Is Oil Good for You? Yes and No.

by Alena

If you ever wondered “is oil good for you?” then our guide will help you answer this complex question. Find out which oil to choose and if you should consume it at all!

Are you following a whole food diet and are unsure where to draw the line when it comes to the amount of processing your food went through?

There’s the common belief that we should eat food as it appears in nature, straight from the ground.

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But then we go ahead and make smoothies, green juices, hummus, creamy soups or bread — all of which are arguably healthy foods.

Should we equate oil with refined sugar and stick to oil-free recipes? Or should we use it as an easy vegan food swap for butter? And is olive oil vegan?

Find out more about vegan nutrition, the differences of culinary oils and how they fit your personal health goals so you can make the best decision for yourself.

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Oil and vegan diets

When going vegan, and especially if you’re interested in a whole food plant-based diet, you’ll be confronted with many claims around oil and recipes that are oil-free.

That’s because some popular vegan doctors and nutritionists caution against the use of oil in one’s diet for health reasons.

But more and more scientific studies reveal that many oils are in fact good for you!

Yes, we’ve written about how we usually cook without oil and the recipes we create for this blog don’t require any oil, either!

That doesn’t mean that we never consume it or advise against using oil, though.

Let’s take a closer look at this subject!

Differences in cooking oils

Edible oils are extracted from plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, olives, soy or coconut with the help of an oil mill or a chemical solvent.

You’re left with a mixture of different fatty acids:

  • Saturated fats
  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats

Then, there are also trans fats which are mostly found in fried foods or shortening but can also be present in low amounts in hydrogenated oils.

Generally speaking, you want to focus on eating unsaturated fats to lower your disease risk, protect your organs and help with cell growth.

Sources of unsaturated fats include nuts and seeds but also certain oils which we list below!

Healthy oils

  • Olive oil — packed with phytochemicals, anti-inflammatory and blood vessel-expanding
  • Canola oil — has a high smoke point, neutral flavor and is a source of omega-3 fats
  • Flaxseed oil — excellent omega 3 to omega 6 ratio but can’t be heated
  • Sesame oil — high-heat cooking oil with delicious flavor and lots of polyunsaturated fats

Keep your saturated fat intake lower by reducing the amount of palm oil, coconut oil and hydrogenated oil!

Find more information on good and bad oils here.

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Benefits of using oil

Large health organizations agree that oil can have a place in healthy diets even though it’s refined food high in fat — which doesn’t automatically make it unhealthy.

Moreso, plant-based diets (or other healthy eating patterns) are already restrictive. Why take away even a tablespoon of olive oil in a salad dressing if there are no additional health benefits?

Especially those who want to stay vegan for life should ensure that their diet isn’t overly restrictive because this may result in them “quitting veganism.”

Nobody is suggesting that you douse everything you eat in oil but there is good evidence supporting the fact that eating a moderate amount of healthy fats is really beneficial! And yes, this includes healthy oils.

Just because a food has been processed doesn’t automatically make it “super unhealthy”.

At the same time, cooking your bacon in olive oil doesn’t make the bacon healthy!

Here are the main benefits of using healthy oils in a nutshell.

Let’s talk healthy fats

The term healthy fats is often used to describe whole foods that are high in fats, like nuts, seeds, olives or avocado.

While these are certainly good for you, there is no need to treat oils with a good nutritional value any different!

You absolutely do not have to consume oil and get your fatty acids from whole foods instead —  but why miss out on the benefits of olive oil, canola oil or flaxseed oil?

Here’s who should consume and who should reduce their oil consumption!

avocados, nuts and seeds on a tablePin

Who should reduce or omit oil?

Probably the strongest argument for not using oil is that it comes in at a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon. Without adding much volume to your meals, you can drastically increase the calorie density when you use oil — even olive oil.

People who are overweight can very well benefit from reducing or omitting oil! By using different cooking methods like sautéing your veggies in soy sauce or veggie broth, you can still create delicious meals that are much lower in calories.

One large 2017 study found that participants who followed a whole food plant-based diet free from animal products and oil lost more weight and reduced cholesterol compared to the control group. 

But the most significant finding was that this study achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise!

Check out our WFPBNO diet (whole food plant-based, no oil) guide for tips and recipes to see if it helps you with weight management.

When it comes to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer risk, more research about the role of oil in the diet is needed as current studies still aren’t conclusive.

