Provision #487: Optional Oils

Laser Provision

Oils are to nuts and seeds what flours are to grains and legumes: they are a highly-processed and less-nutritious version of the original. No one needs to consume oils in order to be healthy and well; we can get all the fat we need from a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat as well as free-range poultry and eggs. If you want to use oil, however, I recommend the sparing use of extra virgin olive and red palm oils. Surprised? Read on to learn more.

LifeTrek Provision

I want to begin by acknowledging the pain that some of you, our loyal readers, are feeling in the wake of our recent Provisions. After lifting your spirits with my Provision on how to be happy, I’m afraid my recent identification of nutritional concerns regarding legumes, grains, and dairy products have left more than a few of you a little despondent. “How can anyone eat this way!” has been the gist of many replies.

The short answer is, “It’s not so hard!” My wife and I eat very well on a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat, as well as free-range poultry and eggs. On occasion, we also eat brown rice, tempeh, lentils, chick peas, and • in my case • red wine. Our favorite desert is fruit sorbet. That makes for a rich and varied diet that is both satisfying and slimming. By meeting our bodies’ needs for essential nutrients, this diet does a good job at keeping us healthy (judged by all the usual indicators such blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, bone density, weight, body fat, fitness, energy level, and life satisfaction).

That said, I acknowledge the challenge of eating this way in public situations. I have been traveling a lot lately, and that means making a few adjustments and accommodations. It’s helpful, for example, to pack raw food bars (e.g., Organic Food BarsLara BarsRaw Revolution Bars, andPure Bars), nuts, raisins, and prunes. They are the keys to making this diet work on the go, and they even pass through airport security! When public choices are limited or nonexistent, these foods are healthful and convenient alternatives.

Other adjustments and accommodations include the consumption of salt and sugar, added by restaurants during food preparation (we never use any at home). When traveling, we often allow taste to be our guide. If it tastes too salty or sweet, we eat a small portion and leave the rest. We also make occasional exceptions on wild vs. farm-raised fish as well as conventional vs. free-range poultry. We seldom make exceptions on pasture-fed meat, because of the antinutrients in conventional meat. And we do not find it hard to avoid the bread basket or dairy products.

I hope that helps to bring our dietary recommendations down to earth. Although it may take forethought and shifts, they are not impossible to live with and to enjoy. In a few weeks, after we are done reviewing our basic food recommendations, I intend to include a sample week’s menu that will illustrate what it looks like to eat and live this way. I also intend to do a Provision for children. The food choices are not as strange as you might think.

I also want to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all diet for human beings. Although our common genetic inheritance optimizes our ability to digest and thrive on a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat, as well as free-range poultry and eggs, our individual genetic differences lead to a wide variety of food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies. What may be tolerated, or even work well, for one person may not be tolerated by another.

That’s why we need to take responsibility for discovering and designing the things that work well for us. If you get nothing else out of our current series on Optimal Wellness, and nothing else out of LifeTrek Provisions in general, I hope you will take away the challenge and charge to be courageous and creative in carving out a life that works for you and for our planet. There is no way to replicate anyone else’s experience. You are unique, and it’s up to you to figure out how that uniqueness is going to express itself in the world.

When it comes to nutrition, many people fail to connect the dots between their diets and their conditions. Even people who pride themselves on being “architects of their own destiny” may not put two and two together between their arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or auto-immune disorders, for example, and the foods they eat.

If we put bad gas or petrol in the car, we know the car will not run well and may be permanently damaged. That’s why scientists research and develop their high-performance formulas. We do not always make the same connection, however, and we do not always do the R&D, when it comes to the foods we eat.

The reason for highlighting our ancestral diet, the one on which we are most likely to thrive, is to suggest a starting place when it comes to food elimination and inclusion. If you are not in perfect health, and perhaps even if you are, you would do well to eat only fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat as well as free-range poultry and eggs for a period of 30 days. See if you feel better or notice any positive differences. If so, stay with it. If not, make adjustments. Keep playing with the mix until you get it right; don’t act as though food is food. To paraphrase Hippocrates, food is good medicine for both prevention and cure.

That’s especially true when it comes to fats, one of four macronutrients (the others being carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol). The idea that all fat is created equal does not reflect what we know about human nutrition. I have already written extensively about this in the Provisions on Perfect Protein and Naturally Nuts. That’s because fat is an intrinsic part of protein, nuts, and seeds. It even occurs, although to a lesser extent, in fruits and vegetables.

Human beings cannot live without the consumption of fat, but we do not need to consume that fat in the form of extracted oils. Oils are to nuts and seeds what flours are to grains and legumes: they are a highly-processed and less-nutritious version of the original. Especially when you consider how they are processed.

As everyone hopefully knows by now, the most dangerous form of processing is called hydrogenation. This process, invented during the 19th century but commercialized during the 20th century, bubbles hydrogen through liquid vegetable oils under high heat in the presence of metal catalysts for six to eight hours. The process leads to a chemical reaction that changes the form, substance, and properties of the original oil. Instead of the naturally-occurring cis– fatty acids, for example, the process generates unnatural trans– fatty acids which are hazardous to human health.

