On the vegan food pyramid, you can find vegetable oil at the top, meaning that you can consume it if you want, but you don’t need to do.
Oil is highly processed and relatively low in nutrients, especially compared to the food from which it was made. For those reasons, it is usually not a part of a whole-foods diet.
Nevertheless, consuming vegetable oil also has some benefits. Thus, there may be some instances where keeping it in your diet may be beneficial.
So, in this post, we will take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of vegetable oil. We also discuss circumstances when it may be a good idea to keep using oil. Lastly, we’ll address whether oil is healthy or unhealthy.
The advantages of vegetable oil
- Taste. Oil not only enhances flavor but evolutionary, we are predisposed to preferring high-fat foods.
- Increased absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are better absorbed when consumed with a meal that is rich in fat, and using oil is an easy way to add fat in a meal. However, nuts and seeds have the same effect, and you can just as easily incorporate them into your meals.
- Easy way to increase the intake of beta-carotene and vitamins A, E, and K. Some may find it easier to add 1 Tbsp sunflower seed oil to their salad than adding 3-4 tbsp whole sunflower seeds, for example. Nevertheless, if you practice a whole-foods vegan diet, you likely get plenty of these nutrients through other means, so oil is not necessary.
- Olive oil, especially extra-virgin olive oil, may help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol levels. Walnuts and almonds, however, can help lower cholesterol even better and have other health benefits as well.
SummaryBenefits of vegetable oil include: improved taste, increased absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, easy way to increase intake of beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K, as well as a positive impact on cholesterol levels.
The disadvantages of vegetable oil
- Highly processed and low in nutrients. Olive oil may contain fatty acids that have a positive impact on heart health. Olives, however, provide these health-promoting fats plus many other vitamins and minerals that are lost during the production of oil.
- High in calories and fat. There are about 120 calories and 14 g of fat in just one tablespoon of oil. If you want to lose weight on a healthy vegan diet but struggle, vegetable oil may be the reason. Omitting it is one of the easiest ways to reduce calorie and fat intake.
- Unbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Oil is rich in omega fatty acids, which may appear as a good thing at first. However, many vegetable oils contain very high amounts of omega-6 and not a lot of omega-3, which can offset the Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. Moreover, you can easily meet your omega-3 requirement by consuming nuts and seeds, among others.
- Free radicals. The production of vegetable oil creates free radicals. When you consume oil, you also take those in, which can be harmful. Free radicals can accelerate the aging process and play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- Additives. Vegetable oils contain additives to prolong shelf life, which may be harmful to health.
- Promotion of cardiovascular diseases. Oil can damage the innermost layer of the arteries and thus contribute to the development of cardiovascular diseases.
- Suppression of the immune system. A high consumption of oil may weaken your immune system.
SummaryDisadvantages of vegetable oil include that it is highly processed, low in nutrients and high in fat. Moreover, the consumption of oil may cause an unbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and increases the exposure to free radicals. Further, it may promote cardiovascular diseases and suppress the immune system.
Reasons to keep oil in your diet:
There are a lot more disadvantages to using vegetable oils than there are benefits. However, under some circumstances, it may make sense to keep oil in your diet. These include:
- When using oil helps you eat more of other nutrient-rich foods. For example, if you enjoy your salad more with olive oil, and thus consume salad more often, it makes sense to keep using oil. The benefits of a nutrient-dense/high-vegetable diet outweigh the disadvantages of oil (when used in moderation).
- When you want to gain weight. Oil (in moderation) can support a healthy weight gain.
- When you want to use oil as a healthier alternative to products like vegan butter or margarine.
SummaryYou may want to keep using vegetable oil if it helps you eat other healthy foods, or your goal is to gain weight. Moreover, you may use it as a healthier alternative to vegan butter or margarine.
So is oil healthy or unhealthy?
In my opinion, there is no black or white answer. I think it’s crucial that everyone weighs the pros and cons for themselves and decides what is best for their own needs.
I’ve decided to limit my consumption of vegetable oils because of the low nutrient density and possible adverse health implications.
However, I’m choosing not to be 100% compliant. The foods I cook and bake are almost always oil-free. But when I go out to eat, for example, I’m okay with choosing a vegan meal that contains oil.
And like everyone else, I have days where I eat like crap, and the foods I eat in those moments may also contain oil.
So don’t be afraid to make your own rules. While I would encourage you to limit your consumption of oil, you need to decide for yourself what is best for you.
If you already have a health condition, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor or RD as well.
If you plan to continue using oil preferably choose cold-pressed oils because they are the least processed and retain the most nutrients.
Also, try to limit oils that are high in omega 6 (canola oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, peanut oil, etc.).
If you do want to reduce your use of vegetable oils or avoid it altogether, this guide about cooking and baking without oils will help you get started.
Don’t be intimidated to give it a try. An oil-free kitchen does require a little patience and practice but stick with it, and you’ll experience all the benefits and become a pro at it in no time.Summary: There is no black and white answer to whether vegetable oil is healthy or unhealthy. Ultimately, each person should weigh the pros and cons and decided what is best for their situation. If you choose to remove oil from your diet, you don’t need to pressure yourself to be compliant all the time, though, of course, you can be. If you decide to keep oil in your diet, preferably use cold-pressed oils with a good omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.