In Sonoma County each year, there’s a special festival called the Blessing of the Olives. That’s how central olive trees and the foods they yield are to the economy and the eating habits of the region.
Olive oil, the most treasured gift of these blessed trees, is just as central to the healthy eating and weight loss plan I developed in The New Sonoma Diet. There’s probably no food choice you’ll make that does more for your health and weight loss efforts than olive oil. That’s good news for your taste buds, because no other vegetable oil comes close to olive oil’s rich, pleasing flavor. A dish prepared with olive oil announces to anyone who smells or tastes it, “I’m special.”
Olive oil is a heart-healthy, nutrition-boosting, flavor-enhancing plant oil that shatters the myth that dietary fat is evil. The research is as clear as it can be that a major reason for southern Europeans’ low rate of heart disease is their use of olive oil as their main source of dietary fat. By adopting olive oil in the same way, you’ll get the same benefits. And because you’ll learn to enjoy olive oil in healthy amounts in place of the harmful fats you may be used to, you will lose weight.
To appreciate olive oil as a Power Food, banish from your mind the notion that it’s the “least bad” fat. It is a heart-healthy food that is good for you. You need dietary fat to lose weight, but you need the right kind. Olive oil is one of the best. Choose extra-virgin olive oil and you’ll also enhance the flavor of your meals.
Put simply, olive oil is mostly made of monounsaturated fat, the kind of fat that actually lowers your levels of the bad LDL cholesterol as well as blood fats called triglycerides. The fats you’ll be limiting (saturated fats) and avoiding (partially hydrogenated trans fats) raise those levels. The healthy fat alone qualifies olive oil as a Power Food par excellence.
The attributes of extra virgin olive oil are unique to the delicate processes that occur during the harvest and handling of olives—a technique that is not too different than what was done centuries ago. "Extra" is the highest grade for olive oil. It is the unrefined, unprocessed juice of only the best olives that are milled soon after the harvest.
Extra virgin olive oil is unique in the sense that it is not extracted from seeds by the use of solvents or heat, like most vegetable oils, but through a process that preserves and transfers the natural components of the fruit into the oil, making it the most nutrient rich and flavorful variety of olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil, comprised mostly of heart healthy monounsaturated fat also contains other natural components with antioxidant properties such as vitamin E, carotenoids, chlorophyll, phytosterols, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. Recent scientific studies continue to demonstrate the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of these compounds to decrease the incidence of coronary heart disease. By reducing both inflammation and oxidative damage to cholesterol and the lining of the blood vessels, olive oil helps these vessels relax and dilate so as to prevent high blood pressure and less likely to clump together to form blood clots. Recent scientific studies are also confirming the benefits of consuming extra virgin olive oil to reduce the risks associated with breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Olive Oil and Spinach: A huge plus for olive oil is its special ability to interact with other foods. Try it as a dressing over a spinach salad. It not only improves the flavor by toning down the subtle bitterness of the leaves, but also boosts the action of all those beneficial phytonutrients in spinach.
Flavor Boosters: Try the flavor-enhancing qualities of a soffrito; a gentle sauté of olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and onions with the additions of aromatics such as saffron, paprika, herbs, and chiles. Olive oil is also a key ingredient for intensely flavored sauces that can complement a lean dish of roasted fish or vegetables. A salsa verde of anchovies, capers, herbs, Tunisian harissa of hot peppers and caraway, or a pesto made with herbs, nuts, and cheese. Extra virgin olive oil is essential to bringing these flavors together.
Study after study confirms that eating an olive oil–rich Mediterranean-style diet is better for maintaining a healthy weight than a low-fat diet. Central to my approach in The New Sonoma Diet, I believe the best way to lose weight to not to avoid good food, but to eat the best foods on the planet. Olive oil is certainly of them.