Olive Oil, Health and Advocacy

Olive Oil, Health and Advocacy

By | 2010-10-12T11:01:24+00:00 October 12th, 2010|Tags: , , |61 Comments
Ten billion (land) animals live and die under the most horrible conditions imaginable in the United States every year. So obviously, our efforts should focus on getting people to consume less…olive oil?
It seems like I run across an inordinate number of anti-olive oil comments these days from vegans on the internet.  People don’t pick on safflower or corn oil, probably because no one is out there touting their consumption. But because some health experts have the audacity to suggest that olive oil (a refined food! a fat!) can have a place in healthy diets, it earns the bulk of the criticism from those who view all oils with suspicion.
 I don’t much care if someone consumes olive oil or not. I do wonder why anyone would think that taking an anti-olive oil stance could be effective advocacy for animals. As I’ve written before, adding restrictions to vegan diets that don’t improve their healthfulness ends up dissuading more people from going vegan than it is likely to attract.    
Some of the most healthful and stupendously delicious plant-based traditions in the world have used olive oil for some 6 thousand years. And it’s no more a refined or processed food than orange juice, by the way.
The idea that someone who is eating a diet based on whole plant foods will somehow jeopardize their health with the addition of a few teaspoons of olive oil doesn’t make much sense, when you think about it. And it is certainly not supported by any scientific research. Instead, as I wrote about on my examiner column today, olive oil is packed with a unique blend of phytochemicals, and the research suggests that adding some to your diet can lower risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and can even help with weight loss.
Imagine getting all of those benefits and at the same time, giving a nice positive tweak to the culinary image of vegan diets. Let’s make vegan diets as healthy and easy and attractive as possible. Olive oil is a positive in that regard, not a negative.


  1. beforewisdom October 12, 2010 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    I do wonder why anyone would think that taking an anti-olive oil stance could be effective advocacy for animals.
    They don't.   There are vegans, people who have the belief that it is wrong to exploit animals and there are people who eat a vegan diet.    The latter group tend to be health enthusiasts.  Among them are a few who get OCD about their diets.
    The best piece of advice I ever heard about oil is to think about it like sugar.   Both are near pure, stripped of most of the nutrients.   It isn't good to get a chunk of your calories from either, but a teaspoon here and a teaspoon there to make your food more enjoyable is a good investment.    It keeps you from eating out where you might not get such a good nutritional deal.

  2. Scott October 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Ginny, I've been surprised to come across this sentiment lately as well. It seems like we are reverting back to the equivalent of the 1980's "everything gives you cancer!" paranoia. Or maybe it's the latest way to become "foodier-than-thou", as tends to be the trend lately.
    I think, ultimately, this is a logical outcome of the push to view veganism as merely a diet and not a political perspective or ethical lifestyle choice that takes into account the lives of animals over anything else. When veganism is looked at in the same light as Atkins or South Beach or Weight Watchers, then it's inevitable all these tiny ingredients (when taken in absurd proportions that no one really does) become the next boogeyman waiting to cut your heart into shreds. 
    I understand the benefit of touting the positive nutritional aspects of the vegan diet, but it must always be done with the foundation that it only matters in relation to "saving animals lives", or else we are doomed to be again flippantly disregarded when this whole foodie fad gets real tired…but hey, I hope I'm wrong.

  3. Jessy October 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    I agree with both the previous commenters. The people who eat a vegan diet for health tend to be exclusionists; they seem to want to draw the distinction between themselves and other vegans who are so for ethical reasons. You'll often see the "health vegans" explicitly state that they are vegans for health purposes…as if it would be shameful to be vegan for ethical reasons, and they don't want to be associated with the rest of us vegans. 
    And, many of these "health vegans" are so obsessed with trivia and minutiae, I'm surprised they find anything to eat at all that doesn't have some supposed harmful effect. At the end of the day, if these "dietary vegans" became convinced tomorrow that some animal product were beneficial to their health, they'd be out buying it by the truckload.
    I agree, I think it's the health enthusiasts that are often responsible for muddying up the vegan mission and promulgating paranoia over nothing.

    • beforewisdom October 14, 2010 at 7:45 am - Reply

      I have to fair and amend my original comment to include the observation that I have noticed the same kind of mental traps with vegans as I noticed with health nuts who eat vegan diets.   There are factions of vegans who will argue endlessly about philosophical points ( ever more inconsequential points ), even to the point of putting up barriers between themselves and other vegans.

