Whether consuming oils (coconut, olive, canola, flax, hemp, almond, and many more) is healthy or not has become a hot topic these days, so I thought I’d present my stance which is not the black and white opinions that are floating around the many health books, podcasts, and retreats.
The short version of my nutritional approach (for more detailed info see the first chapter of my book and Heavy Box Video on YouTube) is that, in essence, the macronutrients (calories) we consume are like the gas we put in a car, and the micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber, water) are like the motor oil. Motor oil is essential so that a car can burn gasoline over time with minimal wear and tear. Likewise, micronutrients in the human body serve much the same purpose—they are the tools our ‘machines’ need to better do what we are designed to do—burn calories to think, move, hear, smell, touch, taste, feel, detoxify, digest, repair, fight infection and more.
So, what about the oil we eat? Unfortunately the oil we consume is the polar opposite of motor oil in a car. Olive oil, coconut oil etc. are burned for energy (or stored away as fat in the body) and do very little to help our machines run cleanly and efficiently with minimal wear and tear. Oil is a concentrated calorie source (it takes on average about 20-40 olives to produce only a tablespoon of olive oil), 100% fat, and carries with it very few micronutrients (vitamins, minerals etc.). It’s a refined food like white flour, whey or soy protein powder, and white sugar, meaning that while it’s technically a food (since we can burn it for energy), it is far from its natural state. We can find olives in nature, but we’ll never find olive oil. Also, because oil is so concentrated calorically, it’s incredibly easy to get most of our calories from it in a meal—just a drizzle of olive oil on a large salad can mean way more calories from the oil than from the lettuce which, while far less concentrated calorically, brings way more micronutrients, fiber, and water to help the body run better.
Sounds pretty black and white, doesn’t it? Here’s where I stray into the gray zone. To be clear, as a nutritionist, I do not believe oils are a health food. But as a life/health coach, I do not believe that militancy is healthy either. Your body and mind adjust and calibrate to what you do most of the time, and a little oil here and there isn’t going to tip the scale, literally or figuratively. I have now seen many militant ‘No-Oilists’ who have what I would describe as an unhealthy relationship with food, and their stress around food is debilitating. I believe health and happiness are bigger pictures than just food, and while oil is unnatural, so is driving a car, drinking chlorinated water, sitting under fluorescent lights, putting on sunscreen, and texting.
I minimize oil in my diet, just as I minimize single malt scotch, French fries, and coffee. I include these things for pure pleasure in amounts that are not debilitating to me physically or mentally. If any caused me to be sick or to not feel good day-to-day, I’d remove them altogether, because they simply wouldn’t be pleasurable any longer (not for the sake of militancy). Understand this: There are a ton of unnatural things humans do every day in the modern world. We can either become hyper focused on not doing one or two things, or we can focus on adding a little more of what’s natural to our lives whenever we can until we find a balance that makes us happy.