me, though, she still believes in the oil-free diet, and is eager to give it another shot.

"Finding a balance is a goal of mine," she said. I'm pretty sure she's not alone.

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16 comments
switch.the.field
switch.the.field

Just one person's opinion, BUT ...

I think one of the things that is so hard and disheartening when you start thinking about and research and planning a vegetarian/vegan diet is that it leads to a Rabbit Hole of overwhelming, and sometimes conflicting, advice and ideas on diet and eating.  It is not enough to stop eating beef and pork and chicken, but also fish/shellfish ... and no dairy (eggs, milk, cheese, butter) ... and no simple carbs (flour, white bread, pastas, honey, alcohol) ... and now no oils ... until we are staring blankly at a plate of plain, uncooked kale.  

I am obviously being a little facetious here, but my point is genuine.  It is hard to win the hearts and minds (and stomachs) of the masses (mine included), when the change is so drastic and every common and accepted solution is deemed a poor choice.

tune_sprout73
tune_sprout73

I just recently changed over to the forks over knives diet and I feel like the most confusing thing is oil free part of it. Learning to cook without it is no problem but many things they suggest in the cookbook cannot be found without some sort of oil in it like sunflower oil or safflour oil, grapeseed oil or a bit of olive oil. They suggest kalamata olives and I've searched the world over for one jar without ANY oil in it.  This is just one product for example, there are more. I'm just confused about what is ok and what's not. There has to be some exception somewhere but to tell you the truth their website has very little info in it concerning label reading and things like this and the books are the same way. It's mostly recipes, much of which list ingredients that contain some kind oil. Has anyone els looked into this?

Sheyes
Sheyes

I appreciate this eating plan!! I lost 16 pounds in 10 days and have never ever felt much better. Managed to perform a couple more points along with this diet that have worked wonders. - www.reviewsalert.com/the-fat-burning-furnace-review

Mila
Mila

I'm also vegan and have very little extracted oils - it can be done. You just have to let it slip a little when you go out to eat, and that's okay. I think they key is to get used to cooking without oil in your house. It's not bad. Try frying with water instead of oil to keep food from sticking, and use applesauce or pureed prunes instead of oil or butter in baking.

Richard G
Richard G

The oil = evil mantra is outdated and unsupported by scientific evidence. In fact there are some fatty acids that our body needs toI function and cannot be produced by the body. There are good fats and bad fats The Mediterranean diet a model of good eating for millenia is based on monounsaturated fats from extra virgin olive oil. If there was one simple healthy ingredient that makes even the most boring food tasted better, good extra virgin olive oil is it. Any vegetarian or vegan who doesn't use it is doing themselves a disservice.

Been There
Been There

Keep trying. I believe Dr. Esselstyn writes that it can take up to 8 weeksfor your body to stop wanting oil. I have been off oil since August 2011 and no longer crave oil. It can be done.

danpscott
danpscott

You can cut your bills tremendously by visiting "Get Official Samples" website without becoming addicted like some of the people you see on TV, That’s more like hoarding.

Willabus
Willabus

Too many issues to address while using my cell phone but if "oils" are so unhealthy then how does the Dr explain my recent lipid profile:

Total: 188HDL: 63Trig: 57LDL: 93

I have followed the primal blueprint for nearly one year. My daily intake is approx 60% fat (saturated and monounsaturated), 30% protein (animal and whey), and 10% carbs (vegetables and some fruit). I workout less than I used to (almost 50% reduction) and have lossed 10-15lbs. I can also easily go 10-12 hours without feeling the need to eat. My longest fast was 24 hours after eating a large, fatty steak and some asparagus.

Gfortane
Gfortane

Hi,

You wrote that you "consumed cup upon cup of mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, and garbanzos". I think you were missing whole grains. Try also eating brown rice, steel cuts oats, etc.

I've been doing whole-food plant based eating since late December 2011. I've lost 25 pounds, and have more energy. My cholesterol dropped 30 points and blood pressure dropped 20 points.

Try the Forks Over Knives website for good cookbook recommendations: http://www.forksoverknives.com... I like the Happy Herbivore.

The Perfect Words
The Perfect Words

That's good news, Willabus. You should ask Dr. Fuhrman about that. He's on Facebook and I think he answers a lot of individual queries. But Fuhrman also talks about the connections between animal product consumption and development of cancer and degenerative disease, which your lipid profile would not predict.

The Perfect Words
The Perfect Words

I was eating the recommended one cup of whole grains each day, and also about a cup of sweet potato, squash, or other starchy vegetable. I agree that it probably wasn't enough. I'm going to try to up my intake next time. Thanks.

Ex-vegan
Ex-vegan

 No cancer from animal products. In fact, meat (fish, foul, swine, or cow) absolutely necessary to fight it off. Yes, only from meat. Beans, nuts, soy, and everything else from the plant kingdom will always fall short of what meat completes: a healthy immune system. Sorry, that's the reality.

rtazz16
rtazz16

@Ex-vegan Please state the facts you have on this..

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