  4. JL goes Vegan October 13, 2010 at 3:16 am - Reply

    Great post!
    If I've learned nothing over the years of figuring ow what foods work for me, it's moderation….well, except for kale, I don't think I can ever get too much of that 😉  

  5. vegbrarian October 13, 2010 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Interesting post. I've not seen much anti-olive oil sentiment – all oils seem to grouped together in some of the blogs and articles I've read – but I frequently read about the *gasp* horrors of soy, corn, and "carbs." Sorry, but I'll enjoy my (organic, non-gmo) tempeh, (local) corn salsa and whole wheat pasta…maybe with a tiny drizzle of olive oil 🙂

  6. Therese October 15, 2010 at 1:31 am - Reply

    I'm surprised to hear that there are people who are anti-olive oil, as both Jack Norris and Stephen Walsh recommend using olive oil rather than, for example, sunflower oil in order to reduce omega-6 intake. 
    http://www.vegansociety.com/downloads/PBN.pdf (page 3)
    The difference between refined sugar and oil is that fats in moderation are healthful, especially the fats found in olive oil, as they help to improve your fat balance. Refined sugar contributes only to calories, thereby making it harder to get all the nutrients you need whilst not consuming a surplus of calories. Sugar also has a high glycaemic load, which causes blood sugar to rise quickly, and then the pancreas has to quickly release a lot of insulin to control it (if I remember correctly).
    Not that I avoid sugar like the plague – I am fond of cookies and dark chocolate. =)

  7. Bonnie October 15, 2010 at 6:14 am - Reply

    I agree – I am disheartened when vegans take their eyes off the prize – the animals. Anything that detracts from advocacy for animals is defeating. I also know a vegetarian chef who moans against anything processed – like Yves Veggie Dogs. Yet these processed foods are necessary transition ingredients for people making the switch who might be tentative. Also, they satisfy the cravings of new and long-term vegans alike.

    • Robert January 10, 2011 at 11:09 am - Reply

      I must say that I became vegetarian for health reasons. No shame in that IMO. If, in the process of doing so, I save a few lives, so much the better. It is unrealistic to expect to see an end to the raising of animals for food but I would like to believe (perhaps just as unrealistic an expectation) that we can put an end to the deplorable treatment of farm animals and the conditions in which they live. Ok, so what's up with this anti-oil sentiment? I must be missing something here. I love my olive oil!!!

  8. Ginny Messina October 15, 2010 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Just to clarify, I agree that the anti-oil sentiments on the internet are usually anti- *all* oils, not just olive oil.  Olive oil is the only one that seems to have bona fide health benefits, though, so it seems like sometimes the anti-oil folks focus on trying to negate those benefits—which makes olive oil the food they love to hate!

    I agree, too, that the anti-oil sentiment comes mostly from those who see veganism as nothing more than a health-promoting diet. But it seems that many ethical vegans want to believe that a vegan diet is the only (or most) healthful way to eat, and so they end up adopting some of the vegan-for-health arguments. And those arguments are almost always anti-fat.   

  9. Infidel Poetry October 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    As beforewisdom said, there are two types of vegan advocacy going on. (Though his vegan philosophy is inferior to mine so please shun him 😉

    One is vegan advocacy, the other is plant-based diet advocacy that often is conflated with the word vegan and includes a spectrum from low-fat to raw food.
    One is a position of non-exploitation for those who can suffer from being used as means to an end, and the other is about personal health through dietary means often including tenuous ideas on what constitutes the “perfect” eating pattern. Sure, there are some legitimate concepts in there, but there’s no iron clad data and plenty of confounders, we’re just not going to know for sure what the “ultimate” diet is and of course there may be multiple approaches, not just one.

    Vegan or otherwise, it might be a good idea to reduce oil consumption (there’s data to suggest that all out oil all the time isn’t a good idea). It’s may be prudent not to be excessive with processed foods. If one feels sensitive to gluten, it may be reasonable to limit it, celiacs need to be diagnosed and avoid it entirely of course. While some of the more “optimistic” health claims don’t exactly square up, raw food does have some wonderful cuisine options and I’m impressed with the innovation that sadly the rest of the culinary world seems intent to ignore or ridicule.

