My clients regularly ask me how important using olive oil is. Of course, we have all heard about olive oil's health benefits. But there is still understandable confusion. I'm regularly asked, "How does olive oil compare to other oils? How does it work? What kind of olive oil is best? How much should I use?" My answer: It depends...
These are important questions as more and more science is finding that the nutrients in olive oil, called "polyphenols," are responsible for its superior health benefits. Increased longevity, reductions in cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and various cancers, are among the benefits, confirmed a 2015 review of studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition. But olive oils can vary significantly in their polyphenol content. There are four times more phenolic compounds in high quality extra virgin olive oil versus low quality or refined olive oil - 232 mg vs 62 mg per kilogram of oil - so it is important you choose the right olive oil.
"99 percent of olive oil's health benefits are related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself," said Nasir Malik, NIH Scientist. "And without the polyphenols, you might as well use the less expensive canola oil."
Surprisingly, when tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, polyphenols were low in most commercially available olive oils. They also didn't live up to international quality standards defining extra virgin olive oil. These standards require an acidic pH, necessary to protect the nutrients. And the olive oils' pH had degraded - even in the highest end gourmet shops - according to studies conducted at the University of California at Davis Olive Center.
That's because olive oil's polyphenol content diminishes, and its acidic pH degrades over time, as days, weeks, and months go by after harvest. Other factors play a role, too: the harvesting methods, the age of the trees, the ripeness of the olives, the processing, and the storage. Since time, heat, and light affect polyphenol content, choose olive oil that:
- Is no more than one year old (look for the harvest date on the label),
- Is in an air-tight, dark glass, or tin container,
- Is stored in a cool environment, and
- Smells and tastes like olives, which could be fruity, grassy, or peppery.
Is olive oil better for your health than other oils? The answer is yes, according to a new study in Nutrition & Diabetes. For one, "The risk of type 2 diabetes reduced by 13% with increasing intake of olive oil up to 15 to 20 grams per day (3 to 4 teaspoons)," according to the study. When refined olive oil, or other oils, were compared, extra virgin olive oil (which was high in polyphenols) was more beneficial for the prevention and management of diabetes. It was associated with lower fasting blood glucose, and a lower Hemoglobin A1C, a three-month average of blood glucose and an important marker for diabetic complications.
Other studies have found high polyphenol olive oil improves health in many ways:
- Increasing levels of good cholesterol (which helps clear artery-clogging fat from the bloodstream),
- Improving artery wall health and functioning (important for healthy blood pressure, blood flow, reducing blood clots, and the risk of cardiovascular disease), and
- Reducing oxidation and inflammation processes involved in many diseases from infections to cancer.
To take full advantage of your olive oil's flavor and health benefits, save your recently harvested, high quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on vegetables, salads, or anything! When cooking with high heat, i.e., stir frying, use canola oil or nut oils instead, as they can be less expensive, and have higher smoking points so can tolerate higher temperatures without burning.
My favorite vinaigrette: Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 or 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. The proportion of olive oil to lemon juice depends on how tart you like your vinaigrette. You can also add a smidge of mustard or herbs. Serve!
One shop in Georgetown which consistently sells high quality olive oils is Georgetown Olive Oil Company. It is locally owned and operated at 1524 Wisconsin Avenue. The shop displays rare-to-find information, such as the oils' date of harvest, provenance, and detailed descriptions. And you can taste any of the oils at any time. I highly recommend this cozy and friendly specialty shop where they clearly understand what makes a great olive oil!
For more detailed information on olive oil, read my Washington Post article: "Most Olive Oil is not as Healthful as You Think"
Spring has always seemed more like the new year to me than January first. Perhaps my inspiration comes from longer, warmer, sunlit days, delicate vegetables and fruits, like asparagus and strawberries, finally popping up, flowers blooming everywhere, neighbors venturing out of winter hibernation with their first happy greetings of the year, and sounds of their children playing in the street. Celebrations are occuring all over the city showing off our beauty and splendor to the tourists. In fact, I think I'll make my New Year's Resolution today! And it'll be easy - preparing batches of veggie salads, at least weekly, to help me and my friends shed some of our winter "padding." Making delicious veggies your main course at dinners (lunches, too) helps manage your weight easily. salads and soups
Asparagus is one of my major harbingers of spring. Here I'd like to share some of my favorite asparagus recipes excerpted from my book, Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes: 50 New Reasons to Cook In Season!, where you'll find dozens of other seasonal recipes:
Butter is Back! And it's even good for you? These declarations can be illustrated by the dizzying array of delicious butters now available: besides the old-fashioned American butters, you can easily find the extra rich Irish and French Butters, and a variety of premium, grass-fed, and organic farmers market butters extolled for their superiority, and with a premium price tag to match. Is this a food lover's dream come true? Even some nutritionists have joined the bandwagon, and yours truly has been confused.
This seemingly good news may have started with the widely read earth shattering 2002 New York Times Magazine story, "What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" by Gary Taubes, featuring a big, fat, juicy piece of steak on the cover. More recently, Mark Bitman wrote a 2014 New York Times story covering a scientific study in the March 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine journal concluding that eating saturated fat, the so-called artery-clogging, demonic fat in butter, did not raise a person's risk of heart disease. This exciting news, covered in just about every print and broadcast media outlet around the world, reversed decades of medical advice saying the opposite was true.
So, how do we hash out the truth?
This is an important question as one in every four deaths of Americans are from heart disease, so it's a critical issue concerning the health of the majority of Americans - and my clients, who rely on me to get it right. After all, what's more important than your health?
Upon exhaustive research, I've found the answer, interestingly, is not too different than conclusions made by Harvard scientist, Ancel Keys, and other respected scientists in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s: that the type of fat - not total fat - is responsible for the rise in heart disease because of its affect on blood cholesterol levels.
But how important is blood cholesterol level? A multitude of factors increase heart disease risk, such as calcification, inflammation, blood pressure, high triglycerides, diabetes, obesity, inactivity, smoking, family history, gender, and age. But, apparently, the correlation between high LDL(bad) cholesterol levels and heart disease has been well established and is still deemed significant to your risk of heart disease and your health. Conclusion: Keep LDL low (under 100) and HDL high (Over 50) to prevent heart disease risk.
And the most recent clinical study - the gold standard of scientific studies - has confirmed the worst (if you're a butter lover, that is): Replacing the saturated fat in butter with unsaturated oils, not only raises HDL (good) cholesterol - which clears fat and reduces placque in the arteries - using oils instead of butter also reduces artery-clogging LDL (bad) cholesterol from the bloodstream. Conclusion: Use oil instead of butter to reduce heart disease risk.
In the recent Harvard School of Public Health's analysis of the controversy, the scientists review decades of research showing the successful reduction in heart disease risk by replacing butter (high in saturated fat) with oil, replacing steak with salmon, and eating a plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the reduction of LDL cholesterol, the increase in HDL cholesterol, the resulting effect on lowering heart disease risk, and improving your overall health. Conclusion: The decades-old recommendation to eat a plant-based diet carries the day.
So, what about those New York Times articles? Well... Caveat Emptor! Don't believe everything you read, and consider the source (be sure the information comes from a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, and compare it to other established science).
To say this Swede, raised on cream and butter, is disappointed, is an understatement! But I still use luxurious butter sparingly, when I deem necessary!
And it's a relief to know that all these years, helping my hundreds of clients lower their LDL and raise their HDL cholesterol levels by replacing butter with healthy oils and other lifestyle changes has not been a waste! WHEW! No rioting necessary :-)