bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Something’s greasy about Dr Esselstyn’s diet

17 Comments

A friend and reader recently alerted me to this article about the horrors of including oils in your diet. I confess, I groaned when I started reading the article.

“Part of living a plant-strong life is letting go of oil. This includes all oil: olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, ANY oil.

(You can keep motor oil for your cars!)”

According to the author, much touted healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are healthy despite the oil included in them, not because of the oil included in them. I understand their argument that oil is made by processing whole foods, as a dietitian, I’m often advising people to consume foods in as close to their natural state as possible. However, in some cases this just doesn’t make sense.

Yes, oil is fat. This is not a bad thing. Fat is not the demonic food it was believed to be back in the 1980s. We need fat in our diets (about 20-35% of our calories should come from fat). Oils can provide us with some healthy fats. I honestly don’t know how I would cook my food or make a pesto if it weren’t for olive oil. How dull my diet would be if I were to only eat plant-based foods without any added fats.

I would venture to guess that the key is really consuming fewer convenience foods, not less plant oil.There is no evidence, aside from anecdotal, to support Dr Esselstyn’s diet. If he were simply advocating a plant-based diet I would say there was nothing particularly wrong with it. However, he advises against consuming any fat-containing foods such as nuts, avocados, and oils. I’m also wary of any doctor who is profiting from selling you a book that makes health promises.

Further in the article, the author suggests that a fat-free diet can be healthy and we can get enough fat in our diets by applying oil to our skin. This blew my mind a little. It shows a clear lack of understanding of nutrition and the digestive process. There is no way for fat or vitamins applied topically to be absorbed into our blood stream and used by our bodies. Oil applied to skin acts as a moisturizer not as food. It’s not just about the fat itself, it’s the ability that fat affords us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (ADEK).

For those concerned about omega-3s, fear not, Dr Esselstyn says, “It is difficult to be deficient in Omega 3 if eating 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed meal and green leafy vegetables at several meals”. That’s odd because 1-2 tablespoons of flax meal provides us with about 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. This can provide us with up to 0.064 g of DHA and 0.096 g of EPA (the essential fatty acids we can only obtain through dietary sources such as fatty fish). One cup of spinach provides about 0.044 g of omega-3 (0.0176 g DHA and 0.0026 g EPA). The general recommendations for EPA and DHA are 1.25 g each per day. This oil-free diet provides about 16% of our needed DHA and nearly 20% of our needed EPA. Perhaps moisturizing with mackerel will provide those missing omega-3s?

 

Author: diana chard

I'm a registered dietitian living in Nova Scotia, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

17 thoughts on “Something’s greasy about Dr Esselstyn’s diet

  1. This is crazy! The only saving grace is that no one would be able to stick to this kind of fat-free living for more than a few days, I can’t imagine a diet without any fats. Love the line about moisturizing with mackerel :)

  2. Have you heard anything about consuming algae supplements? The argument being that fish obtain their omega 3 from algae, so we could too.

  3. Hi! I’m a poster child for the other side. I’ve been following the recommendations of Dr. McDougall (very similar to Dr. Esselstyn’s) since 2005 (lost 70 lbs, have kept it off for 7 years now, enjoy my food, no health problems). Below I’ve linked an article that shows the sort of thinking that makes their logic compelling for me. Jeff Novick is a dietician who works with both Dr. McDougall and Dr. Esselstyn.

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/mar/med.htm

    TomInTN from fitocracy

    • Thanks for sharing Tom! I’m not convinced of much by that chart as Western food has become highly prevalent in many areas of the world. It would have been more interesting to have seen a table from before the infiltration of fast food and pop in countries like Egypt. That being said, different eating patterns can work for different people and if you are content and healthy on such a diet, I say “power to you”. I am a little curious what foods you consume for fats.

      • Hi, Diana! Thanks for your response. The only thing I eat specifically for the omega-3 fat it contains is a small handful of walnuts on my breakfast. I just looked up kale (I eat at least 3 cups of steamed kale a day) on nutritiondata.com and discovered it’s more than 10% calories from fat (4.4 calories out of 36.4 in a cup of cooked kale).

        I know Dr. Esselstyn recommends against nuts for his cardiac patients who need to reverse their heart disease. On page 69 of “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” Dr. E writes, “Those who have heart disease should avoid all nuts. Those without disease can consume walnuts in moderation because they can provide considerable omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for many essential bodily functions. But I am extremely wary of nuts. Although short-term studies funded by nut companies show that they may positively affect good and bad cholesterol, I know of no long-term studies indicating that they can arrest and reverse heart disease, and patients may easily overingest them, elevating their cholesterol levels.”

