Part 3- Mastering Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

Part 3- Mastering Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

Enjoy learning about the Mediterranean diet, written by Sonya Douglas, Director & Principal Accredited Practising Dietitian, Dietwise Nutrition Clinics.  Stay tuned for parts 4 and 5 in this series.

Olive oil is used as a staple in the Mediterranean diet and delivers a plethora of health benefits as we learnt in Part 1 of my Mastering the Mediterranean Diet series.   Research findings into disease prevention of the Med Diet is compelling with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes demonstrated. The great news is for olive oil lovers is that these health benefits were shown when fat intake was unrestricted.

Nutritional benefits of EVOO in your diet include;

  1. Delay of stomach emptying by increasing satiety or satisfaction post meals which can help reduce food intake and help with weight control
  2. Rich in phytonutrients, especially polyphenols such as flavones, anthocyanidins flavonols and lignans to name a few. For maximum polyphenol content, buy local and fresh by checking the harvest date on EVOO food labels which should be as close as possible to your purchase date
  3. Preventing inflammation from the oleocanthal content which works in a similar way to ibuprofen
  4. A great source of Vitamin E which also acts as an antioxidant to protect the cells in our bodies and helping our organs to function properly
  5. Helping absorb many other antioxidants such as beta-carotene, and of course the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
  6. Boosting the flavour profile of foods to increase meal time enjoyment which can help control serve sizes to help with weight control
  7. Rich in monounsaturated fat and lower in saturated fat which has shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve heart health

In addition to the nutritional benefits, EVOO is versatile as it can be safely used in all methods of cooking from sautéing, frying and baking as they start to smoke at 210 degrees Celsius. Which is higher than the heat required for deep-frying.

Olive oil is available in many different types including pure, refined, virgin, extra light,  and extra virgin olive oil (EV00). The differences between each type are due to the way the olives are extracted and processed. EVOO is the highest quality olive oil, as the oil is extracted from the ready olives by cold pressing. This means that no heat is used to extract the oil, ensuring that antioxidants and minerals were not damaged by heat.  Cold pressing preserves both the nutrients and the olive flavour. Virgin olive oil is made from riper olives but should not be used for high temperature cooking. Pure olive oil often uses heat in the extraction process, meaning that some antioxidants become damaged. Light olive oil contains the same calories and fat as the other oils but just has a ‘lighter’ flavour.

With so many benefits, olive oil is a must add ingredient to your diet. Start with adding flavour by simply drizzling on everything you can think of- toasted bread, feta, mozzarella or ricotta, soup, salad, vegies, pizza (try chilli infused oil) and even ice-cream! Experiment with replacing butter or margarine with EVOO for baking cakes. Think outside the square and try a polenta-based cake which is a match made in heaven with EVOO.

A tip to increase your EVOO intake:  Pour some EVOO into a small, freezer-proof  container. Put container in freezer overnight, then move into the fridge to soften to a spreadable consistency. You can enjoy this homemade olive oil spread in place of margarine and butter in your baking and everyday uses for a healthier, tastier alternative.