    However, “ultimate” healthy plant-based diets and veganism get rolled together, and there’s a certain logic to that, ethical vegans should want to be healthy vegans to demonstrate that the lifestyle is legitimate, but it can backfire with health advocates conflating all sorts of diet strategies into veganism; like how gluten free diets have gotten mixed up with veganism, and all sorts of other ideas.

    I just came across this gem on Dr Weils site yesterday:

    “Some vegans also do not consume yeast”
    <Face palm>

    Which vegans out there are avoiding yeast and for what reasons exactly? Seeing how the Vegan Society has recipes including yeast on their website and yeast aren’t animals and don’t have much in the ways of a nervous system, I’m going to continue eating bread made using yeast, spreading on some Marmite when I’m in the mood, and putting nutritional yeast on my popcorn without any hand-wringing.

    If there are vegans out there avoiding yeast, they are probably avoiding other things like supplements, fortified foods, soy beans, non-organic vegetables, or whatever, that are not only are acceptable for a vegan lifestyle, but can help to round the diet out both nutritionally and for satiation just like any other omnivorous diet.

  10. Infidel Poetry October 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    I decided to write a part two, because I want to rant a bit in this post and share a couple stories and why I’m particularly annoyed that Dr. Weil comes across as some sort of authority on vegan diets. I have some very open minded friends, a couple, who told me about their vegan diet experience through a program of Dr. Weil. They tried it as a detox plan since they had some legitimate health issue (liver taxed on overmedication) where they felt a dietary clean up might help. They did think that Weil’s vegan diet was really healthy, and felt great at first and it did help my friend’s symptoms, but after the program they felt overworked from preparing meals all the time, deprived, agitated, and ravenous.

    While they are sympathetic for my reasons for being vegan (not that I’ve discussed it all that thoroughly with them), and they don’t mind occasional vegan meals, they probably won’t ever try veganism again for any length of time, they feel they have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. I think they assume I eat like Dr Weil’s plan all the time and they associate that with a negative experience. It could have been the emotional feeling of lack of meat in their diet, but they are the types what “aren’t big meat eaters” and they are not just saying that to try to identify with me (because people always say that they don’t eat a lot of meat when they find out I’m vegan and want to be polite.)

    Just making an abrupt change in diet that can be a challenge no matter what. But probably a few pre-packaged convenience vegan meals, or vegan treats, or some oily vegan comfort food, probably wouldn’t have made them feel so challenged and deprived. This is the problem with the ultimate vegan health diet approach. I’m no nutritionist, but I’m not convinced that every “ultimate vegan diet cleanse” out there are all that healthy and are certainly difficult to sustain.

    Anecdotally, I’ve noticed an association of ex-vegans with the macrobiotic vegan diet. Jessy is right, if an animal product is touted as some health elixir, or there’s a new “ultimate health diet” that included animal products that the health vegan get interested in, the chances are high that a health vegan becomes an ex vegan. I don’t eat honey. I agree with the premise that it exploits bees and it is just sugar after all. I can eat any other sugar and I never ate much honey before being vegan anyway. If a vegan wants to eat honey, whatever, I’m not going to fight over it (unless it’s beyondwisdom because he is clearly in the wrong philosophical vegan faction! ;)) What’s irritating is that some health vegans seem to think honey holds some magical medicinal healing properties. And for the record, agave isn’t magic either.

    I have a live food enthusiast friend and while she has a diet mostly without animal products, so there’s some common ground in how we eat, she’s otherwise all over the place. I’ve tried to be accommodating, but the results aren’t very good when you try to roast vegetables on the grill without using aluminum foil (toxic), olive oil (heating it makes it toxic) or salt (toxic again). Yeah, I guess my diet can be a pain in the ass for others less familiar with veganism, but I don’t ever eat animal products, I don’t ask anything that I don’t follow on a daily basis. She’ll eat at a normal restaurant that cooks food and uses salt and oil and I’ll scratch my head about what all the roasted vegetable fuss was about the other day.

    On the other hand, as a friend, I’m glad she eats “bad” foods now and then and isn’t so rigid with her “healthy” diet to the point of harming herself. For someone into live food, she’s a supplement fanatic, all sorts of concentrated herbs and extracts and whatnot, so I hope those pills contain something worthwhile. Anyway, thanks again Ginny, for addressing these issues, there’s no shortage of myths to set straight and I’m glad that you are chipping away at them.

