On the Kojo Nnamdi show http://thekojonnamdishow.org/ today I heard Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn talk about the dangers of eating any kind of oil. The message I got from him on the program was that ALL oils should be removed from the diet. Dr. Esselstyn claimed that oils among other things caused inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels which is a significant cause for coronary artery disease which can lead to heart disease.
The rules of his diet are:
1. You may not eat anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, or fish).
2. You cannot eat dairy products.
3. You must not consume oil of any kind—not a drop.
4. You cannot eat nuts or avocados
Things you can eat are:
1. All vegetables except avocado. Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, veggies that are red, green, purple, orange, and yellow and everything in between.
2. All legumes—beans, peas, and lentils of all varieties.
3. All whole grains and products, such as bread and pasta, that are made from them—as long as they do not contain added fats.
4. All fruits.
Over the past 12 years he reports this diet has helped the patients he has been following for coronary artery disease. He reports in his book seeing total arrest of clinical progression and significant selective reversal of the disease (Esselstyn,2008)
Although I fully support a diet rich in vegetables, fruits , legumes and whole grains, I am concerned by his recommendation to completely remove all fats from the diet. So I went to chapter 10 of his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary , Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure to find out why Heart Healthy oils are bad for us.
His main point is that olive oil , a monounsaturated “heart healthy” fat, actually consists of 14-17% saturated fat ( the kind that clogs our arteries). And even though the original studies on the Mediterranean style diet (which recommends olive oil as being heart healthy) slowed the rate of progression of coronary artery disease it did not arrest it or reverse its effects. He goes on to share research from noted scientists like Colin Campbell, Dr David H Blankenhorn, and Lawrence Rudel which supports the negative effects of monounsaturated fats like Olive Oil on coronary artery disease.
What about Omega 3 oils from Salmon,other fatty fish and Flax seed oil?
There are numerous studies showing the anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 fats and even its benefits in coronary artery disease and heart disease. One study demonstrated a 29% decrease in heart attacks and death in men who had already survived one heart attack (Burr,Fehily & Gilbert, 1989). When I went searching his book I discovered he does allow flax seed oil which does contain omega 3 oils. So his diet isn’t 100% oil free as he stated on the radio today.
What was not made clear to the listeners of the Kojo Namdi Show was that omega 3 fatty acids(from Salmon or Flax seed) and omega 6 fatty acids ( from Sunflower oil, Corn Oil etc) are considered essential fatty acids. They are called essential because the human body cannot create them and therefore they must be consumed. These oils are essential for healthy cell membranes, vision, the nervous system including the brains, and the immune system. It was shown early on that patients who couldn’t eat and were given Intravenous Nutrition with only carbohydrates and proteins developed essential fatty acid deficiency within only 7 – 10 days (Stegink,Freeman, Wispe& Connor , 1977). Some symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency include:
Dry skin (e.g., feet/face/general)
Scaly or flaky skin (e.g., legs)
Cracking/peeling fingertips & skin (e.g., heels)
Small bumps on back of upper arms
Patchy dullness &/or color variation of skin
Mixed oily and dry skin (‘combination’ skin)
Irregular quilted appearance of skin (e.g., legs)
Thick or cracked calluses
Dandruff or cradle cap
Dry, lackluster, brittle or unruly hair
Soft, fraying, splitting or brittle fingernails
Dull nails – lack of surface shine
Slow growing fingernails
Inadequate vaginal lubrication
Premenstrual breast pain/tenderness
Excessive ear wax
Allergic (e.g., eczema/asthma/hay fever/hives)
Crave fats/fatty foods
Stiff or painful joints
Benefits of Essential Fatty Acids in the Diet
Essential fatty acids play a key role in brain function. With almost 60% of the brain made up of fat. Deficiencies have also been linked to neurological impairment ( Hoffman, Johnson & Hatch, 1982). Dietary oils are also essential for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.
Furthermore a study of 45,000 US men who were followed for 14 years showed a 16% reduction in risk of coronary heart disease with each 1 gram per day increase in dietary omega 3 fatty acid intake. And even more impressive was in those men who ate little or no seafood before the study. They saw a 47% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease with each 1 gram per day increase in dietary Omega 3 fatty acids (Mozaffarian , Ascherio , Hu et al, 2005).
I believe the publicized message that Dr. Esselstyn gave on the Kojo Namdi Show today was reckless in its ambiguity. His misleading advice to remove all oils from your diet without clarifying the importance of supplementing with flaxseed oil added to the current confusion of what constitutes a healthy diet. It is the responsibility of health professionals to be clear on the message they are providing. And clear information should not be dependent on the purchase of a book, especially when the omission of critical information could lead to severe health complications.
Tomorrow I will discuss the difference between omega 3 fatty acids from Flaxseed versus fatty fish like Salmon.
Burr ML, Fehily AM, Gilbert JF, et al. Effects of changes in fat, fish, and fibre intakes on death and myocardial reinfarction: diet and reinfarction trial (DART). Lancet. 1989;2(8666):757-761. (PubMed)
Esselstyn Jr. M.D., Caldwell B. (2008-01-31). Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure (pp. 5-6). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
Holman RT, Johnson SB, Hatch TF. A case of human linolenic acid deficiency involving neurological abnormalities. Am J Clin Nutr. 1982;35(3):617-623. (PubMed)
Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005;111(2):157-164. (PubMed)
Stegink LD, Freeman JB, Wispe J, Connor WE. Absence of the biochemical symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency in surgical patients undergoing protein sparing therapy. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977;30(3):388-393. (PubMed)