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Toxic Oil - book review

Reading David Gillespie's "Sweet Poison" was a turning point for me.  He explained in plain language how fructose is metabolised by the body and persuaded me to seriously cut back on our sugar consumption.  I was so convinced, I also bought the sequel "Sweet Poison Quit Plan".  So naturally, when I heard that David was about to publish a book called "Toxic Oil" on the dangers of vegetable oils, of which I was already vaguely aware, I was keen to get a copy.  Penguin sent me a copy to review, and once again, I found it very easy to follow and was convinced of David's arguments against vegetable oils.

There's no way I can explain this as well as David does, so I will try to summarise, and if you're interested, you really need to get the book yourself.

The first thing you need to know is that eating fat doesn't make you fat.  This hypothesis was never really proven before it became a public health message.  If you've read "Sweet Poison" (and you should), you will understand that its actually sugar that makes you fat.  Although many people are still not aware that eating fat doesn't make you fat, David is not the first to try to bring it to public attention, see this video for an excellent explanation of why we have been lied to for so long.  In researching this review, I've been surprised to see how controversial this first point is, many people are just repeating the public health messages, without any idea of how fat is metabolised or how bad the science was that led to the original message.  When you read the way David explains both the science and the politics around oil and fat, just as he did for sugar, you will understand that we have been told lies for years.  So while there is no reason to avoid all fat, some fat is better than others.

And then to add to the controversy, David also proves that eating cholesterol and saturated fat does not lead to heart disease. Again, this wasn't a shock to me, but if you're new to this stuff, you may need to read the book and convince yourself.  There's also plenty of good science about the bad science that lead to this myth on this website.

Now you need to know a little bit about fats and oils.  Fats and oils are made up of triglycerides, which is to say they are three long chains of carbon and hydrogen joined to a glyceride molecule. Saturated triglycerides are generally solid at room temperature because the molecules all pack together more closely.  Monounstaturated triglycerides have one double bond, causing the molecules to kink a little and polyunsaturated triglycerides have multiple double bonds and even more kinks.  The kinks mean that the molecules can't pack together as tightly, so the triglycerides are liquid at room temperature.  All fats and oils are composed of some saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated triglycerides.  Generally fats are solid (and therefore more saturated) and oils are liquid (and less saturated) at room temperature, but essentially they are the same thing.

If you're not following the chemistry, all you need to know is that our body metabolises saturated and monounsaturated triglycerides better than polyunsaturated triglycerides, in fact polyunsaturated tricglycerides, with all their unsaturated bonds, are not good for our body chemistry at all, so we should aim to eat mostly saturated and monounsaturated triglycerides.  Most seed and nut oils contain a high proportion of polyunsaturated triglycerides and should therefore be avoided.  This agrees with Nourishing Traditions, which says that traditional societies ate more saturated and monosaturated triglycerides, as nut and seed oils, which are extracted using chemical processes, were not available.

If you're up to date with the latest nutritional advice, this may sound like total heresy, but if you refer back to my first point, you will see why the official advice is bogus.  Forget everything the food companies the government, tells you about food, and try to rely more on common sense and eating the way your grandparents did and you'll be fine.....

So what fats should we be eating?  Tallow, lard, butter,palm oil and coconut oil are mostly saturated triglycerides (although David also discusses the source of these oils and believes that we shouldn't use palm oil due to rainforest destruction).  Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated triglycerides.  Macadamia and avocado oil aren't too bad either.  Everything else including canola, sunflower, safflower, corn and peanut oil are over 30% polyunsaturated and should be avoided.  Unfortunately these are the "good oils" that we now find in most processed foods, including crackers, chips, curry paste margarine, and mayonnaise  as well as nearly all forms of fast food.  This means you're going to have to get really good at reading labels and probably also preparing some of these things for yourself.

Now just to be confusing, our bodies do need a small amount of polyunsaturated triglycerides for some very specific bodily functions.  You might have heard of omega 3 and omega 6.  These are polyunsaturated triglycerides that our body needs and cannot synthesis itself.  Fortunately we get plenty of omega 6 from the seed and nut oils that are in just about everything, but not enough omega 3.  If we don't get the right ratio of the two omegas, our body will use omega 6 instead, and this will disrupt the processes that are supposed to use omega 3.  So you need to make sure you don't have too much nut and seed oil, and you do try to consume a source of omega 3.  For this reason, I take a teaspoon each of flaxseed oil and cod liver oil each day, as they are both good sources of omega 3.  Leafy green veges and anything that's eaten leafy green veges (ie free range grass-fed meat and eggs) are also high in omega 3, and conversely anything grain-fed is high in omega 6.

