Are Some Oils Healthy?

Last week a post on Facebook infuriated me. Shocker. I know.

Elevation Burger, the restaurant chain posted this:

“Did you know that February is American Heart Month? Well it is, and we want to share with you a recent study from Spain published in the British Medical Journal that found no association between the frequency of fried food consumption, when olive and sunflower oils are mostly used, and the incidence of serious heart disease. The chief reason why we fry our french fries in olive oil free from trans-fat!”

A fast-food chain that sells burgers, fries, soft drinks, and milk shakes was promoting American Heart Month. That point alone pissed me off.

Beyond that issue, said burger chain was citing a British Medical Journal study discussed in this article in The Telegraph. Essentially the study showed that in people who ate a Mediterranean diet, consuming foods fried in sunflower or olive oil “is not linked to heart disease or premature death.”

The most important part of the above statement is “in people who ate a Mediterranean diet.” The study was performed in Spain. Not England. Not the United States. Mediterranean diets include a much higher quantity of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats from nuts, and are vastly different than the more commonly consumed low-nutrient Western diets.

What Elevation Burger fans would not have learned had they not read the The Telegraph article for themselves was this:

“Fried foods from modern American-style takeaways were different, they argued, because these tended to have been cooked in re-used oils, higher in transfats. In addition, such takeaways tended to contain much more salt, known to increase blood pressure and heart disease risk.”

So basically, people who are eating a nutrient-dense diet don’t seem to have an increased risk of heart disease if they eat food fried in olive or sunflower oil (according to the one study). But the same cannot be said for people who eat low-nutrient Western diets, because they were not included in this one study.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman provides excellent information on why consuming processed oils are not healthy for you. And to put it in a nutshell (See what I did there? “Nutshell?”) Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says this about whether it’s good to consume processed oils:

“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. You should not consume any oil if you have heart disease.”

Why was I so irate about Elevation Burger’s post? Cherry picking quotes that don’t tell the full story is irresponsible and dangerous. You could argue that fans of their page should click on the link to read the article for themselves, but we all know that most of the time we read headlines and comments in our Facebook feeds and move on to the next post.

The bottom line is this: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Should we never consume processed oils? Well, if we are already high risk for heart disease or stroke, then many doctors would say no. Do I never consume oil? Of course not. I use one or two tablespoons of oil in most dishes that I make, and every once in a while I’ll eat some fries in a restaurant. I understand the risks though, and I know that after I eat those fries I’m gonna feel like crap, and I always do.

Eat what you want, but be sure to make an informed decision about what foods you put in your mouth.

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3 comments

  1. David Brown says:

    You know what’s really shocking? This article published on the website of the Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-full-story/ Almost at the very end of the article is this recommendation:

    “In place of butter, use liquid vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, in cooking and at the table. Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, peanut oil, and the like are great sources of healthy fat.”

    Well, at least they didn’t mention soybean oil. But wait. On the front page of an advertising flier for Consumer Reports on Health one reads this: “Olive oil is fine if you like the taste, but it’s NOT the best oil for your health. That’s because olive oil is low in omega-6. Better-for-you fats, that are rich in omega-6’s include canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower oil.”

    Following this sort of dietary advice is extremely problematic. Google – “1 of 4 Bill Lands” and “Your Brain on Omega 3” and you’ll see what I mean.

  2. Tracy Krulik says:

    David,

    Thanks for posting both of these articles. My takeaway: “What the F*ck?” There is so much conflicting information out there. How can anyone make sense of it? I think I’m actually fortunate, because my body tells me (quite loudly!) when I eat something not good for me. I can eat only so much fat before I become ill. I do eat healthy fats from nuts and avocados, and as I said I consume a limited amount of processed oil, but when I eat something with processed oil, I can feel it pretty quickly. It can’t be good for me if I feel lousy. If I didn’t have such a sensitive stomach, I think I’d probably be ladling on tons of olive oil, because there is so much information out there (your articles are cases in point) that tell us it’s good for us. Terribly confusing and frustrating.

    I’m curious about your background. Are you a researcher?

    Thanks again!
    Tracy

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