I Keep Hearing About People Giving Up Oil, So I Asked a Dietitian: Is Oil Healthy?

POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

In the plant-based world, many people choose to eat a high-carb, low-fat vegan diet, which means avoiding oil. They cook without oil, forgo oil-based salad dressings, and definitely skip processed vegan butters made with oil. I had to ask an expert: is oil healthy or should I give up oil, too?

What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Oil?

Healthy oils can provide essential fatty acids like omega-3s, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and antioxidants, which registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook, said can make these oils especially anti-inflammatory, depending on the oil. She said that olive oil in particular has a large body of research behind it that supports eating a good amount of olive oil daily to reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. This is why doctors and dietitians support and encourage the Mediterranean diet, since it's rich in healthy fats.

What Oils Are the Healthiest?

Leslie's favorite healthy oils are olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. If you don't eat fish, flaxseed oil or chia oil is great for supplementing omega-3s.

What's the Healthiest Way to Eat Oil?

"Eating oil with vegetables increases the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, E, D and K," Leslie said. That means if you have a salad with fat-free dressing and no fat in the meal, you're not able to absorb these nutrients as efficiently as when you eat them with oil. She recommends drizzling cold-pressed olive oil (the greenest and highest in antioxidants) for the most benefit on a salad.

For roasting, a standard extra virgin olive oil will work nicely, as will avocado oil, which has a higher heat point than olive oil. If you're cooking food on the stove, Leslie said the healthiest way is using some olive or avocado oil over medium heat. Use flax oil as a salad topper or in a smoothie since this oil is best when used freshly and not meant for high heat.

Are Fats From Whole Foods a Healthier Option Than Eating Oil?

Many of my oil-free friends choose to eat whole-food, plant-based fat sources instead of oil, such as nuts, seeds, and avocado. Leslie said that eating fats from healthy oils and healthy foods that contain fats can give you similar intakes. You will have to eat a lot of olives though to equal one portion of olive oil. "I think a mix of both is important for a healthy diet," Leslie said.

How Much Oil Should a Person Have Daily?

The American Heart Association suggests consuming three servings of healthy oil per day for a 2,000-calorie diet, as well as five servings of nuts and seeds per week. A serving size includes one tablespoon of oil or vegan butter, one tablespoon of salad dressing, one tablespoon of nut butter, or two tablespoons of seeds or nuts. If you count your macros, you can keep your fat intake between 30 and 40 percent, which is the fat recommendation for a Mediterranean diet.

Eat good healthy plant fats in moderation, Leslie said, because one tablespoon of any fat is about 120 calories — so it can add up quickly. She added, "avoid fried foods that use other vegetables oils and processed foods with lots of fats. Stick to the real deal: avocado oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and coconut oil."