Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Something’s greasy about Dr Esselstyn’s diet

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?



Time to toss those omega-3 supplements?

According to a new study we should all toss out our omega-3 supplements. This study found that there was no association between omega-3 supplementation and risk of death from cardiac events nor stroke. I’m not convinced enough to stop taking my supplement yet though.

Dietitians, and other health care professionals, have been encouraging omega-3 supplementation for those who do not consume enough (2-3 servings) fatty fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel) for a number of years. Previous studies have found that people who consume more of these types of fish have decreased risk of death from heart disease and stroke.

The problem lies in the fact that no supplement can compensate for a poor diet. If you’re consuming red meat and high levels of omega-6 (as most North Americans are) then you’re not likely to benefit from taking an omega-3 supplement. In the studies where consumption of fish was increased there was also a corresponding decrease in consumption of meat.

I’m going to continue to take my omega-3 supplement just because I know that I don’t eat enough fish. However, I also eat very little meat. The other reason that I’m going to continue to take my supplement is that there is a possibility that there may be other benefits to omega-3 supplementation beside cardiovascular health. Although current research is inconclusive, there may be benefits to mental well being.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should take an omega-3 supplement. If you can eat more fish, and less meat, you’d be much better off doing that.