The great thing about David's book is that, after he explains all the science, he analyses the ingredients in lots of common foods and suggests the safest option, as well as including recipes for homemade alternatives where there is no good option.  For us, this is not a big deal, because we already avoid so much processed foods, however it did give me some more knowledge of what to look for on ingredients lists.  And even though we live in the peanut capital of Australia, I think we will be cutting down on peanuts and peanut oil!

There were a few things that I thought David missed, and considering how much he did cover, that can be excused.  I suppose he is aiming this book at people who aren't as dedicated to avoiding processed foods as I am, but I really don't support eating refined olive oil that has been chemically processed, I'd rather stick to the cold-pressed olive oil.  Also the controversy around canola oil was not discussed, and I think it could have easily filled another book, so that's probably a good thing, although he does conclude that its too high in polyunsaturated triglycerides and best avoided anyway.

One other thing that I really appreciated, was near the start of the book where David says he's not a nutritionist or health professional, he's actually a lawyer, and his skill is to analysis evidence and present an argument.  I agree with him, that you don't need to be a nutritionist, or even have a science background, to understand and explain how the body metabolises elements of our food, and how we've come to be eating completely the wrong things.  I actually think that David has more credibility because he hasn't been indoctrinated with all the wrong information that nutritionists and doctors learn at university, he is able to keep an open mind and explain what he finds out in simple language.  I notice that this is another point of criticism on the book, that David is "not qualified" just because he's analysed the data for himself and is not just repeating the same lines that we are used to hearing.  As a non-health-professional myself, I do think its actually possible for someone who is fairly intelligent, as David clearly is, to read scientific papers unrelated to one's primary profession and draw conclusions, its just a shame that no government-funded nutritionist has bothered to do so (or not that we have heard about publicly anyway - conspiracy theory: food companies are very happy for you to have the wrong idea about fats and oils, so we remain misinformed).

Now I have to apologise for making your life so much more complicated.  Now you need to try to avoid sugar AND vegetable oil.  Fortunately there are David's books to help you with reading labels and recipes for making your own, as well as a world of blogs about eating real food.  So do some research for yourself and start eliminating and substituting all those toxic oils, good luck!

What do you think?  Will you start eating more lard and butter and cut out the toxic vegetable oils?  Get into some cod liver oil with breakfast??  Chuck out the margarine?


  1. I think it was about 2 years ago that I just became so frustrated with the food industry and FDA with their 'stats' and 'advisories' and illogical 'conclusions' and outright lies that I switched over (as much as I can) to just plain WHOLE FOODS. I've replaced modern wheat with old fashioned spelt in baking and cooking, gone veg-happy, enjoy butter & olive oil & coconut oil. I grow organic vegs. I eat eggs! And avocados. And anything else that's not processed, packaged, branded or bled dry of nutrients. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I love a good read... especially with lunch. :-D

  2. Its always hard to know who to believe, but I'll always lean towards natural sources if I can when in doubt. A story about taking fish oil supplements, I have a friend who lost her father to brain cancer. As usual through the diagnosis he saw many different doctors until he ended up with a brain cancer specialist. When the specialist found out he had been taking fish oil pills for year he pretty much said that is what would have caused the cancer, not a single other doctor had mentioned it. If you look it up on the net you will find heaps of web sites saying that they prevent cancer, and some oil supplements even advertise that they help prevent cancer. This specialist said he had treated thousands of patients and had observed a distinct and obvious link, and was very frustrated with the situation. Still hard to know who you can believe, but the flaxseed oil might be better. I'd bet I don't get enough Omega3.

    1. Hi Ian, I'm sorry to hear about your friend's father. Unfortunately it is hard to know who to believe, and even the observations of one doctor don't help, as you still don't know why fish oil might be causing a problem (was it mercury in the oil, or was the oil rancid, or poor quality??). Omega 3 from green veges and grass-fed chicken eggs is probably our best source.

