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Olive Oil, Your Health, Your Kitchen


Extra virgin olive oil has become such a symbol of healthy eating that it is hard to believe that it was once accused of increasing the harmful cholesterol. It was a fat, so it had to be bad for us. Fortunately, we left those times behind and now olive oil and most fats are much better understood.

The main reason olive oil is healthy is because it is rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. About 75% of that monounsaturated fat is oleic acid, which is very stable even at high temperatures. Moreover, our body processes oleic acid easier than other fatty acids.

Secondly, organic extra virgin olive oil also contains high levels of antioxidants like phenols, and vitamins E and A, which fight free radicals and thus prevent premature aging. Those antioxidants help neutralize the oxidation process, which is common to alls fats, and preserve the properties of olive oil too.

So, the fact that olive oil is capable of
resisting oxidation at higher temperatures much
better than seed oils makes it the safest
vegetable oil for frying.

Many in the non-Mediterranean industrialized
countries feel uneasy when a Mediterranean recipe
calls for frying in olive oil. Frying is an old
cooking technique that is very popular in the
Mediterranean cuisines. It is as much an integral
part of the healthy traditional Mediterranean
diet as consuming raw olive oil with bread and
salads.

Some olive oil tips for the kitchen

When heated up, olive oil expands in volume and
food absorbs it less than other cooking oils.
Therefore, you need a smaller quantity of olive
oil.

If it didn't burn in your frying pan, you can
reuse olive oil up to three times. Some say even
five times, but I personally never use it more
than twice.

Olive oil transmits flavors between foods, so
never fry meat in olive oil you used to fry fish
and vice versa. My grandmother always kept a jar
for fish and one for meat next to the olive oil
bottle. It is the best way not to get flavors
mixed up.

Finally, olive oil looks thicker than other
vegetable oils, but this is only appearance as,
contrary to popular belief, it has no more
calories than sunflower oil, for instance.

Olive oil for your health

In the 13th century Arnau de Vilanova, doctor of
the Catalan royal family, already realized that a
moderate intake of olive oil enhanced the vital
functions of the body. In the 20th century, the
late American doctor, Ancel Keys MD, documented
that the olive oil based Mediterranean diet
reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

We see that contemporary research has confirmed
what the Mediterranean peoples knew and practiced
intuitively all along.

Heart disease is the Achilles' heel of modern
societies living at a frantic pace. Since Dr.
Keys and his followers realized that we in the
Mediterranean have a better cardiovascular health,
the first medical studies on olive oil focused
mainly on that area.

They proved that olive oil balances the
cholesterol levels, can reduce the risk of a
heart attack, can play a role in the prevention
of arteriosclerosis, and fights high blood
pressure.

Later, research was extended to other areas like
digestion, cancer, and diabetes. The results have
been very positive and olive oil usually comes
through with flying colors.

One particular study concluded that with only two
tablespoons of virgin olive oil every day you can
begin to experience the health benefits that the
Mediterranean peoples have enjoyed for so long.
Incorporating it naturally into your eating
practices is simple.

Integrating olive oil

The easiest way is to get into the habit of
drizzling olive oil over slices of bread or
toasts, consuming it as a dressing for sandwiches
instead of butter, and adding it to salads with
some salt.

Wherever you go in the Mediterranean, Morocco,
Provence, Tunisia, Italy, Greece, Catalonia,
Andalusia, or Majorca, you'll find people eating
their own combination of bread and raw olive oil.

As a Catalan I eat pa amb tomaquet, literally
bread with tomato, almost every day: as part of
my breakfast, as a snack, or, I admit, when I am
too lazy to cook dinner. It is the Catalan
bruschetta, so to say, and you can prepare it in
no time with slices of bread or toasts, both are
fine.

Here is the most basic recipe for pa amb tomaquet.
Cut a very ripe tomato crosswise, rub the bread
with one half on both sides, drizzle olive oil
liberally over the bread and sprinkle some salt.

You can eat it plain or add any topping and
accompaniment you like: prosciutto-style or
cooked ham, cheese, tuna fish, an omelet,
anchovies, figs, olives. Even with a chocolate
bar at tea or coffee time, it may sound weird,
but it is delicious.

Other recipes with raw olive oil are authentic
allioli, salads with olive oil dressing, cold
sauces like romesco, and sopa de farigola or
thyme soup. As the Catalan saying goes: Sopa
sense oli no val un dimoni, literally, Soup
without oil isn't worth a devil, meaning that a
soup with no oil is junk.

Here is the recipe. In a soup pot, bring 2-quart (
2 l) water to a boil together with 2 peeled
garlic cloves and 2 sprigs thyme. Simmer for 10
minutes and drain. Place 1 or 2 slices of country-
style bread on the bottom of each soup bowl,
drizzle them liberally with extra virgin olive
oil and ladle the soup over it. In the spring and
summer this soup is also great with mint instead
of thyme.

Recent studies have shown that the health
benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not
derived from olive oil alone, but from the
Mediterranean diet as a whole. So, eat well and
enjoy!

Submitted by:

Núria Roig

© 2007 Núria Roig, mediterranean-food-recipes.com At http://www.mediterranean-food-recipes.com Núria Roig helps you explore delicious Mediterranean diet recipes, undiscovered Catalan cuisine, and the relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle from the inside. Visit http://www.mediterranean-food-recipes.com/ mediterranean-diet.html to keep up to date on the fascinating world of the healthy Mediterranean diet.





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