The Oil Problem

We conducted an online poll asking E2-ers what the feel is the hardest thing to get rid of  on the Engine 2 Challenge. Here are the results:

47.58% said oil

23.58% said dairy

18.34% said excess sugar

2.01% said liquid calories

and 1.61% said meat.

This was a little surprising to us, and maybe an indication of how things have changed over the past few years. It used to be that we would get an overwhelming response of people saying they had a hard time letting go of meat, but a few years later it is oil that tops the list of what people find difficult to let go of. (we will get to the rest of these in future posts)

So why does oil top the list?

Oil is the most calorically dense food on the planet.

At 4000 calories per pound, oil tops all other food  for calories per pound. It is 100% fat. All the good stuff (like the fiber, most of the vitamins, phytonutrients) are stripped from it, leaving just the pure fat. It is a highly processed food. And maybe of no surprise, oil seems to be the hardest for people to part with.

calorie density

*for more on calorie density, read this article by Jeff Novick, MS, RD

At 4000 calories per pound the pleasure centers of our brains get a pretty big hit of happy chemicals that tell us that it is not only GOOD but that we should eat more. Imagine all of your junk food without the oil, what would it be? It’s the high concentration of pure fat that has you craving and coming back for more.

To understand the pleasure trap more, please watch this short TedX video by Doug Lisle, PhD and then go pick up his book! 

So why is oil bad for you?

First of all, oil (ALL OIL) is highly processed. People pushing oil will want you to think otherwise, but lets look at what it really is. When you take a WHOLE olive and you remove all of the fiber, almost all of the vitamins, all of the phytochemicals, antioxidants, you are left with a very processed, stripped down version of an olive, just the pure fat. You get none of the other amazing benefits of the whole food when you strip the rest away.

And what do the experts say about oil? 

We know that there are a lot of myths around oil, and there has been a lot of misinformation about consuming oil. In short oil is a highly processed food that comes from a whole food, kind of like sugar comes from a sugar cane plant. (just a note, did you know you need about 3 feet of sugar cane to make a tbs of sugar?

It takes 1375 olives to make a litre of oil!

Let’s have some experts weigh in on the oil debate:

Dr. Esselstyn: “NO OIL! Not even olive oil, which goes against a lot of other advice out there about so-called good fats. The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. They contain no fiber, no minerals and are 100% fat calories. And above all they contain saturated fat which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten. It doesn’t matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, or any other kind of oil. This is so important I have detailed oil in Chapter 10 (of Prevent And Reverse Heart Disease).”

You can also watch Dr. Esselstyn’s hour long lecture, which will give you a good start in understanding heart disease and what foods should be avoided, if you also want to avoid heart disease.

Is oil a health food or a junk food? Watch this short video by Jeff Novick. And what about coconut oil? Read all about the brilliant marketing that lead many to believe that coconut oil was a health food.

What about Dr. McDougall? Here is what he has to say:

“In our bodies these plant-derived, essential fats are used for many purposes including the formation of all cellular membranes, and the synthesis of powerful hormones, known as eicosanoids (prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes).

Our requirement is very tiny, and even the most basic diets provide sufficient linoleic acid to meet our requirement, which is estimated to be 1–2% of dietary energy.1 Therefore, in practical terms, a condition of “essential fatty acid deficiency” is essentially unknown in free-living populations.

*Essential fatty acid deficiency is seen when sick patients are fed intravenously by fat-free parenteral nutrition.  In these cases, correction of the deficiency can be accomplished by applying small amounts of soybean or safflower oil to their skin—giving you some idea of the small amount of oil we require.2 Plan on your diet of basic plant-foods supplying an abundance of essential fats delivered in perfectly designed packages, functioning efficiently and safely.

*Some people talk about a “relative deficiency” of essential fats created by a large intake of saturated animal fats, synthetictrans fats (as found in margarine and shortenings), and/or omega-6 fats compared to their intake of omega-3 fats, and they believe many of our common chronic diseases are the result of this imbalance.1 This is quite different from true essential fatty acid deficiency which would result in: loss of hair, scaly dermatitis, capillary fragility, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to infection, fatty liver, and growth retardation in infants and children.1″Read the rest of the article here.And what about Fish oil?
Here is what Dr. Esselstyn has to say: “Fish oil is not essential. Fish get their omega 3 from plants. It is difficult to be deficient in Omega 3 if eating 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed meal and green leafy vegetables at several meals. There is also research that suggests that those on plant based nutrition become highly efficient in their own manufacture of omega 3. Patients on fish oil are also at increased risk for bleeding.”Dr. Campbell (in regards to DHA): “Most importantly, however, we need to understand that these chemicals (nutrients) work in a highly integrated, virtually symphonic manner to produce their health effect. Thus it is a matter of thinking about the collection of such chemicals in large groups of foods. I hold that we need to discard the traditional view of nutrition, based on the effects of single nutrients, and take seriously the symphonic nature of food chemicals working together. In effect, the ‘whole’ nutritional effect is greater than the sum of its parts.”

read the rest of what he has to say.

