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This article is part of a series on the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
The Lord tells us He ordained “wholesome” plants for our “constitution, nature, and use” (D&C 89:10). From a nutritional perspective, wholesome plants are the plants as He designed them: the way the plants look when we harvest them from the garden or pluck them from a tree. Whole plants contain just the right combinations of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, fiber, and micronutrients that our bodies thrive on.
People readily understand that sugar is not a whole food and is not a wholesome food, but many people have a hard time understanding why oils (such as canola, sunflower, olive, coconut, and others used in cooking) are not wholesome, even though it is equally obvious that oils are nothing like the whole foods the Lord created for us.
To create either sugar or oils, we have to destroy the beautiful packaging designed by God by removing much of what makes the whole food healthy: vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and literally tens of thousands of phytochemicals (most of which we don’t fully understand):
- When we also remove the fat from a whole food, what is left over is pure sugar, essentially devoid of all other nutrients.
- If instead we remove the carbohydrates, what is left over is pure fat, essentially devoid of all other nutrients.
Foods that contain calories but essentially no nutrients are “empty calories.” Both sugars and oils fit this definition. If we use very small amounts of empty calories, it may not do significant harm, but this does not make these “wholesome” foods. Refined oils are the junk calories of the fats, just as refined sugars are the junk calories of the carbohydrates.
Eliminating oil from our diet has tremendous benefits: weight loss and improved health are the two most significant. A big bonus is that kitchen cleanup becomes much easier! I never realized how much of the chore of washing dishes was linked to the use of oil until I stopped using it. Now, washing dishes is a pleasure and cleaning the kitchen is a breeze!
Here are 5 reasons whole food, plant-based (WFPB) experts recommend we ditch the oils.
- Oils are Highly Processed Foods
We know what whole foods look like. We also know what it means to take whole foods, like brown rice, beans, squash, or tomatoes, and minimally process them in our own kitchens. We may chop them, mash them, or cook them, but they remain recognizable and retain most of their nutrients.
Oil production is unlike anything we do in our kitchens. Even the ancient process to extract oil through cold pressing destroyed most of the packaging of the whole food. It was also extremely labor intensive and required a large amount of plant food to produce a very small amount of oil. Very few of our ancestors consumed any extracted plant oils at all until industrial processes were developed during the early 20th century. Today oil production takes sophisticated machinery, lots of chemicals, and intense processing.
Watch this short video to witness how modern vegetable oils are made: “How It’s Made – Canola Oil.” Cold pressing is better in that it uses less heat and toxic chemicals, but it still produces highly-processed oils (see this short video on cold pressing, “How It’s Made Vegetable Oil,” and notice at the end of the video the contrast between the whole foods and the processed oils made out of them).
Here is what WFPB experts tell us:
- “Chemically speaking, free oils are chains of carbon found in a purified state. Extraction processes have removed all of the other ingredients of the whole food. Thus, free oils are no longer intermixed with the naturally-designed and balanced environment of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and ten thousand other chemicals found originally in the plants.” — John McDougall, MD (“When Friends Ask: Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?”)
- “When you extract the oil from the whole food it was packaged in, you remove it from its antioxidant – and phytochemical-rich environment. You turn a moderate nutrient-to-calorie into a low nutrient-to-calorie food, and at the same time damage the quality of the fat with heat.” — Joel Fuhrman, MD (Eat to Live, p. 131)
So where should we get the fat we need in our diet? Dr. Fuhrman concludes, “Get your fats as nature packaged them. It is best to consume the little fats we need in their original packages: whole food” (Eat to Live, p. 130).
- Whole Plants Contain All the Fat We Need
Some fat is not only good for us, it is essential. Our bodies require two essential fatty acids: omega 3 and omega 6. Only plants can synthesize these chemicals, so both humans and animals depend on plants for these nutrients. What is important to know is this: the dietary requirement for these nutrients is so low that we can easily get all we need by consuming whole plant foods. Whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and even fruits contain the essential fatty acids we need.
From WFPB experts:
- “According to the National Academy of Sciences, adequate daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids is 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men. This translates to between 1-3% of our daily calories or about 1/4 to 1/3 of a teaspoon a day! Not very much at all and easy to attain with even the most basic plant food based diet.” — Matthew Lederman, MD and Alona Pulde, MD (Keep It Simple, Keep It Whole, p. 87)
- “All plant foods contain adequate amounts of fats and only plants make the essential fatty acids that promote good health.” — John McDougall, MD (“Diet, Not Genes, Controls Destiny”)
- “Whole natural plant foods (whole grain, greens, nuts, and seeds) supply adequate fat. If you eat an assortment of natural foods, you will not be deficient in fat. We do not need to take fish oil, evening primrose oil, or any other oil when we eat healthy foods.” — Joel Fuhrman, MD (Eat to Live, p. 135)
- Oils are Calorie Dense and Promote Weight Gain
If we get all of the fats we need from whole foods, the only thing processed oils add to our diet is empty calories. How many people do you know who need extra calories? Not only are oils empty calories, as pure fat, they are the most calorie dense foods on earth and the foods best suited to be stored as fat on our bodies.
Our bodies are designed to store fat for a rainy day, a time when food is scarce. When we consume pure fat, it takes very little for our bodies to move it from our lips to our hips. As Dr. John McDougall likes to remind us, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.” This is verified scientifically: when blood is drawn from our body, the fatty acid composition of the blood readily reveals the type of fats we have been eating.
