Monday, January 16, 2012

Ask Us Anything: How Much Olive Oil Should I Have in my Diet?

"My husband and I cook everything with olive oil. We use it in place of spray-on butter. I've heard that there are health benefits to including olive oil in your diet. Is there such a thing as having too much? Each of our meals (except for lunch) includes olive oil."

Registered Dietitian Deborah Richter Responds:

Olive oil is a healthy part of nutritious eating, and it is a healthful option to substitute olive oil for less healthy fats such as butter, stick margarines and some vegetable oils.

The important thing to remember is that olive oil is a fat and therefore more caloric dense. A measured tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories and13.5 grams of fat. The good news is that 9.8 grams is monounsaturated fats, the heart healthy fat that helps to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL low density lipoproteins) without decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL high density lipoproteins).

It is the oleic acid of olive oil that has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. Also, olive oil has the highest quantity of alpha tocepherol – vitamin E that works as an antioxidant.

A tablespoon of olive oil is a small portion, so it is important to be moderate with the portion, especially if weight loss is a health goal.

Benefits of Olive Oil

The health benefits of olive oil go beyond just the well-researched heart benefits. The health benefits of newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil include decreasing inflammation and decreased cancer risk – in particular breast cancer.

Olive oil helps to maintain the suppleness of skin and muscle, heal abrasions, give body and sheen to hair, and can help to reduce the drying effects of sun and wind in our Western New York winters!

Types of Olive Oil

So what is extra-virgin olive oil? In October 2010, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture responsible for food labeling, food safety and regulations) revised the U.S. grading standards of olive oil. There are now objective criteria for the various grades of olive oil that include clear definitions.

When purchasing olive oil, look for the USDA certification seal. To get this seal and label of U.S. extra-virgin olive oil, the olive oil must have an excellent flavor and odor, and a free fatty-acid content, expressed as oleic acid of not more than 0.8g/100g.

U.S. virgin oil has a reasonably good flavor and odor and oleic acid content of no more than 2g/100g.

U.S. olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin oil and fit for consumption without further processing. This oil has an oleic acid content of 1g/100g, an acceptable odor and flavor and a maximum level of 200 mg/kg of alpha-tocopherol.

Another grade is U.S. refined olive oil, the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils with an oleic acid content of not more than 0.3g/100 is flavorless and odorless. Prior to the 2010 changes, the U.S. had become a dumping ground of imported poor quality olive oil. Now the imports, as well as U.S. oils, must meet quality standards.

Olive Oil in Mediterranean Diets

After that chemistry lesson on olive oils, head over to the local olive oil stores, such as D'Avolio Olive Oils and Vinegars, to taste-test the delicious flavor-infused olive oils and enjoy the health benefits of a more Mediterranean diet.

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which has been recognized as a healthy dietary pattern by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Refer to for additional information on healthy eating.

So back to the original question: “Is there such a thing as having too much olive oil?"

Well, yes. Whenever we eat anything to excess, that can be a problem, but it can also be a great start towards healthier eating. Substitute olive oil for other fats and drizzle olive oil on salads, toss it into pastas, serve it as dip for bread or mix it into meat marinades.

The great taste of extra virgin olive oil may even help us to eat more vegetables, and that is good for our health!

— Deborah Richter, RD, CDE

Deborah Richter is a certified dietitian at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga and is a state diabetes educator. She teaches diabetes education classes and provides outpatient nutrition counseling. She has helped her clients to lose weight, reduce their blood pressure and feel better about themselves through healthy eating choices.

If you have a question about your health, click here to ask our experts.

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