Extra Virgin Olive Oil – The Gateway To Greater Vegetable Consumption

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Do you like hummus‭? ‬If so‭, ‬you like vegetables‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and olive oil‭. Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu‬In fact‭, ‬fresh‭, ‬high-quality extra virgin olive oil is what makes‭ ‬freshly made hummus so craveable and delicious‭. ‬Yes‭, ‬chickpeas and other legumes can be delicious on their own‭, ‬but by pureeing‭ ‬them with olive oil‭, ‬tahini‭, ‬garlic and some salt‭, ‬create creamy‭, ‬irresistible deliciousness‭.‬

Combining vegetables with olive oil is a strategy most home cooks in the Mediterranean take for granted as one that will get people to eat their veggies‭. ‬In fact‭, ‬vegetable consumption is highest in countries like Greece where vegetables swim in olive oil‭.‬‭ ‬The Greeks even have a term‭, ‬lathera‭, ‬to describe vegetables cooked in generous amounts of olive oil‭, ‬often with the addition of fresh herbs‭.‬

Unfortunately‭, ‬here in the U.S‭. ‬many consumers still think eating fat makes people fat‭, ‬but research doesn’t support this notion‭. ‬The traditional Mediterranean diet‭, ‬a moderate fat dietary pattern‭, ‬contains about 42‭ ‬percent of calories‭ ‬from total fat and 9‭ ‬percent calories from saturated fat‭. ‬Limiting saturated fat intake is important for health‭, ‬but there’s no reason to limit total fat intake‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬as long as total calories are in line with your weight management goals and‭ ‬saturated fat intake stays below 10‭ ‬percent of total calories‭. ‬

About half the calories in a commercially prepared hummus come from fat‭, ‬yet fat-phobic American consumers made hummus one of the fastest growing snack trends in this country‭. ‬Why‭? ‬It’s delicious‭, ‬and smart marketers promoted its versatility‭ (‬It’s a snack‭! ‬It’s a spread‭! ‬It’s a dip‭!) ‬as well as the many ingredients it contains that have positive health halos‭ (‬e.g‭., ‬chickpeas‭, ‬olive oil and garlic‭).‬

‭The 2015-2020‭ ‬Dietary Guidelines for Americans reinforce the recommendation to consume less than 10‭ ‬percent of total calories from saturated fat‭, ‬but there is no mention of limiting total fat‭. ‬The guidance focuses on healthful dietary patterns with an emphasis on plant-based foods such as fruits‭, ‬vegetables‭, ‬legumes and whole grains‭.‬

So how do we get people to eat more fruits and vegetables‭? ‬We say‭, ‬“Think‭, ‬cook‭, ‬and eat like the Greeks‭!‬”‭ (‬Well‭, ‬actually‭, ‬that’s what Amy says‭. ‬Suvir says‭, ‬“Think‭, ‬cook‭, ‬and eat like an Indian‭!‬”‭) ‬Let’s worry less about total fat‭, ‬and focus on using healthful oils‭ (‬such as extra virgin olive oil‭) ‬in cooking‭. ‬We want people to love and crave vegetable-based dishes‭, ‬and we want our readers of this column to appreciate the many unique benefits of extra virgin olive oil‭, ‬both in the cooked and raw forms‭.‬

Fresh Facts About Extra Virgin Olive

  • Olives are fruit‭. ‬Extra virgin olive oil is essentially fresh fruit juice‭.‬
  • Maintaining the freshness and quality of extra virgin olive oil takes some effort and attention‭; ‬the oil should be protected from extreme changes in temperature as well as exposure to air‭.‬
  • Packaging matters‭. ‬Extra virgin olive oil should be packaged in dark brown or green glass bottles that have been flushed with nitrogen after filling to remove oxygen in the head space‭.‬
  • Fresh is best‭. ‬Extra virgin olive oil should be used within two years of the bottling date‭.‬
  • Open bottles of extra virgin olive oil should be used within a few weeks of opening to maintain freshness and flavor‭.
  • Age matters‭. ‬Store shelves filled with olive oil that is more than two years old should be emptied‭; ‬the oil has degraded‭, ‬it won’t taste good‭, ‬and it won’t convince any consumer to eat more vegetables‭.‬
  • Extra virgin olive oil can be used for cooking‭; ‬most home cooks don’t cook at temperatures high enough to significantly degrade the oil or the beneficial polyphenols‭.‬
  • Polyphenols are naturally occurring substances in extra virgin olive oil that have antioxidant‭, ‬anti-inflammatory‭, ‬and other potential health benefits‭.‬
  • Extra virgin olive oil can be used for baking‭, ‬too‭. ‬The matrix of ingredients in baked items protects the oil from degradation during baking‭.
  • Research shows both raw and cooked extra virgin olive oil offer health benefits‭.‬
  • The polyphenol content of extra virgin olive oil depends on many factors‭, ‬including olive cultivar‭, ‬geographical location of the‭ ‬olive orchard‭, ‬and growing conditions‭.
  • A 2010‭ ‬study by the University of California‭, ‬Davis Olive Center showed the majority‭ (‬69‭ ‬percent‭) ‬of ‭ ‬imported‭ ‬extra virgin olive oils had significant sensory defects‭, ‬indicators that the samples were oxidized‭, ‬of poor quality‭, ‬and/or adulterated with cheaper refined oils‭.
  • Retailers who want to promote‭ ‬“local”‭ ‬foods should focus on selling extra virgin olive oil produced in the U.S‭. ‬California is the largest olive oil producing state with one producer‭ (‬California Olive Ranch‭) ‬that has nationwide retail distribution‭.‬

Think about ways you can promote cooking with extra virgin olive oil in your produce department‭. ‬You’ll not only be promoting good health‭; ‬you’ll also be promoting great flavor‭!‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND, is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting LLC. Suvir Saran is an award-winning chef and restaurateur. Born in Delhi, India, today Suvir lives on a farm in upstate New York. His next restaurant is scheduled to open in San Francisco in 2016.