Wondering if you need fat to absorb nutrients? Dr.McDougall clears up that myth as well.

What about fish oil?

Dr. McDougall:

“Much attention has recently been paid to the possible benefits of increasing the intake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) by consuming fish oil. However, this can have adverse effects such as raising LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in patients with already high cholesterol and causing a deterioration in glucose tolerance, in other words, making diabetes worse. (Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 44:127, 1991). In one recent study of feeding w-6 alpha linolenic acid to obese subjects insulin sensitivity and HDL “good” cholesterol diminished, and the amount of oxidized LDL “bad” cholesterol increased (Aterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 17:1163, 1997). In most other studies, however, oils high in alpha linolenic acid have little effect on cholesterol and triglycerides (Am J Clin Nutr 65:1645, 1997).” Read the rest of that article here.

Dr. Esselstyn on fish oil:

“Fish oil is not essential. Fish get their omega 3 from plants. It is difficult to be deficient in Omega 3 if eating 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed meal and green leafy vegetables at several meals. There is also research that suggests that those on plant based nutrition become highly efficient in their own manufacture of omega 3. Patients on fish oil are also at increased risk for bleeding.”

Dr. Campbell (author of “The China Study”) on fish oil:

“Most importantly, however, we need to understand that these chemicals (nutrients) work in a highly integrated, virtually symphonic manner to produce their health effect. Thus it is a matter of thinking about the collection of such chemicals in large groups of foods. I hold that we need to discard the traditional view of nutrition, based on the effects of single nutrients, and take seriously the symphonic nature of food chemicals working together. In effect, the ‘whole’ nutritional effect is greater than the sum of its parts.” read the rest of what he has to say: Dr. Campbell’s article about fish oil.

The bottom line is that we want you to get your fat from whole sources. All plant-foods have fats in them. For those of you who are at a healthy weight without any issues with heart disease you can include small amounts of high fat plant-foods like nuts and avocado. If you want to lose weight or if you have heart disease you will want to greatly limit the high fat plant-foods.

So what can you do? Here are 10 steps to helping you become oil free. 

1. First know that it takes time to let your taste buds adjust (and your brain). For some this is a fast process, for others who are really battling the pleasure trap when it comes to oil this can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks of abstaining from oil completely. The key is abstaining from it and not giving your brain a little hit so that it starts craving it all over again. Remember, we are designed to crave high calorie dense foods (junk food) because a long time ago it is what helped our ancestors survive!

2. Get rid of it. That’s right, time to toss the oil and learn how to cope without it. Get rid of all of it. Don’t have it in your house. Learn how to cook without oil (tips coming up soon!)

3. Check your labels. Check and make sure oil isn’t listed as an ingredient. If label reading frustrates you keep things more simple when you are shopping. 

4. When eating out, ask that your food be prepared without oil. We sometimes make a polite suggestion “Could you use water or vegetable broth instead of oil when cooking the vegetables?” You’d be surprised how many places will accommodate you! We’ve also been known to bring our own dressing when we eat out. Other options for dressing are salsas and balsamic vinegar. Eating out can be difficult at first, and it definitely takes a little bit of plant-strong guts to ask for what you want, but this is your health and we have full confidence you will get the hang of it! Some places are easy to go to, like getting brown rice sushi or brown rice and steamed vegetables or baked potatoes we’ve also found that getting whole grain pasta without oil is pretty easy as well. Sometimes it takes a little creativity.

5. Cooking without oil

This one is way easier than you could have ever imagined!

The simple way to sauté is just to use water, get the pan hot, throw a little water in and then throw your veggies (or whatever you are putting in the pan). A few things like onions that have a lot of water in them already hardly need any liquid at all!

In baking if you are following our recipes, or ones from Happy Herbivore, Fat Free Vegan, Straight Up Food and others who are oil free you don’t have to worry so much. For other recipes that you are converting, most of the time applesauce works just fine.

Here are some of our favorite guides to oil free cooking:

Straight Up Food  

Fat Free Vegan 

(Video) Happy Herbivore 

There is a plethora of amazing whole foods to enjoy!