The final plant piece in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, so it is a healthier choice than many other oils. Olive oil comes in varieties ranging from extra virgin to plain olive oil. The extra virgin or virgin olive oils are the least processed, so they contain more of the plant compounds, making them better choices. These two varieties also have a stronger olive taste, so they may take some getting used to and may not work in baking.
How Much Olive Oil Should You Consume?
While olive oil may be a healthier choice, no fat should be used in unlimited quantities. Current guidelines suggest that healthy adults consume between 5 and 10 teaspoons of oil and oil-based foods each day.
This portion may sound like a lot, but if you think about a teaspoon of margarine on toast, 2 tablespoons of salad dressing or 2 teaspoons of oil on your salad, and 2 teaspoons of oil for cooking, you've met the lowest amount of oil per day. Oils of all kinds provide about 40 calories in a teaspoon, so those 5 teaspoons per day account for 200 calories.
What are monounsaturated fats?
Monounsaturated fats are a type of fat that can help reduce blood cholesterol. The term monounsaturated refers to the structure of the fat; it is this structure that affects how the fats work in the body. Key monounsaturated fats are canola and olive oils, along with peanuts and peanut oils.
The Nutrition in Oil
The main nutrition found in oils of all types is fat. Oils vary in terms of type of fat, with some containing more monounsaturated fats and some more polyunsaturated fats. All oils provide both types of fat, so if you want to use olive oil for most of your cooking but corn, canola, or soybean oil for baking, you will still consume a healthier balance of fats.
Phytonutrients in Olive Oil
The main phytonutrient in oil is polyphenols, which work as antioxidants to promote heart health and may aid vision. The main phytochemical oleuropein is what gives olives their strong flavor. While this may be the only phytochemical in olives, they are rich in other compounds that provide some health benefits. Olive oil is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which appear to be helpful in disease prevention.
Making the Switch
If you're currently using oils, switching to olive will be easy. If you're currently using sold fats like butter or shortening, you will need to adjust the recipes for baked goods, but otherwise the oil will work very well. Olive oil does carry a stronger flavor, so if you want a milder oil try canola oil.