According to WFPB experts:
- “When fats are ingested in the form of extracted oils, they are rapidly and efficiently absorbed by the body and immediately converted into body fat. If these fats were instead ingested from whole foods . . . their absorption would be much slower, over hours, not minutes and these fats would be mostly burned for our energy needs and not stored. Also, the fibers, sterols and stanols . . . would bind some of the fat in the digestive tract, like a sponge, limiting the amount of fat absorbed by the body.” — Joel Fuhrman, MD (“Olive oil is not a health food”)
- “Manufactured oils are no more nutritious or necessary than refined sugar or white flour – but are a more concentrated calorie source, with about 100 calories in just one tablespoon.” — Janice Stanger, PhD (The Perfect Formula Diet, p. 55)
- If the serving of veggies is 25 calories (1/2 cup), adding even just 1 tsp. of oil would raise the total calories from 25 to 65 and the majority of the calories (62%) would now be coming from oil. Since most of the calories are no longer coming from the vegetables, this technically is no longer a side of veggies but a side of oil, with some veggies added” — Jeff Novick (“The Myth of Moderation”)
- Oils Have a Negative Impact on our Bodies
Because oils are highly-processed foods, they don’t interact with our bodies in the same way whole foods do. Just as a piece of sugar candy affects our body in a different way than the same amount of sugar in a piece of fruit, a serving of oil affects our bodies differently than the same amount of fat in a vegetable. In the whole food form, sugar and fat are protected by the packaging the Lord created, and are therefore digested and used by the body in a wholesome manner. Outside of that packaging, they can work like a drug or even a poison in our bodies (depending on the amount consumed).
Multiple studies demonstrate both the immediate and long-term negative impact of processed oils on our bodies. Here is just some of the evidence cited by WFPB experts:
- “Poly and monounsaturated fats – found in large amounts in vegetable oils and fish – have been shown to depress the immune system, increase bleeding and promote cancers, especially those of the colon, prostate and breast.” — John McDougall, MD (“Fat & Cholesterol: Primary Poisons”)
- “One of the most important clotting factors predicting the risk of a heart attack is an elevated factor VII. All five fats tested—rapeseed oil (canola), olive oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, and butter—showed similar increases in triglycerides and clotting factor VII.” — John McDougall, MD, (“When Friends Ask: Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?”)
- “[A] study that looked at olive oils’ effect on blood flow showed that a single meal with olive oil caused increased vessel spasm and decreased blood flow compared to control meals. Specifically, this study showed that when test subjects were fed the olive oil meal, their major blood vessels had a 31% decrease in blood flow compared to the control.” — Matthew Lederman, MD and Alona Pulde, MD (“The Good, Bad and Ugly About Oils”)
- “Serial angiograms of people’s heart arteries show that all three types of fat—saturated (animal) fat, monounsaturated (olive oil), and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and -6 oils)—were associated with significant increases in new atherosclerotic lesions over one year of study. Only by decreasing the entire fat intake, including poly- and monounsaturated-oils, did the lesions stop growing.” — John McDougall, MD, (“When Friends Ask: Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?”)
- “Large amounts of fish oils inhibit immune function. Lowering the function of natural killer cells is not a good thing, as our defenses against infection and cancer diminish.” — Joel Fuhrman, MD (Eat to Live, p. 127)
- Oils Contribute to a High Fat Diet that Promotes Disease
Most of the serious chronic diseases of our day are caused, in part, by the high level of fat in our diets, and processed oils are a large portion of that fat. Here are some of the health problems linked to a high-fat diet. Click on them for more information.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Let’s Choose Prudence!
WFPB experts all agree: the ideal diet avoids not only animal foods but also processed foods, especially oils. These experts have decades of experience examining the scientific literature and working with clients. They have found nothing in the literature or in clinical practice to suggest that any person “needs” or is benefited from using processed oils.
The Word of Wisdom does not specifically prohibit using oils, but neither does the Lord ordain them for our use. Instead, He gives us the principle to use “wholesome” plant foods with “prudence” (D&C 89:10–11). We can each do our own prayer and research and decide how we will interpret the Lord’s counsel. In this article, I’ve featured what the WFPB experts have to say because they have shown the wisdom and courage to promote a diet in harmony with the Word of Wisdom, so I think their perspective is worth our consideration.
How to Ditch the Oils
When you prepare your food at home with whole foods, it is easy to leave out the oil completely. It is harder to avoid oils when you eat out, but with some thought, you can avoid most of them. Here are tips for “Reducing Fat in Your Diet and Cooking Without Oil.”
Studies show the “craving for fat” leaves the body within 90 days, after which you don’t miss it. This helps to dramatically decrease food addictions, which largely depend on the combination of added fat, sugar, and salt to foods.
For more on oils and other topics, see: Discovering the Word of Wisdom Topics (A-Z)
For help getting started on a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started.”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”
 Before the 20th century, people used the fat from animals, though even that was very limited for the vast majority of people who were not wealthy. For the modern development of vegetable fats, see: Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham, “How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet,” The Atlantic (April 26, 2012).
 I also discuss the topic of fats and oils here: Jane Birch, “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Healthy Fats & Vegetable Oils,” Meridian Magazine (July 8, 2014).
 “High Fat Food – Straight to Your Bloodstream,” Fooducate.com (May 2, 2012).
 Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (New York: Avery, 2007), p. 115.