Popeye the sailor man, famous for his football sized muscles, has this girlfriend Olive Oyl who is good for his heart, but it wasn’t until my 19 year old son took up bodybuilding that I was introduced to the world of carbs and calories, fats and transfats and , yeah, olive oil. It IS spelt differently but is as good for the heart – OUR hearts.
Apparently the motto , as I’ve learnt in recent times, is “eat to live” not , as I have been mistakenly doing so far by switching parts of speech, living to eat. I staunchly believe that the proof of the pudding is indeed in the eating. So when I see my son’s much improved musculature, I must agree that he has a good thing going and (alas!) knows more than I do.
Here are a few excerpts from the fount of knowledge:
Oils (fats) are essential but in the right doses
Oils are the most efficient source of energy that the human body can have. They are essential for the body’s messaging system- nerves that carry information to and fro the brain. They are important to build healthy cell membranes. They are essential for lubricating skin and joints, for building the spongy tissue that cushion our bones and also for regulating hormones (the proteins that trigger and sustain all bodily reactions).
The 3 avatars of fats
- Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are villains in this star cast: they raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. Animal fats and tropical oils like palm and coconut oil are all saturated fats
- The supporting cast of villainy is played by trans fat. These are hydrogenated fats that have been thus transformed to increase their shelf life. All those readymade flaky biscuits and pastries, burgers and French fries, margarine and salad dressing are paths to short lived happiness. They too increase LDL cholesterol levels.
- Unsaturated fats are the saviours. They are of 2 types: Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are further classified into Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
No more than 10% of your daily calorific intake should be from saturated fat, 20-35% should come from unsaturated fats. Avoid trans fats altogether
The truth about olive oil
Olive oil is extracted from the olive fruit, a traditional tree crop in the Mediterranean region.
100g of Olive oil contains 14g of saturated fats, 73g of monounsaturated fats, and 11 g of polyunsaturated fats including 1.5g of Omega 3 and up to 21g o omega 6 fatty acids. In addition, it contains Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
The flavour of the oil depends on the raw material – the olives from which it is extracted: the region where these trees are grown and the methods of extraction.
Interest in olive oil as a medium of cooking was sparked because of the popularity of the Mediterranean diet of which olive oil is an integral part. This is a diet proven to foster heart health.
Which olive oil fits your bill?
The market is flooded with many kinds of olive oil, so let’s just arm ourselves with what these actually mean.
Virgin and extra virgin olive oil do NOT refer to the manufacturer but the method of manufacturing olive oil. This simply means that the oil was extracted from the fruit by mechanical means with no use of chemicals. Extra virgin oil has a lower smoking point. Both these types are good for cooking and salads.
Refined olive oil is what you get when the oil is put through a process that removes colour, odour and flavour which might otherwise be difficult to get used to. Refined oil is essentially tasteless, colourless and odourless; it has very little fatty acid content. There is an extra light variety of refined oil too. These are ideal for sautéing, stir frying and deep frying as well as dressing.
Crude olive pomace is made by treating leftover olive paste after pressing for virgin oil with solvents like hexane which are then removed. It is then further refined to get refined pomace oil and blended with virgin olive oils to get olive pomace oil. This is a process where the last drop of oil is extracted from olives – like a 2nd or 3rd decoction of coffee using the same grounds in the filter. It is cheaper and most people look at it cross eyed with suspicion.
Olive oil- the many pros
Olive oil, as pointed out earlier, blitzed into the health food scene because of its cardiovascular benefits and its ability to lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal which is a good compound for the control of Alzheimer’s disease.
Its antioxidant constituents, Vitamin E, oleic acid, carotenoids and phenolic compounds, are anti-inflammatory and thus prevent pancreatitis or the acute inflammation of the pancreas, damage to liver tissue as well as ulcerative colitis.
There are innumerable brands of olive oil in the market as the world realises that a life well lived means health is indeed wealth. Adulteration has always been a problem. Extra virgin olive oil on many labels is misleading: olive oil is very often adulterated with cheaper oils like sunflower, soya bean or hazelnut or, worse, with non-human grade olive oils.
Olive oil also has a short shelf life and spoils very fast.
Take care when you buy this oil. Use a trusted brand so you don’t get short changed on quality and freshness.
Drop that jelly belly. Switch to olive oil or at least include it in your cooking.