Wednesday, May 7, 2014

3 Myths of Consuming "Healthy" Oils

Olive oil is heart healthy. Coconut oil performs miracles. Flaxseed oil is a healthy source of omega-3s. These are the health claims purported in internet articles and scientific articles across the globe with these oils and others.

Are they true? Do these oils actually come through as the end-all, cure-all for all our aches and pains? Can heart disease really be cured by simply consuming large amounts of olive oil in the diet? Does coconut oil reverse Alzheimer's disease?

The health claims associated with oils are tempting, but don't believe the hype. Today you are going to learn the answers to these questions and more as I break down three common myths purported as truths when it comes to "healthy" oils. You will also learn about fat in the human diet and how much is actually needed in order to maintain a finely-tuned human machine.

3 Myths of "Healthy" Oils Broken Down

1) Olive oil is heart healthy

The Mediterranean Diet has popularized the consumption of olive oil. Many studies can be found boasting of a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease with this diet rich in olive oil. [1,2]

However, contrary to what has been claimed (and promoted through clever marketing techniques), olive oil is not heart healthy. It does not promote heart health. Why, you say?

It turns out that studies promoting the "heart healthy" effects of olive oil compare groups of people once eating a really unhealthy diet with significant amounts of saturated fat (butter, cream, animal fats, lard, and so forth) to people eating a diet with more monounsaturated fats (the fat found in higher quantities in olive oil). Therefore, the monounsaturated group consumes less of the health-robbing saturated fats. In other words, these studies compare mostly Western-style diets to slightly-improved versions of these unhealthy diets (i.e. Mediterranean Diet).

So do people get better? Yes. Anytime you go from worse to bad you see improvements, but less risk of heart disease does not equal no risk of heart disease. What we should really be testing is people already on a healthy diet (like the traditional Asian low-fat, plant-based diet) to those on a Mediterranean Diet.

To put it in a different way, does adding olive oil to a healthy plant-based diet that already has a very low risk of cardiovascular disease lower risk even more?

The answer is - No. One illustrative point can be seen through intervention studies where changes in diet and components of a diet are directly monitored.

One animal study tested rabbits on a normal diet and then added in olive oil. [3] This would be an intervention study. Tests were done to investigate for fatty streak formation (initial formations of artery-clogging plaques) in coronary arteries surrounding the heart. The stated results from study investigators: "Normal diet plus olive oil significantly enhanced fatty streak formation in left coronary arteries and aorta."

Results of intervention studies in humans on the Mediterranean Diet and cardiovascular disease risk were published in another study. The results: "While numerous epidemiological studies have supported the concept that adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health and particularly protects against cardiovascular disease, the limited number of intervention studies in this field have not yet provided major support." [4] No love here for the addition of olive oil to one's diet in hopes of promoting heart health. Remember, promotion of hearth health and a reduced risk of heart health are two completely different things. Promotion is superior to reduced risk.

What about those traditional Asian diets consisting mostly of plant-based foods with little to no olive oil to speak of? Are they really better than the Mediterranean Diet or Standard American Diet (SAD)? It turns out that males on a SAD diet have almost five times the rate of ischemic heart disease as their Japanese counterparts living on a traditional plant-based diet of rice and vegetables. [10] And the Mediterranean Diet in comparison? Men eating a Mediterranean Diet rich in olive oil had nearly three times the ischemic heart disease as the Japanese men. It doesn't look good for the olive oil crowd.

No study has ever been published where investigators took a group of people on a predominantly whole foods, plant-based diet proven to halt and reverse heart disease [5] and added olive oil to the diet, only to see additional benefits for improving heart health. It's never been done.

In all actuality, the addition of olive oil (as well as other oils) to one single meal spells nothing but trouble for your cardiovascular system. A decrease in blood flow by over 30% and increase in triglyceride levels by over 25% after a single meal high in olive oil was seen in individuals regardless of whether the olive oil was fresh or used as a deep-fat frying agent. [6] These changes occurred 3 hours after ingesting the meal so the effect is rather long lasting.

The take home message: Olive oil does not equal more heart health. Olive oil is harmful to your cardiovascular system.

2) Coconut oil is a miracle food!

All kinds of articles abound on the internet claiming coconut oil is a cure-all for everything from heart disease to Alzheimer's disease. True?

Dr. Michael Greger breaks down the evidence of this highly-touted miracle food below. But first, don't forget that coconut oil obtains 100% of its calories from fat (as do all oils), 86.5% of these total fat calories come from saturated fat (the worst kind of fat in terms of health effects), and coconut oil contains no fiber and practically no vitamins and minerals (all of which are extremely important to one's overall health). [7]

3) Flaxseed oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids

Everybody knows that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you. Everybody also knows that flaxseeds are an excellent source of omega-3s. If omega-3s are good for you, and flaxseeds have an abundance of omega-3s, why not just take flaxseed oil pills? Problem solved. Right?

Not so fast.

It is true that flaxseed oil supplements will increase the blood levels of healthy omega-3 fats, otherwise known as EPA and DHA. [8] Theoretically, higher omega-3 content in the blood would equal more favorable lipid panels (cholesterol levels) in adults.