    • AZBlue October 7, 2012 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Old posts but felt I needed to respond. Eating honey exploits bees? Are you certifiably insane? My grandfather was a bee keeper his entire life. He worshipped bees, cared for them like they were his children, and the bees had a much better life in his back yard than they ever would out in the wild. In your attempt to be humane to animals and nature, you’ve crossed over to the other side – insanity.

      I consider myself a vegan. I don’t eat any animal products in my meals. However, I do take fish oil supplements because they are a healthy source of DHA. Everything in life is a balance, and the vegan program you appear to be promoting is quite extreme and unhealthy in its extremity. If honey is sugar and no different from table sugar, then you must certainly feel the same way about HFCS. Would that be okay to include in your diet? Have you forgotten that raw honey contains vitamins, enzymes, anti-oxidants and minerals in addition to the sugar compounds? Perhaps you should do some research before making your bold, limited world view pronouncements.

      There is extremism and there is balance. Which one sounds right?

  11. Infidel Poetry October 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    For what it’s worth, I see paragraph spaces in my comment before I post, but after I post they disappear and I get a wall of text.

    • Ginny Messina October 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      I don't know why that's happening to your posts, but I went in to the second one and added some paragraph breaks and it looks like it worked. I'll see if I can do the same with the first one. Thanks for your good comments!

  12. Infidel Poetry October 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Ah, that’s better. The addition of a few line breaks makes the difference between reasoned comment and a raving one (or at least I hope so). Thanks Ginny.

  13. Ronald October 18, 2010 at 11:55 am - Reply

    It's not quite accurate to compare orange juice to olive oil.  When you squeeze oranges, you're left with pulp and juice.  When you press olives, you get pulp, olive oil, and olive water.  The latter contains oleuropein, a substance that people pay for when they buy olive leaf extract.  If you look up the nutrients in olives and in olive oil, there's no comparison. 
    The problem with olives is that the sodium content is through the roof. So I have two solutions.  The far better one, if you don't mind very bitter foods (salt is used in processing olives because it removes the bitterness) and can afford them, is to buy salt-free peruvian botija (also spelled botilla) olives.  Alternatively, get pitted, unstuffed olives not packed in oil, and soak them for 8 to 10 hours, changing the water several times.  You'll taste the difference – virtually all the salt has been leeched out.  Then marinate them in vinegar, water, and seasonings.  Buy bottled instead of canned ones to reduce the acrylamide content, as canning requires higher processing temperatures than bottling.
    Whatever benefits may exist in olive oil, olives are far, far superior – if you get rid of the excessive salt.  (Oranges are better than orange juice, too!)

  14. lisa shapiro October 23, 2010 at 11:04 am - Reply

    another great post with discussion.
    what is a huge bummer is that the HEI (healthy eating initiave) that Whole Foods is endorsing is very against any added oil and salts and the food is somewhat bland and boring. they are doing such excellent work in many aspects by promoting rip esselstyn, china study and forks over knives and the training of the staff in plant based eating etc…i went to whole foods screening of forks over knives and they had appetizers that were taken from fire engine 2 diet and it was Booooring and sort of tasteless- i wouldn't be thrilled to bring a carnist to the table and tell them that was what they had to look forward to. these docs like furhman and mcdougal are very vocal about oil and salt and it is being heard but maybe to the ar/vegan detriment?
    i love this blog very much. thank you for all the great writing.

    • Ginny Messina October 23, 2010 at 11:10 am - Reply

      Yes, I agree. The anti-oil, anti-salt message is having a big impression on many vegans. Without good science to back those stances, it seems unfortunate to promote a way of eating that is likely to turn away many people who might otherwise consider veganism. Great tasting food that is super-easy to make is the best advocacy!

      • Jackie February 26, 2012 at 6:16 am - Reply

        But there really is good science to back it up. Dr. Esselstyn, Rip’s father, has done extensive work with heart patients who were told they had only one year left to live. Yes, his plan is drastic, and it is for health reasons. I know a low fat, low salt diet is boring (at first), and after reading “The Pleasure Trap” by Lisle and Goldhamer, I now understand why.

