Olive oil is commonly used in cooking, and extremely popular in the Mediterranean; understanding the nutrition of olive oil and how it can benefit your health is important when incorporating it into your diet. Below you'll find detailed information regarding the nutrition and health benefits of consuming olive oil.
Olive oil is a pure fat, meaning that it does not contain protein or carbohydrates; it contains 120 calories per serving (1 Tbs.) all of which are fat calories. Olive oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids (healthy monounsaturated fats), low in saturated fat, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. It's recommended for heart health that you keep your fat intake at or below 30 percent of your total calorie intake, so when incorporating olive oil into your diet do so in moderation. Try to replace saturated fats (such as butter) with olive oil when possible.
Due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil is heart healthy and can help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids may also help decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, and improve brain function and learning ability in young children. It's recommended that pregnant women consume plenty of omega-3s for healthy fetal development.
The Mediterranean Diet
Although olive oil is used worldwide, it's especially popular in the Mediterranean; olive oil is a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Following this diet may help to lower your risk of heart disease and reduce LDL cholesterol. The diet recommends basic healthy eating, such as generous amounts of fruits and vegetables (strive for 7-10 servings per day), high amounts of healthy fats (olive and canola oils), and limiting red meat and saturated fats. Fish and poultry are recommended over red meats. Nuts are also a popular part of the Mediterranean diet, especially walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts, since they are low in saturated fat. Red wine in moderation is typically allowed in the Mediterranean diet, and exercise is highly encouraged.
Incorporating Olive Oil into Your Diet
The FDA recommends consuming about 2 Tbs. of olive oil per day to help reduce your risk of heart disease. There are many ways to incorporate olive oil into your diet. Olive oil can (and should) replace butter or other foods high in saturated fat, especially when cooking. The following foods can be prepared using olive oil: pasta, pasta salads, bread (dipped into olive oil), stir fry, chicken breasts, baked fish, fajitas and vegetables. Olive oil is also found as an ingredient in foods such as hummus and many salad dressings
Which Type of Olive Oil Should I Buy?
There are many types of olive oil available, so it's hard to know which one to choose. All varieties of olive oil contain healthy monounsaturated fats. Howeve,r "virgin" or "extra-virgin" oils are the most heart healthy since they are the least processed forms of olive oil; they also contain the highest amounts of antioxidants (which can also promote heart health).