Good Fats?

— Written By and last updated by Meghan Lassiter
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The Mediterranean Diet is the topic of a program the Family and Consumer Science Staff at N.C. Cooperative Extension in Brunswick County has been offering virtually for the past several weeks.

Eating in the Mediterranean-style has been shown to reduce a person’s risk of chronic diseases. We call this healthier way of eating Med instead of Meds, which encourages eating the “Med Way” to reduce your risk of needing to take medications. The basic concepts are to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, more fish, nuts, beans, seeds, and olive oil along with activity and mindfulness.

Week #2’s Med instead of Meds class talked about the use of good fats and oils in our diets. The “Med Way” is to swap olive oil or other oils for solid fats when it is possible. Recommendations are to eat at least four tablespoons of olive oil per day. This doesn’t give you permission to just eat spoonfuls of olive oil. The key here is to use the olive oil INSTEAD of other fats, not in addition to what you’re already eating. Olive oil has about 120 calories a tablespoon, so you still need to stay within your calorie budget. Don’t just add oil, swap it.

The other thing to remember is that you can’t just take olive oil and put it on top of the typical American diet. It’s the total Mediterranean eating plan that makes it work. So, this means you can’t just eat olive oil mayo or potato chips made with olive oil and say that you’re going “Med.” You need to look at the whole concept.

This doesn’t mean to go “hog wild” (pun intended) with fats. We do know that reducing the solid saturated fats in our diets and replace them with more healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats is a healthier heart option. This recommendation has been around for many years.

Saturated fats are those that are solid at room temperature (like butter, lard, fat on meats). Olive oil is being held up as the primary oil in the Mediterranean diet. It is high in monounsaturated fats, has just a small amount of saturated fats. Canola oil is also very close to olive oil in the mono and saturated ratio. Canola also has a more neutral flavor than olive oil. Both are good to have in your kitchen. Many people in our class commented that they like to use avocado oil because of its flavor (a little nutty and more mild than olive oil). It too is monounsaturated fat, like olive oil, but has a higher smoke point.

What about the “myth” that is out there about “don’t cook with olive oil?” The claims say that cooking with olive oil is unhealthy because it oxidizes when heated. All oils do this. The smoke point of olive oil 392 degrees and you don’t want to get it to that point. You can absolutely cook with olive oil… just don’t overheat it.

Here are some tips on way to swap for more olive oil the “Med” way:

  • Cook with oil instead of solid fat. Use it to sauté, roast, sear, or bake. Roast vegetables in the oven at 375°F or less.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter when baking. Find recipes that use oil instead of solid fats. It does get a little tricky when trying to substitute liquid oil for butter in baked goods. You may need to experiment a little; it usually takes less liquid oil.
  • Drizzle or dress dishes and salads with healthy oils. Make your own salad dressing.
  • Replace mayonnaise with olive oil and add herbs and other seasonings.
  • Make it a bread spread. Instead of bread and butter, try dipping your bread into olive oil and herbs. Another idea is to brush olive oil on your toast in the morning.

    For more information on Med instead of Meds, there is a great website developed by NC State Extension and the Eat Smart Move More NC program: Med Instead of Meds. The site contains many recipes that swap in olive oil as well as tips and tools for adapting the Mediterranean Diet.

This article was written for the FCS Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached by calling the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center at 910-253-2610.