Myths Busted! The Truth About Coconut and Olive Oil

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Both olive oil and coconut oil have been hailed as healthy oils for a very long time now and it’s about time science triumphed over the almighty media on these relentless myths.  Most people have been taught at some point or read somewhere that olive oil and coconut oil are healthy oils to be consumed with fervor.  This is beginning to frustrate me if only because I wish people understood the truth! It’s one thing to consciously make an informed decision based on accurate knowledge, it is another to make a decision based on inaccurate knowledge. While these oils aren’t as bad as eating pure saturated fat or candy, they aren’t good, they aren’t good one little bit.

Olive oil is a key component to the Mediterranean diet, which itself has been touted as a heart healthy diet. However, the evidence for these claims just do not stack up and for many people striving to lose weight, it is sabotage city. As with coconut oil, I see it everywhere! Stacks upon stacks in Whole Foods Market and in vegan and non-vegan recipes all over the internet.

This is the reality: just like all other oils, olive oil and coconut oil are 100 percent fat, lack a significant nutrient load and contain a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon [which is 14 grams of fat}. All oils are all refined/processed foods. Olive and coconut oils are not as harmful as animal fat, but they are fattening. Oils are calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, so they contribute to weight gain. Americans consume approximately 400 oil-derived calories a day, a major contributor to our epidemic of overweight people.

It takes time and effort for our bodies to store fat from seeds and nuts, and most is burned off for energy. However, when you consume oil, your body can store the fat with effortless ease in your hips and belly in about 10 minutes. Eating oil is pretty much the reverse of liposuction ~ yet most of us use it as a major ingredient or cook with it on a daily basis! The average American currently consumes 300 to 500 calories from added oil every single day. This adds up to over 100,000 extra calories each year! Here’s another equation:

An extra 100 calories from oil each day = 100 extra pounds of fat in 10 years

It’s not a huge deal to eat a bit of oil here and there if you eat an overall healthy diet and are physically active and slim, but this is not the case for most people. As many Americans continue to grow overweight or obese, consuming extra calories from oil can lead to additional health problems. This is not simply a matter of fitting into your skinny jeans ~ at the rate we eat oil, we’re facing heightened risk of diabetes, cancer, or heart attack: For every 200 calories of any food consumed beyond your basic needs each day, your long-term risk of cancer increases by 20 percent.

Oils are processed foods ~ there are no oil trees! Oils are generally extracted from plants with a petroleum chemical such as hexane. When you chemically extract oil from a whole plant food (like olives, nuts, or seeds), you remove desirable nutrients and obtain a fragmented food that contains little more than empty calories. These whole plant foods used for oil production contain fibers and an abundance of disease-fighting micronutrients {such as bioflavonoids and polyphenols} that help maintain the freshness of the fat. As soon as the oil is extracted from the plant, it begins to go rancid! Toxic by-products develop from the extracted oil. These toxic by- products have been shown to have cytotoxic and mutagenic effects. Cytotoxicity is the quality of being toxic to cells, and a substance that’s mutagenic has the ability to cause a genetic mutation. Yikes.

Some have proposed that extra virgin olive oil is heart healthy because it is rich in polyphenols.  Polyphenols have antioxidant characteristics and studies show that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.   However, all plant foods are rich in polyphenols and most deliver much more polyphenols (and far fewer calories) than olive oil.   If you rely on olive oil for your polyphenols, good luck getting enough. You’d need to consume 5 tablespoons of olive oil, the equivalent of 600 calories, just to get 150 mg of polyphenols, the same amount in 55 calories of lettuce, not to mention hundreds of other nutrients and documented benefit in greens.  Study after study links the consumption of leafy greens with healthier, longer, disease-free lives.  Probably because they are loaded with all sorts of nutritious compounds, among them vitamins, minerals, fiber, polyphenols, and various carotenoids.  In comparison, olive oil, has little or none of these. In fact, phytosterols and vitamin E are a few of the slim pickings of nutrients found in olive oil that I decided to do a bit more digging on.  Compared to the amount of phytosterols and vitamin E in other foods, olive oil really doesn’t contain that much, as represented in the following chart:

Nutrients per 120 calories Olive Oil Broccoli, raw Spinach, raw Sunflower seeds, raw
Phytosterols 30 mg 174 mg 46 mg 110 mg
Vitamin E 1.94 mg 2.7 mg 10.2 mg 6.8 mg

 

It is also a myth that olive oil lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  Study design is key. Studies linking olive oil consumption to lower cholesterol levels are flawed.  Olive oil appears to lower bad cholesterol in most studies because the participants replace animal fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meats with olive oil.  Animal fats are composed of saturated fats, which are the most dangerous types of fat.  Consumption of saturated fats raises cholesterol levels and elevates the risk of heart disease and cancer.  Replacing animal fat with cardboard would lower anyone’s LDL cholesterol levels.  The addition of olive oil is not what lowers bad cholesterol levels; it is the removal of artery-clogging saturated fat.  This is a shame for the average consumer who is led to believe that olive oil is heart healthy and it doesn’t help that we see olive oil bottles labeled as “Heart Healthy” in grocery stores.  Yet, even the Food and Drug Administration has stated:

“Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

We truly are victims of the media.

We all need to eat fat. No question. However, when we eat fat in the form of whole foods, like walnuts, sesame seeds, or flaxseeds, instead of their extracted oils, we get a beautiful, health-promoting symphony of nutrients along with the fat; that includes fiber, flavonoids, isoflavones, and other disease-fighting warriors. When you eat fat in the form of whole foods, you consume fewer calories and get a valuable supply of nutrients. Seeds contain folate, iron, calcium, niacin, lignans, and flavonoids; the oils from seeds contain almost none of these nutrients.

In conclusion, get your healthy fats from whole food sources and not low nutrient oils ~ olive and coconut oil included.  The Mediterranean diet might be healthy when compared to other diets, but this is because of the intake of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in that diet compared to the dangerous SAD diet, rather than any supposed benefits of olive oil.  And seriously who needs oil when nuts, seeds and avocados taste so good!

Note: To learn about the health- and lifespan-promoting effects of consuming nuts and seeds to meet our fat requirements, check out page 135 of Love Your Body!

I am not alone in my oil crackdown! Click here and here to read a few more articles. I hope this helps you understand the truth!

References:

1. Covas MI; Nyyssonen K; et al.The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145(5):333-341.

2. S. Frankel, D. J. Gunnel, T. J. Peters, et al., “Childhood Energy Intake and Adult Mortality from Cancer,” British Medical Journal 316, no. 7130 (1998): 499–504.

3. P. Perjesi, Z. Pinter, Z. Gyongyi, and I. Ember, “Effect of Rancid Corn Oil on Some Onco/suppressor Gene Expressions in Vivo: A Short-Term Study,” Anticancer Research 22, no. IA (2002): 225–30.

4. M. I. Covas, K. Nyyssonen, et al., “The Effect of Polyphenols in Olive Oil on Heart Disease Risk Factors: A Randomized Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine 145, no. 5 (2006): 333–41.

 

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