I love olive oil. I love the way it smells and tastes, and the way it adds texture to salads. I've been using it since I was a child. (Given that my last name is Sinatra, would you expect anything different?) For me, it is a happy coincidence that olive oil is so healthful. In fact, the latest research shows that olive oil is even better for you than we thought.
Let's tally up some of the most profound medicinal effects that studies have attributed to olive oil:
- It helps prevent heart disease.
- It lowers blood pressure.
- It is a potent mediator in the inflammatory/immune response.
- It protects against breast and colon cancers.
- It improves skin integrity and structure by maintaining moisture.
What makes olive oil so heart-healthy? It's the oil's unique combination of healthy monounsaturated fats and powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols, both of which help to block the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Remember, the oxidation of LDL cholesterol fuels relentless inflammation, which in turn causes coronary heart disease. So protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation is a crucial step in preventing atherosclerosis ("hardening" of the arteries). And when it comes to olive oil's blood-pressure lowering effect, one Spanish study showed that systolic and diastolic blood pressures fell by approximately 8 mm/Hg on an olive oil diet, compared to those using sunflower oil. In animals, olive oil led to enhanced relaxation of the aorta and was successful in treating rats with high blood pressure.
Olive Oil Options
Olive oils come in a variety of flavors and textures, so let your taste buds be your guide. Light olive oils are usually used for cooking up to 130 degrees (above this temperature, olive oil can become more saturated), because they tolerate heat much better. The more deeply hued, thicker extra virgin or virgin olive oils are often preferred for salad garnishing, since they generally are tastier. Plus, using unheated olive oil fully preserves its monounsaturated quality.
One thing to keep in mind with olive oil is that at 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, the calories can certainly mount if used too liberally. So don't drench your salad with olive oil, and certainly don't dunk bread into it since this combo is too calorie-dense. That said, olive oil can boost the flavor and heart-healthy quality of all kinds of entrée and vegetable recipes, such as the one below. (Get more heart-healthy recipes.) Just be sure to store your olive oil in a glass container, because plastic can contain the heavy metal cadmium, which will leach into the oil, and the joints of metal containers are soldered with lead, which can also contaminate the oil.
Asparagus With Tomatoes And Olive Oil
- ½ cup finely chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ lbs. fresh asparagus, ends removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
In a large saucepan, cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion is golden and starting to brown. Rinse the asparagus and add to the onions. Mix well, cover, and cook on medium-low for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and pepper. Cover and cook about 40 minutes, until asparagus is soft and tomatoes have dissolved into a sauce. Stir in lemon juice.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): Calories 170, Fat 14g, Sodium 20mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Protein 3g