  3. Could I suggest that you follow up on the studies that David quotes re human trials against seed oils and tell us whether he has reported them accurately?"As a non-health-professional myself, I do think its actually possible for someone who is fairly intelligent, as David clearly is, to read scientific papers unrelated to one's primary profession and draw conclusions,"

    Here's some help -

    1. Thanks for your comment, but I'm really not interested in the epidemiological data, there are just too many variables and its impossible to prove one way or another. I find the biochemistry far more interesting and capable of explaining the different metabolism of fats and oils in the body. I think David explained this well in his book, enough to convince me anyway.

  4. Read Sweet Poison a few years ago and stopped eating sugar. It changed my life. Not only am I back to my original slim self but I also no longer have cronic fatigue syndrome or allergies to other food (and the associated rashes).

    I changed the oil/fats I use early last year when I read Big Fat Lies. Havent felt better. I do need to get some more omega 3 though. Wouldn't mind growing some flax. Wonder if it grows in the tropics?..... I'm off to look in the seed catalogues. Have a great (not sugar filled) chocolatey day!

    1. my father in law grows flax at Bundaburg, so its work a try....

  5. I found many interesting points in this book, including but not limited to:

    -the contradictory demographic statistics of CVD in countries consuming high saturated fat diets compared to those that consume the ideal diet (eg Israel)
    -the fact we are ingesting substances that we did not evolve to consume such as seed oil and the possible effects on us as our bodies adjust to cope
    -the suggestion that unsaturated fats are more readily oxidised in our bloodstream which creates problems in our biochemical fat transport systems
    -the suggestion that heart disease is linked to the extent of oxidised LDL in the bloodstream and not total cholesterol
    -the suggestion that if consumed in moderation, saturated fats are not harmful because they are natural while unsaturated are destructive
    -that we have this simplified mental model programmed in our minds, which tells us that if we eat too many animal fats our blood becomes thick with it and it deposits out on the walls of our blood vessels, and challenges the reasoning why ateries in the heart block and not veins or anywhere else in the body, and why and how the antibodies attack oxidised LDL to create the obstructions as opposed to the deposits we envisage in our simplified mental model.
    -that deaths due to CVD have declined because of advances in corrective medicine not public education on saturated fat consumption, but that CVD disease has actually increased over the years instead...

    I think mr Gillespie perhaps has many hypotheses but his conclusions are not backed by proper scientific method of experientation, analysis and conclusion and ideally, repeatability.

    However it also seems these questions are as yet unanswered by the scientific community, let alone by Mr Gillispie.....

  6. I think the whole thing is that we need to get back to eating what our ancestors ate with a bit less fat and calories over all as we are not doing as much physical work as they were.

  7. I read Sweet Poison also and decided to experiment with removing sugar from my diet. Within 13 weeks I'd lost 5kg of excess weight, and then decided to eat whatever I liked again. Within a short space of time I'd regained that 5kg plus a couple more. I've recently gone sugar free again, and have lost 3kg in about 3 weeks.

    Having read some of David Gillespie's and Dr Mercola's ( on seed oils, I'm replacing them with olive and coconut oil. In the last twelve or so months, I've also replaced margarine (albeit Nuttelex) with butter and find that I eat far less of it. Adele Davis (a nutritionist from many years ago) encouraged people to eat only cold pressed oils and if they were worried about using too much butter, to soften whatever amount they wanted to, and blend in half that amount of cold pressed oil.

    Like many, I'm quite disenchanted with the 'health' industry. Where there is a lot of money to made, ethical and honest decisions are often abandoned. Feeding my family healthy and unprocessed food as much as possible is now my priority.

    1. thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. I agree, unprocessed foods are the best.

  8. Read Sweet Poison, decided to give it a try

    1. 5kg fell off, without ever feeling hungry
    2. Mid-morning cravings dissapeared.
    3. Afternoon fade-outs dissapeared.
    4. Now have no desire for sugary things and milk tastes sweet.

    Doesn't surprise me that 'eating stuff humans never used to eat is bad for you'.

    I've always stuck clear of margarines and never felt that animal fat is a problem, but this seed oil invasion of our diet is a bit of an eye opener as well.

    I'll be following Davids advice, it makes more sense than anything else I've ever read.


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