Flaxseeds do promote more favorable lipid panels, but only in those supplementing with whole flaxseeds and not flaxseed oil pills. A meta-analysis study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported this in 2009 stating "Our results showed that whole flaxseed interventions were associated with significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol, whereas flaxseed oil interventions were not." [9]

To date, I could find no studies on flaxseed oil supplementation and reductions in morbidity and mortality. Nothing in regards to reducing death and disability due to heart disease or any other major chronic disease.

Sorry. Go fish.

The Facts on Fat in the Human Diet

Many people think they need to consume various oils (olive, canola, coconut, and so on) in the diet to prevent some sort of fat deficiency. After all, we all 'know' you need fat to survive. That's what most of us tell ourselves to justify the consumption of unhealthy oils. Food marketers are quick to latch on to this psyche of ours in regards to these hand-me-down health myths. That's why olive oil is "heart healthy", coconut oil "prevents Alzheimer's disease", and flaxseed oil is an "amazing source of omega-3".

Don't fall for the hype. If you're curious and want to learn more about what the human body actually needs in terms of fat in the diet please review my article below. The videos at the end are extremely informative and will give you a much greater understanding of fat and the human diet.

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by Dustin Rudolph, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Check out Dustin Rudolph's book The Empty Medicine Cabinet to start your journey towards better health. This step-by-step guide leads you through many of today's common chronic diseases (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and more), giving you the facts on foods versus medications in treating these medical conditions. The book also contains an easy-to-follow guide on how to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet as a part of an overall lifestyle change, producing the best possible health outcomes for you and your family. Hurry and get your copy today!

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Share and rate this post below or tell us what you think by posting a comment. Thank you again for stopping by and until next time... be happy, be healthy, and live the life you've always dreamed of!

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1 Covas MI, Konstantinidou V, Fitó M. Olive oil and cardiovascular health. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2009 Dec;54(6):477-82. doi: 10.1097/FJC.0b013e3181c5e7fd. Review.
2 Dalen JE, Devries S. Diets to Prevent Coronary Heart Disease 1957-2013: What Have We Learned? Am J Med. 2013 Dec 30. pii: S0002-9343(13)01111-X. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.12.014. [Epub ahead of print] Review.
3 Hosseini M, Asgary S. Effects of dietary supplementation with ghee, hydrogenated oil, or olive oil on lipid profile and fatty streak formation in rabbits. ARYA Atheroscler. 2012 Fall;8(3):119-24.
4 Lairon D. Intervention studies on Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular risk. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Oct;51(10):1209-14. Review.
5 Esselstyn CB Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol. 1999 Aug 1;84(3):339-41, A8.
6 Rueda-Clausen CF, Silva FA, Lindarte MA, et al. Olive, soybean and palm oils intake have a similar acute detrimental effect over the endothelial function in healthy young subjects. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2007 Jan;17(1):50-7. Epub 2006 Mar 20.
7  USDA National Nutrient Database. Oil, coconut. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Release 26. Available: Accessed 19 Apr 2014.
8 Harper CR, Edwards MJ, DeFilippis AP, Jacobson TA. Flaxseed oil increases the plasma concentrations of cardioprotective (n-3) fatty acids in humans. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1):83-7. Erratum in: J Nutr. 2007 Dec;137(12):2816. DeFilipis, Andrew P [corrected to DeFilippis, Andrew P].
9 Pan A, Yu D, Demark-Wahnefried W, Franco OH, Lin X. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;90(2):288-97. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27469. Epub 2009 Jun 10.
10 Tokudome S, Nagaya T, Okuyama H, et al. Japanese versus Mediterranean Diets and Cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2000;1(1):61-66.


  1. Hi Dustin,
    Great info on oils. I like how you say we are not oil deficient.
    I would like to have you back on the Fresh Cafe radio program
    soon. You tell it like it is. I like that.
    Rhonda Dunlap
    Fresh Cafe radio host

    1. Hi Rhonda!
      Thank you for the comments. Honesty is the best policy as always. Would love to be a guest again on your show. That was a lot of fun the first time. Feel free to email me whenever is convenient for you -

  2. I enjoyed your article. I know that I feel better on a limited fat diet. Don't you love testimonials, we should base all science on them! However, the report on rabbit studies does not make sense. Rabbits are strict herbivores (especially in my garden) and of course, will have poor health outcomes when fed a diet that is a radical departure from what they evolved to eat. If we must use and animal model, perhaps we should use rats. They co-evolved with us and might better represent the outcomes we would expect with humans. Or we could use non human primates, such as lawyers.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. What about Grapeseed Oil. That is really popular around here and is thought to be the best healthy oil.

    1. I know of no interventional study using grapeseed oil to halt and reverse a chronic disease (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, etc.). Until there is evidence like this I would not encourage or promote the consumption of grapeseed oil for better health.

  4. Excellent article. It sounds radical to so many people to forgo added oils but I try to make people see that oil is a heavily processed food. We want to avoid processed foods, right? No argument there. But people think of olive oil, for example, as a natural food. It sounds seductive. Extra virgin, organic, heirloom, imported from Italy. But how is that olive oil made? It tooks upwards of 500 olives to make a single bottle of olive oil. They squeeze out all the juice, throw away the fiber and flesh and along with it a lot of the health supporting nutrients. We should call olive oil what it really is: olive JUICE!


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