        I agree with you that Western food is taking over the world. I’m intrigued by the fact that even in the recent past, with that trend well in place, there are still places with under 5% of their populations being obese. I don’t have data to show it, but my guess is that the places with the lowest obesity rates are also the places where Western eating styles have penetrated the least.

      • You’re a dumbass.
        Heart disease and arterial diseases kill more Americans than all other causes combined, not to mention the years of disability suffered prior to death, all attributable to the standard american diet.
        Where’s your research to back your claims?

      • My previous reply is directed to that idiot, Diana.

      • Phew! I was a little worried when I saw a comment come through calling me a “dumb ass”. Not that it hasn’t happened! ;)

      • This is intended to be a reply to June. I couldn’t find a way to respond directly to her comment.

        Hi, June,

        Many folks I know would agree with your characterization of me. :)

        You wrote, “Heart disease and arterial diseases kill more Americans than all other causes combined, not to mention the years of disability suffered prior to death, all attributable to the standard american diet.”

        If you intended to be making that assertion, I agree with you. If you intended it sarcastically (which is what I think you intended), then yes, I do believe that the standard American diet is a major cause of the degenerative diseases that plague Western culture.

        With regard to research, I would suggest looking at the work of Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall (www.drmcdougall.com), Dr. Neal Barnard (http://pcrm.org/), Dr. Michael Greger (http://www.nutritionfacts.org), and Dr. T. Colin Campbell (The China Study, Whole). They reference lots of studies to show that a low fat plant-based diet provides all the nutrients needed for good health and generally lead to better health outcomes.

        The only other bit of research I can mention is myself — I’ve been following the recommendations of these doctors since 2005, have lost 85 pounds since 2003, and am very active (run every day) and in great health.

        Have a great week,
        Tom

  4. Dr. Esselstyn’s main focus is helping the endothelium of the arteries to heal. For those with cardiovascular disease (almost all of us have some atherosclerosis and plaques already–even children), extracted oils should be avoided and even nuts/avocados should be avoided until the integrity of the endothelial lining is restored. Bill Clinton’s coronary artery disease was reversed using this approach.

  5. Hi, June,

    Many folks I know would agree with your characterization of me. :) Sorry I couldn’t find a way to reply directly after your comment.

    You wrote, “Heart disease and arterial diseases kill more Americans than all other causes combined, not to mention the years of disability suffered prior to death, all attributable to the standard american diet.”

    If you intended to be making that assertion, I agree with you. If you intended it sarcastically (which is what I think you intended), then yes, I do believe that the standard American diet is a major cause of the degenerative diseases that plague Western culture.

    With regard to research, I would suggest looking at the work of Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall (www.drmcdougall.com), Dr. Neal Barnard (http://pcrm.org/), Dr. Michael Greger (http://www.nutritionfacts.org), and Dr. T. Colin Campbell (The China Study, Whole). They reference lots of studies to show that a low fat plant-based diet provides all the nutrients needed for good health and generally lead to better health outcomes.

    The only other bit of research I can mention is myself — I’ve been following the recommendations of these doctors since 2005, have lost 85 pounds since 2003, and am very active (run every day) and in great health.

    Have a great week,
    Tom

  6. I find women have the most trouble letting go of fat. They have an emotional addiction to it.

    10% is all you need and that’s perfectly represented with fruit and veg.

    30 bananas a day bitch.

    • I respectfully disagree.

      Fat is an essential nutrient. While we all have different needs I believe that consumption from a variety of sources is important and most of us need to consume more than 10% of our total daily calories from fats and oils.

      30 bananas a day is excessive.

  7. The greasy irony is this: I eliminated oils from my diet based on the non-anecdotal, science-based research presented in the works by Drs. Esselstyn and McDougall. I make luscious meals that are oil free. But on occasion, I eat meals at the cafeteria of my local health food store, and these meals contain olive oil. To me, the food tastes “greasy”, actually, “oily”, and the oil detracts from the flavors. I have become accustomed to, and now prefer, meals that are oil free.
    Our tastes and taste buds are socialized from the time we are tots. Changing behaviors and beliefs is a chore. I empathize with your resistance to the information that the doctors have presented. I used to find oils tasty, too. Good luck.

  8. I have been on the Esselstyn diet for 3 years and have been getting all of the benefits as advertised. Cholesterol is down, weight is down (lost 45 lbs), I have a ton of energy, I eat a lot of great food. I eat when I’m hundgry, and don’t have to bother counting calories. Its easy to stick to the diet because I have felt absolutely great! And Esselstyn’s proof is much more than anecdotal if you take the time to look at his resaearch as well as the research by Colin T Campbell. Its absolutely not about selling books either, unlike others, all of the information is available online. I respect that you’re a registered dietician, but you need to get your facts straight!

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