OIL—Is All Oil Evil?

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Why are Table Karma recipes based on no added oil?

When I embarked on a whole-food plant-based diet, I unexpectedly also entered the world of NO OIL for the first time. This was a new concept that ran up against my prior beliefs and the apparently popularly-held convictions about nutrition.

While many now believe that animal fats, saturated fats and trans-fats should be avoided, most people have been programmed to fiercely believe that adding certain plant-based oils to food is truly healthy and indispensable—particularly olive oil and most recently coconut oil. This is a staunchly held and pervasive belief! The typical response to any suggestion of a diet free of added oil is ‘that’s not healthy—you need oil to be healthy.” That is a very strong and widely held belief–even among those who embrace a plant-based diet (not to mention those adhering to the SAD or Paleo diets!). If you google olive oil or coconut oil, you’ll most like see article after article debating which oil is the most “heart-healthy.”

This disparity in views on the health of oil led Table Karma to undertake intensive research and after months of researching the legitimate medical research, the bottom line seems to be: OIL IS BAD! ALL OIL!  It makes you fat and, if that isn’t enough, it is a major contributor to the most debilitating and fatal modern diseases and the leading causes of death including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In the whole-food plant-based world, there are a number of compellingly articulate research-backed physicians (e.g., Drs. Barnard, Greger, Campbell, Esselstyn, etc.) who talk about the “whole food, plant-based diet.” When they talk about whole food, they mean NO oil.  Not just no animal fats, or no trans-fats, or no saturated fats—they mean they are ALL bad! (We’ll be adding some of the medical research soon.)  And, in case you didn’t know—coconut oil contains loads of saturated fat–the vegan lard!

After much research, the conclusion is that whole foods are good; processed foods are not; and too many calories are bad — many of our health problems and especially obesity are largely the result of chronic over-eating/over-nutrition.

Oil is extremely dense in calories—in fact, it is by far the most calorically dense substance. (See my post on Caloric Density) Vegetables typically have around 100 calories per pound, fruits 300 calories per pound, etc. Compare those foods to oil–oil has 4,000 calories per pound!!! Even with all those calories, oil adds virtually nothing to nutrition—other than possibly omega-3 fatty acids (eat some ground flax seed instead).

Oil is extracted from whole foods and processed—Oil is not itself a whole food. Also, it’s obvious how drastically different oil is from whole foods— it’s 40 times as dense as vegetables, and almost twice as calorically dense as nuts and the seeds, the next closest foods on the calorie density list!

So, if you are convinced that oil is unhealthy, what can you do?

–First–stop using it at home and in your cooking—100%. Table Karma is continually adding oil-free recipes that are delicious and satisfying! In fact, all of the recipes are oil-free. For some delicious examples of oil-free cooking, see my Recipe posts for Vegan Green Pea Samosas http://table-karma.com/vegan-pea-samosas-with-mint-chutney/ and  Ma Po Tofu http://table-karma.com/oil-free-vegan-ma-po-tofu and Oil-Free French Frieshttp://table-karma.com/oil-free-french-fries.

Some people may need a gradual transition, (see my Inspiration post on Habits) but once I  digested the damning evidence against adding oil, I cut it out–cold turkey, at least at home. For my taste,  the food really didn’t lack any flavor at all—oil doesn’t really add much to flavor and in fact some of the experts note that oil can tend to coat and dull the taste buds. Eliminating oil thus leads to a stronger ability to taste the real flavor of foods. Another revelation was that oil is completely unnecessary for sautéing! Just start with a hot pan—to the point that a drop of water will jump and hiss—and add the food and stir for a few seconds and then add small amounts of water as needed. The food doesn’t stick even in a stainless steel pan.  Another great benefit is that clean-up is so easy—no greasy film on the pans or plates!  Most fried foods can be adapted to baking although the results are somewhat different, I have learned to love the taste of food without oil.

–When you shop for groceries—don’t buy any oil at all—and get rid of any oils you have in stock or save them for other uses such as furniture polish! And–don’t buy any products containing oil—that means you need to read every label. This is not easy—many items contain oil that you might not suspect—for example, most prepared marinara sauce has added oil, and most hummus—even most packaged bread.

–Don’t buy any ready-to-eat prepared foods at markets without checking for oil. This was a real eye-opener during a recent shopping trip to Whole Foods, which I had assumed would have healthy options.  I was starving and looked at all the hot and cold offerings, and the deli counter for something to eat immediately. Every single prepared hot item—and this was Whole Foods–had added oil, including all the vegetables—usually it was canola oil. Every prepared salad had added oil, even things like plain beets. The only options were the separate plain items at the salad bar such as lettuce, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, etc, with no dressing. Adding vinegar, or salsa is always a good option. Bottled hot sauces are often oil-free and add so much flavor with virtually no calories.

–If you go to restaurants, your options are sadly very limited. You can ask for the dish to be prepared without oil but it may not be possible. The best options are salads without dressing, steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, plain beans, salsas, steamed rice, pasta, side orders. It is a real challenge to find anything healthy to eat at restaurants. I love restaurants, and experimenting with new foods while traveling. However, most professional chefs and restaurants tend to use a lot of oil and use oil in almost everything—not for nutrition, but because most people think oil makes food taste really good and oily food can be really addictive. It is really, really difficult to find restaurant food cooked without oil. I am not ready to give up dining out entirely, and when traveling I really love good restaurants, but now I choose very carefully and ask for special preparations. Keep asking for healthy options, educate others when appropriate, and hope that the tide will change!

–If you go to social events where the menu is set, this is the most difficult situation. This is a personal choice. I have decided to value friends and social connections above dietary preferences and just eat enjoy what I am served, with gratitude and blessing for the love and nutrition that is offered to me. I value my health but don’t want to be a healthy recluse forever. To me, this is heart of Table Karma!

In short, do the best you can under the circumstances and always choose the healthiest option under the circumstances. Bless the rest!


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