  15. Rebekah November 13, 2010 at 9:32 am - Reply

    I agree with  you!  I have been suckered in by some of the arguments against using oil in the past, and have tried some oil-free cooking methods, such as "sauteeing" onions in water or broth.  I found that this released a very pungeant, unpleasant smell into my kitchen and the final dish was not nearly as good!  I'm so much happier sauteeing onions in olive oil, which releases the most delicious aroma…and I highly doubt that the 2Tbsp olive oil that I used in an entire pot of soup will do any damage to my health.  🙂

  16. Josh Latham December 8, 2010 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    I'm not anti-fat but I am against pouring on the olive oil by the truck load. I think there is a healthy balance. If you are consuming more than a couple tablespoons a day of olive oil you risk gaining weight and that can't be good for your health. Oils are fat which are immediately stored as fat in your body. Fat unhealthy vegans aren't good for any of our causes, AR or health. For someone like me who has battled a weight problem, I try to eat low fat but I'm not a fanatic.
    I think the problem with olive oil is that it has the reputation for being so healthy, for something that is mostly fat with very few nutrients, no carbs or proteins. People pour it on thinking they are doing something really good. What happens is they get too much of a "good thing". If only people would just eat a tablespoons here and there, but they don't. Like some vegan diets that go overboard (raw), so do some people with things like olive oil.

    • Ginny Messina December 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      I agree; I’m not in favor of pouring it on by the truckload, either. But small amounts of fattier foods actually do help some people to maintain a healthy weight loss. The advice to go very low fat (which I know you aren’t advocating) isn’t necessarily the best for either weight loss or heart health. So a little olive oil can be good–but you are right that some people go overboard with it.

      • Robert January 10, 2011 at 11:20 am - Reply

        I read that olive oil consumption in Greece is around 1 litre per person, per month. Does this sound correct to you? I follow a diet which one could describe as vegetarian mediterranean and I use over a 1/2 litre a month just for myself. That's less than what I used to use.

        • Ginny Messina January 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm - Reply

           I don't know if that is accurate or not, but it certainly sounds reasonable since it translates to around 2 1/2 tablespoons per day. I'm sure there's a big range of intake across Mediterranean countries, though. Your intake sounds like a better amount to me.

  17. Nancy January 19, 2011 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    I don't shun oils but my husband is now afraid of them.  This is based on a point made by Dr.Esselstyn.  His stance is that oil, even plant oils and particularly olive oil, immediately injures the endothelial linings of the arteries, there's no nutrients, it's all fat, basically.  Have you heard Dr. Esselstyn and what do you make of his points?

    Just found your blog and I am enjoying everything I a have read so far.  Will visit often.


  18. Ginny Messina January 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Nancy, it isn't true that all oils injure the endothelial lining. The research is very conflicting about this and some of it shows that certain oils actually improve endothelial function. There are studies showing that supplementing very low fat diets with plant oils can improve almost all factors affecting heart health. While none of the findings are absolutely definitive, the idea that we should avoid every drop of every oil is on pretty shaky ground. Even if high amounts of vegetable oils are shown to be harmful, there is no evidence that small amounts of these foods are bad for you.

    Thanks for checking out my blog!

    • Andrew S November 19, 2011 at 12:02 am - Reply

      To Ginny Messina- Are you a Dr? Did you conduct a 20 yr study like Dr Esselstyn? His study was the longest ever conducted with phenomenal results- and you try saying some oil is good?! His research is FACT, while yours is merely second hand info. I’ll stick with Dr Esselstyn’s advice. Just after 2 weeks the improvement in heart function was amazing.Just take a look in his book at the scans.

      • AZBlue October 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm - Reply

        Keep in mind that despite the headlines about Dr. Esselstyn’s studies, once you dive deeper into his actual protocols you see that he also put his patients on statins. How can he claim that a whole foods, plant-based diet was the sole reason for the improvement in his patients’ health when statins alone may account for the majority of any health benefit to these patients? We are talking about patients for whom everything else has failed. Esselstyn’s study would have been far more compelling if his patients were not taking statin medications.

        Dr. Esselstyn’s findings and positions are supported by Drs. John Macdougall, Dean Ornish, and Neal Barnard. There appears to be a lot of support and consensus building behind the fact that use of olive oil is preferable in places where an animal fat or saturated fat product would otherwise be used, but supplementing ones diet with olive oil is contrary to good health. The goal should still be to eliminate as many oils from one’s diet – including olive oil.

      • Matthew October 5, 2016 at 10:36 am - Reply

        Dr. Esselstyn does not perform double-blind experiments. He doesn’t use control groups. His research shows correlation but does not prove causation.