However, the overwhelming evidence suggests that enjoying healthy fats (including oils high in unsaturated fat) is beneficial to our overall health — especially when they are replacing refined carbohydrates or saturated fats!

woman standing by a stove and sautéing green veggies in a panPin

Who should consume oil

This brings us to the section of who should consume oil. As mentioned before, there are many good reasons why you should include unsaturated fats in your diet — both from whole food sources and healthy oils.

This means that pretty much everyone can consume oil but there are a few instances in which we suggest you definitely include oil into your diet!

Closing thoughts

If you’re still unsure about consuming oils, here’s a fun fact: articles that bash oils while citing the PREDIMED study use evidence that works against themselves — the findings showed that it didn’t matter whether dietary fats came from nuts or olive oil in terms of health outcome.

Then, there are also the Blue Zones, a term that describes peoples with the highest longevity around the world. Guess what, many of them are in the Mediterranean area where adults add on average 6 tablespoons of olive oil to their plant-based dishes per day!

While we used to believe certain plant-based speakers and doctors who advised against the use of oil, we changed our view based on the evidence we found and the strong scientific consensus on the topic.

We still create many everyday meals without adding oil but we are not afraid of it and deliberately enjoy oil in other dishes!

More vegan guides

If you liked this article, read the following vegan guides next!

Do you personally consume or avoid oil? Let us know in the comments below if you’ve learned anything from this article and Pin this guide here.

Browse these categories

Alena sitting in a cafe with a bowl of fresh plant-based food and a glass of coffee in front of her

About Alena Handwritten FontAlena Schowalter is a Certified Vegan Nutritionist who has been a vegetarian since childhood and vegan since 2012. Together with her husband, she founded nutriciously in 2015 and has been guiding thousands of people through different transition stages towards a healthy plant-based diet. She’s received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy and social work. Alena enjoys discussions around vegan ethics, walks through nature and creating new recipes.

22 thoughts on “Is Oil Good for You? Yes and No.”

  1. Excellent article! I have one question. Toward the end of the article, under #2, replacing dressings & sauces, it suggests tahini. I’m new to tahini and just bought a jar of Trader Joe’s Organic Tahini. I haven’t opened it yet, but there’s definitely visible oil on the top that’s separated, and it says to stir first. I also see that 2 Tbls is 190 calories, 150 of which are fat. So isn’t tahini really an oil, even though it is from sesame seeds? I’m just a little confused about this and I’m not sure if I even want to eat this, since I’ve already cut out using all oils? Can you clarify? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Dear Kris,

      I know we’ve talked about this via email but I’d like to post my answer here for everyone to read :) Hope you don’t mind.
      Tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and usually, no part of the original seed is taken away. It’s like a banana smoothie made from just bananas. There is fat naturally occurring in the sesame seeds and it’s just being “freed” when they are ground and the fiberous part separates from the oily part. If you’d like, you could just get rid of the visible oil on the top of your jar and have the rest but you won’t have a very smooth consistency that way.

      If you’ve already cut out all processed oils and don’t feel the need or wish to have a few fattier add-ons like a tahini dressing for your salad, then it’s no problem to just not eat nut or seed butters at all. When plugging “tahini” and “sesame seeds” into cronometer.com (same amount of calories respectively), it said that tahini was 75% fat, 15% carbs and 10% protein – whereas hulled sesame seeds (where you can have 3 tbsp instead of 2 tbsp of tahini for the same amount of calories) are 81% fat, 7.5% carbs and 11.5% fat. Funny, I didn’t know that! The reason why the calories on the label almost all come from fat (around 80%) is because well, sesame seeds indeed are mostly mono and poly unsaturated fats, and you might know that 1 gram of fat has 9 calories whereas carbs and protein have only 4 calories per gram.

      So basically, you don’t need to be more hesitant about using tahini than using sesame seeds. You could live happily and healthily without it, sure! Our articles reach many people in all types of different stages on their health journey and we’d like to provide something useful. And most Westerners are used to greasy dishes, so getting them away from the oil and meat and telling them to dry-roast veggies and eat them without any fat wouldn’t be very appealing to them. They would still long for the creaminess and texture. Seeds do offer some pretty decent nutrients, too, so they aren’t a bad idea per se when you use them as condiments – here are some ideas about what you could do with tahini:

      http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/tasty-tahini-recipes/

      http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/vegan-tahini-recipes/

      What is your opinion on healthy (meaning essential) fats? How much do you usually eat of them? We’re basically talking about Omega 3’s here, since Omega 6’s are very easy to get from all types of food. If you’d like to have more healthy Omega 3’s then it would be wiser to choose chia or flax seeds, walnuts, even beans and winter squash :)

      Hope this helps! Thanks again for asking and challenging me a little bit.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for your article – it truly is so very confusing going between one study saying yes oils are good and another saying no they’re bad.
    And the references have been fantastic! The only thing I think I will now have to really try and avoid is with my pasta, changing to vegetable broth base dressing rather than olive oil. This used to be my CBF go to meal (pasta, cherry tomatoes, spinach, olives and olive oil with pinch of salt and pepper).

