Olive Oil: When Great Taste and Health Come Together

You work hard in your quest to be leaner and stronger, but as time goes by you see that there is a healthy way to fitness – and an unhealthy way. Sure, you want to look great, who doesn’t? But you also want to be healthy and take advantage of what science tells you about how to achieve a high level of both fitness and wellness.

A case in point is dietary fats. There are those who believe that anyone wanting to get leaner should eliminate them altogether. On the other end of the spectrum are those who sincerely believe in a no-holds-barred high fat diet.

What research shows us, however, is that there are good fats and bad fats, and for optimal health and fitness, you should ingest fats deemed “good”. You have heard all about saturated and unsaturated fats, and that you should avoid the bad fats that are solid at room temperature (“saturated”), choosing instead vegetable oils, which are typically unsaturated. But are there differences within those good oils? Yes, there are.

Poly vs. Mono

Since unsaturated fats (a fat molecule that is not saturated with hydrogen) are healthier than saturated fats, you might assume that the more unsaturated an oil is the better. Interestingly, that is not the case.

It is monounsaturated oils (where there is one spot on the molecule that is not saturated with hydrogen) that are most associated with good health than polyunsaturated oils. And the best predominantly monounsaturated oil for health and fitness? Olive oil.

Benefits of Olive Oil

• Contrary to studies on other oils, ingesting olive oil is not linked to weight gain and in one study was linked to weight loss. The use of olive oil fits right in with a “keto” or low-carb meal plan.
• Loaded with Oleic acid, which studies show reduces inflammation.
• Contains a high amount of antioxidants, which protect muscle tissue from damage.
• Has oleocanthal, shown to have an effect similar to ibuprofen.
• May reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.
• Could reduce the risk of hypertension. In one study, olive oil reduced the need for blood pressure medication by 48%.
• Has been shown to reduce the risk of Type II diabetes.
• Associated with reduced risk of some cancers, possibly through the reduction in free radical damage.

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Your Four-Step Plan

1. You see that bottle of olive oil you have in the back of your pantry? Throw it out. Most Americans keep olive oil around for a year or more, and that’s too long. Olive oil should be used within 6 months, a year at the longest.

2. Buy only extra-virgin olive oil. Do not judge by the color. Depending on the exact type of olive used, the color may differ. Some companies will try to make their olive oil look greener; don’t be swayed by that.

3. Taste the oil, just a half teaspoon. You will begin to appreciate the taste of real olive oil; yes, it actually has a flavor! You should feel a slight burn in the back of your throat.

4. Begin by substituting olive oil for other fats, creams, sauces, or dressings. Try olive oil on salads. Start to use it on a cooking pan instead of butter. Experiment with olive oil on bread at dinner or on toast in the morning. Drizzle a little bit on pasta and vegetables.

Pretty soon you will begin to see why olive oil is a precious commodity around the world, and why for centuries the Mediterranean countries considered those with olives to be favored. If you’re seeking optimal health, perhaps it is time to give this staple of the Mediterranean Diet a try!

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About the Author: Bob LeFavi

Bob LeFavi, PhD, is a professor of sports medicine and Dean of the Beaufort Campus at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. He has been department head of health sciences and sports medicine at Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. Bob won the bantamweight class at the IFBB NorthAmerican Bodybuilding Championship and was runner-up at both the USA and National Championships. He also competed in the CrossFit Games as a Master’s athlete and has written over 750 articles in the popular press on training, diet, and fitness.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.