    • CIV February 25, 2012 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Hi, do you by chance have citations for those articles? I do have to say that I was skeptical about the no-oil thing, but after seeing a presentation by Dr. Esselstyn and Jeff Novick, I found their research to be fairly compelling. I would definitely be interested in those articles you referenced, to read both sides. Thanks!

  19. Kimberly January 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks for a great article and all the wonderful responses.  I am launching into a vegan diet for health reasons.  Not that I have any health issues (I'm type 1 diabetic but that was caused by a virus that I cannot correct with diet).  My choleterol, blood pressure and triglycerides are already good.  I just felt like I had become a lazy eater and was resorting to processed foods too much.  I started by following the Engine 2 Diet after seeing a friend start it but immediately questioned why no oils.  (One of my favorite meals since cllege is to parboil/steam some broccoli and then saute in some oilve oil [very little!] garlic and onions and eat over brown rice.  I hardly think that continuing this will jeapordize my health.  I will not be guzzling the olive oil and probably won't cook with it more than 2-3 times a week.  As someone else said, a vegan who uses some oil or even a salt source to enhance the flavor of their meal (assuming salt not adverse to a health condition) is leaps and bounds ahead of the guy who is eating fast food every day.

  20. graciela. February 20, 2011 at 12:06 am - Reply

    My stepsister went vegetarian recently and she's been knee-deep in shunning a lot of foods on the assumption that they are unhealthy. She refuses to use salt (yucky bland food!). I'm just so tired of everything causing cancer one week, being healthy the next week, and then being back on the evil column. I've gotten to the point where I can live with sugar, oil, and salt in moderation. I feel like we should focus more on cooking from scratch in our homes and controlling what goes into a meal than being nuts about a dash of olive oil.

    • Robert February 21, 2011 at 10:27 am - Reply

      I agree. The sodium content of processed foods is crazy but if you prepare whole natural foods at home then you control your intake of salt, sugar and fats. I think that's the way to go. In this information age it can be overwhelming when a study says one thing but is contradicted by another study the following week! I say, look at how healthy populations live and eat and rely less on what the study du jour says. I'm sure the Okinawans could care less about these studies and they seem to do just fine. ;o)

  21. Nancy C. March 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    One of the things I saw on an old cooking show years ago was, "fat equals flavor!" I think we can agree that it does. What I see from the evolution of my own cooking is that meat eaters depend on the meat to give flavor to the dish. Take out the meat of a regular recipe, and it's generally awful. I find that even with vegetarian and vegan recipes, I double the spices (except for hot spices and garlic, which I taste first because many of my friends can't handle them). Cumin, coriander, dried basil, whathaveyou– they are either heaped or doubled. And folks love my cooking. I also use olive oil and generally use light olive oil when a recipe calls for canola. And though I've lightened up a bit, the oil adds flavor to my dishes, so I'm keeping it. 

  22. Ronald March 8, 2011 at 1:22 am - Reply

    Here's an interesting "mathematical" argument against small amounts of olive oi:

    • Robert March 8, 2011 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Novak and Esselstyn, et al are members of the lipophobic crowd. I've never been a fan of low-fat because its not very palatable and it has a negative effect on lipid profiles. People get worked up about cholesterol to the point that their sole purpose in life is to lower their levels as low as they will go regardless how they do it. TC, by itself, is really rather benign in terms of CHD. There are ratios (TC/HDL and LDL/HDL) that are much better predictors of CHD risk. Low-fat diets lower LDL but at the same time they also lower HDL which in turn raises one's TC/HDL ratio. A higher ratio is not what you want. The TC/HDL ratio should be <=4. The LDL/HDL ratio should be <= 3. Low-fat can also raise triglycerides. If you get a caloric boost on your predominantly plant-based diet (low in calories to begin with) from cooking with moderate amounts of oil so much the better plus you will be doing your lipid profile a favour and possibly lower your CHD risk! People can have a heart attack whether their TC is 150 or 300mg/dl. Another thing that most lipophobics don’t consider is the distinction between large and small particle LDL. The distinction is important. Small particle is the highly atherogenic form that you do not want in your bloodstream. Low-fat, high carbohydrate diets will lower LDL, no doubt about that, but they also leave you with more small particle LDL. Lowering your carb intake and increasing fats will lessen this effect resulting in more large particle LDL. Lipophobics like Novak seem to ignore the fact that most every traditional diet involves oils, lard, etc in its food preparation. Nobody, including myself, is saying that you should drown your food in oil but let’s not be ridiculous to the point of paranoia.  