    Any suggestions?

    Reply
  3. I find it odd that you would suggest getting rid of free oils because they’re processed, but then suggest things like ketchup, juice, and plant yogurt (ingredients in the dressing article), which are also processed. I understand there’s a difference. It just seems inconsisteby.

    Reply
  4. I find it odd that you would suggest getting rid of free oils because they’re processed, but then suggest things like ketchup, juice, and plant yogurt (ingredients in the dressing article), which are also processed. I understand there’s a difference. It just seems inconsistent..

    Reply
    • Hi Jennifer,
      thanks for the comment. I totally understand that you feel like things aren’t adding up here – but as you saw in the article, free oils have been associated with lots of negative health outcomes as they particularly hurt our arteries. The same cannot be said for plant yogurt.
      Oils are as devoid in nutrients as white sugar as. Juice offers additional water and vitamins along with the sugar, ketchup as well (plus some fiber) and so does plant yogurt (which is just plant milk with some cultures most of the time). We always recommend using these as condiments and whole, unprocessed, fibrous foods as the basis!
      Can you see how these foods you mentioned are less processed/refined?
      Hope this helps, you’re free to make your own choice :)

      Reply
    • Hi Arina,
      thanks for the question. Fruit juice, as opposed to oil, still comes with some micronutrients like vitamin C. It’s not as healthy as the whole food since it’s processed and some parts (like fiber) are removed. In terms of health, you should always go for the whole food but nobody eats 100% whole, unprocessed foods only – we need some condiments and fun foods. Have juice on the side, use it for dressings or to make your drinks tastier. Don’t have it as a staple. Fruit juice hasn’t been shown to be as harmful to your body as free oils (as far as I know).
      Hope this helps! Feel free to see how your body reacts to juices and then decide for yourself.
      Warmly,
      Alena

      Reply
  5. Great article. Thank you. One editing comment… under the “One Step at a Time” section, third checkmark, it says “Stop cooking without oils.” I imagine you wanted it to say “Start cooking without oils.”

    Reply
  6. Thank you so much for this article, very informative. I will def be cutting way down on the oil I use in my diet. I do have one question though, what about ghee? There are so many people who say grass fed ghee is good for you and the fats in it are mostly short and medium chain fatty acids. Can you comment on this?

    Reply
    • Hi Trista,
      glad you liked the article! Ghee is just pure fat as well. Even worse than vegetable oils since it’s high in saturated fat and cholesterol because it comes from an animal. Grass fed doesn’t change a thing regarding this issue, I’m afraid. Check cronometer.com to see that it has just as much saturated fat as butter.
      Refined fats are almost never a good idea – add more whole foods, especially fruits, veggies, and whole grains, to get better health outcomes :)
      Warm wishes,
      Alena

      Reply
  7. Will applesauce leave a after taste? I will be using this to substitute for my children who are not vegan, but would like to use less oils in their sweet diets.

    Reply
  8. Aren’t you aware of extra virgin oils obtained solely by mechanical means ? The olives are simply pressed, and that’s it. There are even organic varieties from specific regions of Italy, or France, even here in Malta where i live we have our own local olive oil, and it is just pressed from Maltese olives, again obtained solely by mechanical means, no big deal. So these oils are not whole as well because the olives are simply pressed ? like if i squeeze a lemon and get the juice it becomes unhealthy sugar ? Almond oil or the Argan from Morocco tree, the pure one is simply pressed, unhealthy too ?

    Why a war against oil if one is going to generalize and not make a clear distinction between how any variety of food is obtained. So if you just get a blender and blend some fruit, and drink the fruit juice you make war on fruit juices because of sugar ? because at this point one can make a war on anything, on honey one can say it is all sugar, simply bad, but we all know it is not the case. On vegetables with regards to all the pesticides that have been used all along. On all dairy, including eggs and yoghurt for all the saturated fat and pasteurization or else processing to remove the fat to 0.1%, not to mention antibiotics with anything related to animals, but we know good eggs and good whole yoghurts. And we all know it is not the oil, or the honey, or the fruit, or the egg, or the yoghurt. It is how it is grown, where it is grown, how the final product is obtained and what condition it arrives to you.

    Reply

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