Monday 29 April 2013

Week 18 Nutrition Habit: Olive Oil

Healthy fats help your health, your body composition and your performance. An important aspect of effective performance nutrition is not to simply cut fat out of your diet, but rather to replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats (and get an optimal level for you). Since I have already talked about one of the best fats of all time - fish oil, it is time to gradually add more super fats into your diet. Therefore, in week 18 of the 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You series, it is time to give your heart a little love with a little olive oil.

Back in the 80's and early 90's, fat was North America's public enemy #1! People looked at the obesity epidemic and the rise in deaths due to heart disease. What was causing all this? Since fat was what our coronary arteries were filled with and fat has 9 calories per gram (instead of the 4 that carbs and protein have) it must be the fat - right? Wrong. At the same time researchers were baffled by what people now affectionately call the Mediterranean Diet. How were people in the Mediterranean eating more fat than North Americans and yet having way less heart health problems? While the complete answer to this question is worthy of a book, not a blog post, one element is that a large majority of fat from the Mediterranean diet is in the form of olive oil.

Health Benefits of Olive Oil

  • High in oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat) which is very heart healthy
  • Lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and raises HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Protects against the development of colon cancer
  • Helps make nitric oxide more bioavailable (great for dialating the arteries)
  • One of the few foods that the FDA permits to make a health claim on the label
  • One of the few oils that you can find in your average grocery store that is not heat processed
What does extra virgin mean and is that important?
Extra virgin refers to the processing method of the oil. To make olive oil, olives are put into an olive press and the oil is squeezed out of them. Extra virgin is the oil that comes out in the first press. This oil is filtered and put into a bottle. Simple, natural and super healthy. Olive oil that is not extra virgin is often involves heat and possible chemicals to extra the oil. Best to leave this on the shelf.
The one on the right (extra virgin) is what you want to look for
Olive oil and fat loss
While research is clear that carbs seem to be a bigger problem that fat when it comes to fat loss, you should still use caution. Liquid olive oil packs a lot of calories in a very small amount. In most cases you can use it, but be careful with the amount.

Olive oil for extra and muscle gain
Hard training athletes and those seeking to gain muscle often struggle to get enough calories in. Once sufficient levels of protein and carbs are attained, adding extra healthy fats can help bump your calorie totals up while taking up minimal space in your full stomach.

Getting olive oil into your diet
  • Drizzle over salads (add other items such as balsalmic vinigar and seasoning to create your own dressing)
  • Pour over steamed veggies for a "mock stir fry" click HERE for full recipe
  • Add to power shakes for a smoother texture and extra calories if needed
  • If you are eating grains (more on this another time) e.g. rice, try mixing olive oil in with the grain
  • Italian butter: if you eat bread (e.g. whole, sprouted grain) try making toast and then dipping the toast in olive oil instead of using butter or even worse - margarine
  • One time when traveling I had the "brilliant" idea to try getting some olive oil in via the shot glass approach. This tasted awful and I almost vomited it right back up. Try if you dare, but the other methods are way more pleasant. 
What about cooking with olive oil?
This is typically not recommended. One knock on cooking with olive oil is that it has a low smoke point. When you exceed this, the oil starts to burn and smoke and this can be harmful to your body. However, being a monounsaturated fat, is it still better than cooking with the more delicate polyunsaturated fats (e.g. canola oil). Another disadvantage is that you lose some of the health benefits when you heat it. I still use olive oil for some cooking on low temperatures because I like the taste and it is convenient. However, oils such as coconut oil are a better choice.

This week's habit
This week's habit starts with putting "extra virgin olive oil" on your shopping list. Then, each day try to add some heart-healthy olive oil to your diet with some of the ideas mentioned above.

Here are the links to the previous 2013 weekly habits in case you missed them:
Week 1: Kitchen Cleanout (at the end of the introduction to this series)

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