      • Adam January 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm - Reply

        They are not paranoid, Olive oil contains saturated fats. The hard numbers are far more important than ratios , your about 5 years behind the research.

        • elan sun star May 1, 2013 at 10:24 pm - Reply

          not quite olive is predominantly monounsaturated fat and phyto elements adn the cultures that eat it in quantity have excellent lipid profiles as well as healthy lives.

  23. Ginny Messina March 8, 2011 at 8:19 am - Reply

    That argument has no relevance for vegans eating healthy diets. Nobody is recommending consumption of a teaspoon of olive oil for every 50 calories you eat! If you're eating a healthy diet based on whole foods, you can easily incorporate a serving of nuts and a couple teaspoons of olive oil and still have a diet that is 20 to 25% fat. And when the fat is coming from these food sources, that's a very healthy diet.

  24. Ronald March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Good points, Robert and Ginny. Thank you both. In the end, though, it's still better to go for the more nutrient-dense forms of fat: avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, and the occasional coconut. You get the fiber and more nutrients that way. I don't think small amounts of oil are a big problem. But when you have a recipe that calls for, say, a quarter cup of oil, you're lowering the nutrient density and increasing the calories from fat to an extent that's hard to justify nutritionally when you could be eating a whole food instead.

  25. Ginny Messina March 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Ronald, for your comments. It depends on how many servings that recipe using 1/4 cup of olive oil makes 🙂 Yes, adding oil lowers nutrient density of a meal and that can be a problem for people on low calorie diets. For those who are meeting their nutrient needs and eating a diet that is rich in phytochemicals, it's not. It's not an "empty calorie" food because it contains unique phytochemicals. And there is certainly evidence that it's associated with lower chronic disease risk. Depending on calorie intake and other factors, some people can afford to have more than others. But my point really is just that it's ridiculous to demonize olive oil as some have done as a "junk food," and insist that no one should ever have any.

  26. Ronald March 9, 2011 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    Ginny, there's the philosophical and scientific question of whether meeting one's nutritional needs is sufficient, or whether one should strive to exceed them. How much benefit is there to having a nutrient intake in excess–perhaps greatly in excess–of need?
     It may be too harsh to call olive oil junk food, but it is a fractioned food, and given the composition of olive oil and of olives, the whole food seems like a far better choice to me. (I'd say tempeh is better than tofu for the same reason.) Of course, olives aren't a liquid, so while it may be a nutritional comparison, it's not a choice between culinary equivalents. So maybe it's not really a fair comparison.
    I'm remembering how, many years ago, I would get okara, the fibrous byproduct of tofu production, from a local tofu shop, and use it to make veggie burgers. If you had the equipment to cure and process olives, you could consume the olive oil, pulp, and water (although I'm not sure what you'd do with the bitter olive water, unless you didn't mind the taste because you took it as a sort of medicine). If you ate the olives your olive oil is made from instead of the oil, you'd get more nutrients, and some fiber–just as you would if you ate wheat berries instead of white flour–or wheat germ, for that matter.

  27. Ronald March 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Here's something about the pulp left behind in olive oil production:

  28. Mike December 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    I’m a devotee of Esselstyn’s for 3 months with tremendously positive results. Cholesterol and weight have plummeted. We use lots of vegan recipes that call for oil by substituting veggie broth, or in bake goods, applesauce. Non-stick cookware is a must. The results have been very tasty and nutritious food without the oil/fat/vascular damage.

    • Adam January 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Amen. Had a heart attack at 43, no heart disease in family, was 20 pounds overweight chlosterol was 203 when they admitted me. 3 months on vegan NO OIL diet and have 120 chlosterol.

  29. STeve July 2, 2012 at 7:05 am - Reply

    It actually makes a great deal of sense to cut ALL oils if you study endothelium health, especially if you are a vegan who is tying to reverse or halt heart disease

  30. Mike July 11, 2012 at 8:27 am - Reply

    It is my understanding that your body manufactures and regulates oils needed for cell development. Your body also stores excess oils in fat cells and draws upon them as required. It is also my understanding that you can obtain “good” oils from flax seed meal, nuts, avacods and coconut oil. It is my understanding that olive oils and similar oils are detrimental because they are processed, by processing them it changes the oil and makes them act as an “inflammatory” agent with artery lining, thus promoting calcification and lesion damage. With this understanding I dot consume processed oils and limited natural oils. Fish oil 5grms a day, sashimi salmon and mackerel once a week, and any oils from plant sources.