These oils are not optional for anyone. They are to be scrupulously avoided, in any quantity. They often occur in processed foods, fast foods, margarines, and shortenings. Because of the danger associated with eating these oils, there is increasing public and governmental pressure to eliminate hydrogenated oils from all foods. There is also the requirement to list trans– fatty acids on food labels, if there are more than .5 grams per serving. Be careful about such labeling, however, since it’s possible for a food manufacturer to fly under the labeling radar screen by reducing the serving size. If the ingredient list contains the word “hydrogenated,” the food should not be eaten.

Animal fats can also be processed for human consumption, as lard or dairy. These fats, which are primarily long-chain saturated as well as polyunsaturated fats, are only slightly less hazardous to human health than hydrogenated vegetable oils. The problem is not only the fat itself, it is also the quantity and concentration of the fat once it is processed into lard or dairy products. Butter, for example, is 62% saturated and 29% polyunsaturated fat while lard is 39% saturated and 45% polyunsaturated fat. That’s a lot of unhealthy, artery-clogging, fat! These foods, too, should be eliminated or at least minimized in the human diet.

Responding to such well-known health concerns, many people have switched to a variety of liquid and solid vegetable oils. Unfortunately, most of the oils sold in grocery stores, including canola, corn, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower, sesame, and vegetable blends, come from genetically-modified seeds and legumes that have been heat-processed in large batches. Such processing renders the fats tasteless, contaminated, chemically changed, and de-vitalized. They lack the healthy phospholipids, phytosterols, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds of the original. They are not worth eating, from the vantage point of health and wellness.

Fortunately, a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat as well as free-range poultry and eggs does not require much or any oil in the way of food preparation. If we’re no longer eating bread or baking grains, for example, then the issue of butter and shortening simply does not arise. I find that virtually all my cooking can be done with filtered water, balsamic vinegar, wheat-free tamari, miso, and lemon juice • even with stainless steel cookware. The idea that one needs to use oil in order to prevent things from sticking is a myth; for most foods, one needs only to cook on low heat with added moisture.

That said, if and when you want to use oils, I recommend two organic, “virgin” oils with radically different chemistries: extra virgin olive oil (e.g., for salad dressings, marinades, and lower-heat cooking) and virgin red palm oil from West African palms (e.g., for baking or higher-heat cooking).

All oils contain about 14 grams of fat and 120 calories in a single tablespoon (15 ml), so use them sparingly. A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, which comes from the first, cold pressing of the olives, has 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans– fat, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 10 grams of monounsaturated fat. A tablespoon of virgin red West African palm oil, which comes from the palm fruit rather than from the palm kernel, has 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans– fat, and high quantities of nutrients such as carotenes and tocotrienols.

A good source for both oils, along with information on manufacturing methods and health benefits, is TropicalTraditions.com. Be sure to purchase smaller quantities more frequently, rather than larger quantities less frequently, in order to maintain freshness. Do not use any brands that are not certified as organic and virgin.

Neither oil should be used excessively, and neither oil need be used at all, in order to optimize health and wellness. It’s far better to simply eat the olives and fruits themselves. But if you want to use oil, you can use these two in limited quantities without concern.

You may have anticipated the mention of extra virgin olive oil, the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, but you may have been surprised to read about virgin red palm oil. Indeed, you may not have known there even was such a thing. That’s because most commercial palm oil comes from the fruit pits of tropical palm trees, extracted under high heat and highly refined, and is, on occasion, even hydrogenated. Such oil is bad for human health.

Virgin, unrefined palm oil extracted gently from the fruit itself of the West African palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), on the other hand, is much lower in saturated fat and contains rich supplies of vital nutrients such as the precursors of Vitamins A and E (those carotenes and tocotrienols). That’s why the oil is orange in color, like a carrot (so colorful, in fact, that it can easily stain skin and clothing • so watch out!).

Unfortunately, neither olive nor palm oils provide significant quantities of heart-healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids. Those should be consumed in near equal quantities to the more common Omega-6 fatty acids, found in commercial vegetable oils, to promote health and wellness.

As we have mentioned before, the best way to consume Omega-3 fatty acids is through whole foods rather than extracted oils. Indeed, some healthy whole foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seeds, generate health risks, such as prostate cancer, when consumed as extracted oils.

Good dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include wild fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, and sable), pasture-fed game meat (e.g., buffalo or bison and venison), freshly-ground flax seeds, ground hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, free-range eggs, and dark-green leaves (e.g., kale, collard, or mustard greens).

Ultra-pure, microfiltered fish oil is another good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. A tablespoon (15 ml) of this oil includes 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans– fat, 6 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 3 grams of monounsaturated fat. The polyunsaturated fat in fish oil includes about 4 grams of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) • the best kind to get • and must be kept refrigerated to avoid rancidity. I recommend it highly.

