SPANISH MEDITERRANEAN DIET - FOODS, RECIPES & BENEFITS
A way of eating based on traditional foods
In an effort to eat healthier, you may be tempted to try a variety of oils or the newest fads on the market. The important information home cooks need to know is that “fat” isn’t necessarily a bad word and that using unsaturated fats can aid in lowering cholesterol levels and help in reducing the risk of heart disease.
The body actually needs a certain amount of fat in the diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid when kept at room temperature, but turn solid if they’re chilled. Olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats.
In contrast, trans fats and saturated fats are “bad” fats and found in a wide variety of processed foods. They’re solid, but turn liquid or melt when exposed to high heat sources, whether it’s on the stove or during high room temperatures.
In addition to elevated cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease, saturated fats also have an adverse effect on the brain and digestive system. High levels of saturated fats result in a decline in cognitive function that’s exacerbated as you get older and fats change the composition of digestive enzymes.
Saturated fats are detrimental to those who want to lose weight and can lead to a build-up of fatty material around organs and the body is more likely to store these types of fats in cells.
Unfortunately, many people have tried to limit all fats or switched to what they perceived was a healthier source of cooking oil. The result is that the balance between good and bad fats has been disrupted.
Extra virgin olive oil
Available for thousands of years in the Mediterranean region, extra virgin olive oil has been a staple in a variety of dishes throughout history. It wasn’t until recently that science had the technology to scientifically prove just how healthy olive oil is for the body.
Extra virgin olive oil has scientific data to back up its heart healthy reputation. It can be used for cooking and baking in the oven, stir frying, and salad dressings. It has a medium smoke point so it won’t smoke up the kitchen when you’re cooking.
Olive oil is also lower in calories than coconut oil. One tablespoon of olive oil has just 11 grams of monounsaturated fat and 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat.
If you’re looking for traditional virgin olive oil, be aware that some companies use refining equipment to extract the oil. Olive oil produced in this way contains the same fats, but it has a lower quantity of heart healthy compounds than cold pressed olive oil, this is, Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
It’s good for sauces, light sautéing, low heat baking and has a medium smoke point. It’s also high in saturated fat, but is less harmful than many other oil choices on the market. One tablespoon of coconut oil has 13 grams of saturated fats – that’s 60-80 percent of your daily recommended limit.
Coconut oil has become the “in” food through slick marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements, and those who want to be trendy. Coconut oil contains substantial levels of saturated fats. Its chemical structure makes it effective in cooking when you want confections to hold their shape.
Created from the rapeseed plant, canola oil is less expensive than olive oil and coconut oil, but no labeling standards exist to tell consumers exactly what they’re getting. The oil is chemically extracted and undergoes a bleaching and refining process that can contain chemical solvents.
Canola oil contains no antioxidants and is often manufactured from genetically modified plants, but does have a higher smoking point than olive or coconut oil. The oil is a healthier alternative to coconut oil, but doesn’t have the benefits of olive oil.
Why olive oil is best
You can use olive oil for all your cooking and baking needs, it makes a light and tasty dressing, and it’s an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids. The nutrient value alone is one of the reasons the Mediterranean Diet featuring olive oil has been deemed by medical professionals to be so healthy.