Thursday, June 25, 2020

Olive Oil: Friend or Foe?

One of the questions that I've had for a number of years now has been: How can it be that the two healthiest diets known to mankind are at polar opposite ends when it comes to olive oil?

By the two healthiest diets, I am referring to the Mediterranean diet and to the whole food, plant-baed diet. I think it would be hard to find an argument that would say there was any other diet known to us that was healthier than those two diets. And in large part, there is a lot of agreement between the two ways of eating. They are both very plant-centric, and they both emphasize whole foods and eating a wide variety of foods. But when it comes to olive oil, they are a world apart.

You can't do the Mediterranean diet without olive oil and derive the same health benefits. And you can't do the whole food, plant-based diet with olive oil and derive the same health benefits. How can this be? You would think that olive oil was either healthy for us or it isn't healthy for us?

But isn't that reductionist thinking? We isolate one particular food without taking into consideration what else it is that we're eating. It's like those who want to tell us not to eat beans because they're high in lectins. Sure, lectins by themselves are not a good thing for us to eat, but when we say not to eat beans because of the lectins, we throw out all the more important health benefits that go along with eating beans. And those health benefits are far superior to the negative effects of the lectins.

It turns out, it's the same with olive oil. You have to look at the rest of the diet to determine the heart healthy benefits or lack of benefits that olive oil offers.

The Mediterranean diet allows for eating eggs with about the same frequency as it allows for eating poultry and fish. It turns out that there are bacteria in our colon that eat choline and lechitin, and these bacteria then convert the foods they eat into a substance known as TMA that is then converted by the liver into TMAO. Why is this significant? Because foods that contain choline and lechitin in large amounts are eggs and red meats. Dr. Greger has done videos on this before and how TMAO then leads to a number of chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

So, what's the tie-in to olive oil? Well, that's what I learned this morning. I subscribe to a newsletter by a lifestyles doctor out of Washington, DC by the name of Dr. Gabe Mirkin. And what he wrote this morning was that olive oil contains a substance that kills these bacteria that produce the TMA in our colon, while leaving the trillions of other health-promoting bacteria alone.

And then it hit me. Yes, olive oil is heart healthy if we're eating eggs and red meat. That's because the bad bacteria that are fed by eggs and red meat are killed off by the olive oil.

But olive oil does not offer any particular health benefits if we are not eating eating eggs and red meat. We don't need to kill off those bad bacteria in our colons because we don't have those bad bacteria to start with. We don't have them because we haven't been feeding them.

So, in that case, olive oil just becomes pure fat, and thus added calories to those of us eating a whole food, plant-based diet.

That really clarified this quandary that I've had in my mind for some time about olive oil. I knew that nutritionists who advocate a Mediterranean diet have always insisted that you can't do the diet and get the same benefits if you eliminate the olive oil. But they never exactly said why. And it seemed to directly contradict what we in the whole food plant-based movement think about olive oil. But now I realize that there is no conflict. It was just my reductionist way of thinking by isolating olive oil out as a single ingredient as opposed to looking at the overall diet itself.

So, which diet is better? They're both healthy, but I truly believe that the whole food, plant-based way of eating is the healthier of the two.

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