Everyday Nutrition: Should We Cut Out Sugar and Oil?


As a new vegan mom, I am finding it hard to follow a “no oil, no sugar diet” with my kids. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Personally, there is no way in Hades that I would follow a no oil, no sugar diet for myself—let alone if I was left in charge of a kiddo’s diet. I’m not sure when veganism became synonymous with consuming a diet without added sugar and oil, but I have conducted vegan cooking classes and you would think I had  two heads by the reaction of some attendees when I poured a smidge of olive oil into a pan. I get it; I’m from Cleveland—land of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, the physician who popularized the idea of eschewing oil in preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease. People following a whole foods, plant-based diet hold him in high esteem. Do I think such a diet restriction can have positive results on reversing chronic diseases? Yes. I have seen clients who are living proof. Yet, I am not convinced that one has to give up added sugar and oil in order to be healthy.

Could most of us benefit from cutting back on empty calories provided by sweeteners and oil? Absolutely. As a society, we enjoy processed foods that often are heavy in sugar, salt, and added fat. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-third of American adults are considered obese, while more than one-third of children fall into the overweight or obese categories. This is certainly troubling as we know that chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are associated with a higher Body Mass Index. And, we know that children are developing these conditions at younger and younger ages. Having worked in a child obesity clinic, I have seen children with blood sugar levels like those of uncontrolled diabetic adult patients. Some research shows the benefits of restricting added sugar intake in obese children which makes good sense, but sugar was not cut out completely. It fell more along the 10 percent of total calories range (which is a highly debatable figure, but food politics is not the topic here. Suffice to say, the sugar lobby is kind of powerful).

Most Americans—adults and children—consume significantly less than the recommended amount of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes. This is where the real problem lies. When I see vegan families (or omni families for that matter) encouraging these foods and their kids are accepting them, I find it difficult to suggest that they cut out sugar and added oil. I am never going to tell a mom to not allow her child the vegan cookie or to avoid adding a little olive oil to the roasted veggies, especially when there are no glaring medical concerns. When the diet itself becomes overwhelmed with empty calories from things like sugary beverages, while displacing nutritious options like vegetables, then yes, that is a cause for concern. 

It should be noted that our individual health outcomes are a culmination of many factors including genetics, environment, and socio-economic status. Our dietary patterns are only one piece of the puzzle. Further, I think we need to stop what seems to be this unannounced contest of who can eat “more clean” or whatever the heck this movement is within the vegan community. Creating the mindset that stopping the consumption of animals is somehow not vegan enough is ridiculous and scientifically unfounded.    


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Disclaimer: Although Anya Todd, R.D. and Kara Rienzo, R.D.N. are registered dietitians, the nutrition content provided on is for educational and informational purposes only. Any or all changes to your diet and lifestyle should always first be discussed with your professional healthcare providers. assumes no responsibility or liability for any consequences resulting directly or indirectly from any action or inaction you take based on the information found on or material linked to on this website.

Posted in Advice Columns, Everyday Nutrition

Anya is a registered, licensed dietitian with more than a decade of experience in clinical settings, research, education, and community outreach. Currently, Anya is pursuing a graduate degree in Sustainable Food Systems. When not working or studying, she runs the Mid-Ohio Animal Welfare League, a volunteer-operated nonprofit that provides foster care to medically needy companion animals and brings low-cost vet services to under-served areas. Read more about Anya.