I include a mix of ground seeds and oils in my morning fruit smoothie; this practice makes for a satisfying liquid meal that gets me all the way through lunch (and often longer) without hunger pangs or discomfort. Since the body requires fat to be healthy and well, it’s good to start the day with fats the body can draw on for energy and well being. The secret is not to go on a low-fat diet; the secret is to go on a healthy-fat diet and that’s what you get when you stay with fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, wild fish, pasture-fed meat as well as free-range poultry and eggs.

Coaching Inquiries: How much and what kinds of oil do you use? What percentage of your daily calories comes from extracted oils? What would it take to eliminate them entirely or at least to minimize them in your diet? What steps could you take to experiment with other ways of preparing food, that do not include oils? How could food become your medicine, and medicine your food? Who could you talk with to learn more about functional foods and orthomolecular nutrition?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Your last Provision was an excellent presentation of the case against dairy products in the human diet. Certainly, the point that there are allergic and enzymatic problems in some individuals is a good one, although seafood and peanut allergies are more likely to be life-threatening. Your points about contaminants and additives in our dairy industry are also important considerations. If one chooses to incorporate dairy into the diet, this has to be strongly considered.

However, making a genetic and historic case against dairy use is difficult. Humans have thrived since adapting our diet away from that of other mammals. Agriculture (“subsistence intensification”) and animal husbandry allowed us to finish our colonization of the world, greatly expand our population, and extend our lifespan. Dairy, in most temperate climate cultures, was as much a part of that technical revolution as bread and rice, to which we adapted over a few centuries to millennia.

I also worry about depriving children of dairy products • the introduction of this as a dietary staple in Vietnam, for example, has been associated with a much healthier generation of children (along with other changes, like not being at war). Children require about 1,300 mgs of calcium per day, after age nine, 3 cups of milk are recommended by NIH. I think this is medically sound (rather than from lobbying by National Dairy Association), since calcium from dairy is the most easily absorbed of nearly any dietary source.

Your recommendations are excellent for many, but should be extrapolated to children or post-menopausal women only with the greatest caution. I think tolerance for dairy is quite individual, and is worse for some than others, although the points about intolerance, contaminants, and dietary additives in cattle are spot on. Thanks, as always, for a well-thought-out and provocative Provision.

(Ed. Note: Whether or not we agree on the relative value and bioavailability of dairy as a source of calcium, we certainly agree on the importance of consuming sufficient calcium from dietary or supplemental sources. I, for one, take 600 mgs of supplemental calcium citrate per day in addition to what I get from my diet.)


Your Provisions have become one of our (me and my husband) Sunday night rituals. As two very health conscious individuals we have, over the years, been “fine tuning” our diets. Your series on nutrition has been extremely helpful in raising points for discussion as well as helping us to progress even further on our nutrition ‘trek.’ 

However, we have faced some challenges with our 2- and 5-year-olds’ diets. For example, they both love cereal for breakfast (specifically the natural, whole grain cereals from Trader Joe’s), and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (on wheat or whole grain bread). I’m wondering if you have any advice (or if any of your subscribers have advice) on how to make the transitions easier on the little ones. At school they are often served those “Trojan foods” but I find it hard to ‘speak up’ because I fear my children will think there is something wrong with them if I demand that they not be served certain snacks that are offered at school or friends’ houses.

(Ed. Note: The children piece is difficult; things are changing (like the removal of soda machines from schools) but not changing enough (or fast enough). If I were in your shoes, I would be packing lunches and talking with your children as to the principles that are guiding your decisions. With their cooperation, you can change the world. I will write more about this before our series is complete.)


Although I have been on a wellness journey for a long time now, I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it is to read the information you have been sharing! It’s overwhelming. I generally am able to absorb, and adjust pretty well, and am always looking forward to learning something new, and I don’t mind change. But the recommended changes seem extreme. It appears that your research is quite extensive, however, aren’t there some schools of thought that are more “moderate” (Dr. Weil)? 

When I quit smoking, I attended “Smokenders” • a behavior modification course over 6 or 8 weeks. Each week, they gave us a new rule to follow (can’t smoke in the bedroom one week, the kitchen the following week, the car, with coffee, etc., etc.) This worked well for me (I wanted to change, but couldn’t do it all at once). It occurred to me that perhaps if you could recommend small changes (baby steps) with the food ideas, you might help rather than overwhelm your loyal following. It’s been great that you’ve taken some ‘breaks’ from the series (I was relieved!)

(Ed. Note: I hope the beginning of today’s Provision begins to speak to this concern. The diet is not extremely impossible. Still, baby steps would be good and I intend to break it down that way before we are through.)


I read your wellness section each week and agree with what you say. But I think you need an executive summary at the end of each section. I like to send your material on to others, and they just won’t read all the copy. A short summary would let them, and me, get the gist as well as your solution. When you want us to make a change, please give us a short “to do ” list. I think this would be helpful and thanks for listening. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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