  31. Alex July 17, 2012 at 12:31 am - Reply

    Hey Ginny,

    I recently read you shouldn´t use olive oil for frying because it becomes toxic. Do you know more about this?


  32. Gary Gustafson March 28, 2013 at 5:19 am - Reply

    I exercised with a trainer at a gym and they insist that I have protein shakes or cottage cheese with an apple 30 minutes after exercise. She has a lot of education, and is adamant that if I don’t do it, I will get sick
    What should I eat to get protein after my workouts?

  33. elan sun star May 1, 2013 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Aloha I have been 100 raw vegan for 48 years and never had an issue with fats at all.. This comparison between well processed pressed olive oil and white suger is absolutey ridiculous!. no similarity at all.
    Good cold pressed olive oil is not adulterated like white sugar white depands on high heat and a lot of chemical processing and bleaching Olive oil– non of this. Yes vegans can be fanatical and especially raw vegans which i am but I am not positional as that could never work.

    since our brains are over 80%fat and water and nevers are fat lined and ells all 50 trillion have a fat (lipid) membrane.

  34. Fidel May 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    One of the Blue Zones where people live very long lives is the Greek isle Ikaria where they eat plenty of olive oil. Those people eat lots of fruits & veggies, get fresh air and a good amount of exercise. Would they live even longer if they didn’t eat olive oil? Who knows, but it’s clear that people can live long, healthy lives while enjoying the taste of olive oil.


  35. Mark G August 5, 2015 at 6:58 pm - Reply


    I just want to say thank you for writing such and insightful article. I have been a vegan for 25 years and have been a bit confused over the past few years when the Forks Over Knives folks started their campaign of no salt, no sugar, no oil, blah blah blah. Of course we now have to concern ourselves with the Olive OIl being real as well. I’m sure you’re aware that most of the olive oil sold in stores isn’t the real deal. I did a bit of research and buy real OO from a local market near me. I don’t use it all the time but I have used it in vinaigrettes. As an ethical vegan I have to draw a line when people come along and tell me how to eat and they’re not even real vegans themselves. McDougall, for example, is not vegan. He has even stated that he eats turkey occasionally so that he can relate to his masculine audience. What rubbish is that?

    As for the research, the jury is still out. And it becomes more and more confusing because you’ve got all of these guys saying no to oil, sugar, salt, etc. and you’ve got Dr. Klapper saying no to wheat. I make my own sourdough and consider it some of the healthiest bread I can consume. Lately though, it’s hard to enjoy my food since I’ve got one person screaming about acylamides, another screaming about oil, etc.

    Is all of this wearing on you as well?

  36. abcs August 11, 2015 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Is this the case for palm oil? What is your opinion?

  37. […] Olive oil, Health, And Advocacy […]

  38. Zangief August 18, 2015 at 3:08 pm - Reply
  39. […] bubble that is impervious to the latest scientific research which contradicts them. In moderation, fats like olive oil are healthful, and won’t ruin the health of vegans who eat a healthy […]

  40. Michelle @ Leo Sigh.com March 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I ignore most of what these people who are extremists say about olive oils etc. and eat what I like to eat and that I know makes me stay healthy.

    Besides, the Spanish eat olive oil by the truckload (seriously, have you been to Spain and seen how much a Spaniard pours on a typical salad?) and yet they are the world’s second longest living people — only second to the Japanese — and live far longer and healthier lives than these people that are always screaming at other people about what is ‘healthy’ to eat.

    I use at least a liter of olive oil a month, yet am incredibly healthy (last time I went to a doctor was over 25 years ago) and thin. So, nope, I don’t care what others think about olive oil. I love it 🙂

  41. Dee July 26, 2017 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I have been a vegetarian with the majority of my meals Vegan, for many years. I recently joined a Vegan group, brought food having no idea they were a “no oil, sugar, salt ” group. Needless to say, my dish with a bit of olive oil was not a hit. To me, my choices has always been about not eating animals and limiting all animal products when possible.
    There are so many great posts on this site and I am so happy that I found all of this great information.

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