A Hiccup in the Mediterranean Diet
|August 14, 2013||Posted by Carol Marleigh Kline, MA, CWIC, CWWS under Importance of What You Eat||
By Carol Marleigh Kline, MA, CWIC
We’ve all weighed our food’s nutritional value vs. cost vs. the time it takes to prepare a meal. .If it’s really healthful but it’s expensive and we actually have to cook it, well, we’ll probably opt for pizza. We tend to eat mindlessly—until we feel the nip of an unhappy kidney or gall bladder. Or until we can’t fit into a favorite outfit. We investigate better nutrition not because we’ve seen the light but because we’ve felt the pain.
For me, the Mediterranean diet came as a relief. It was simple. It included lots of fresh foods made more palatable by olive oil—an oil that wasn’t going to kill me! Coming from a sun-splashed part of our planet, the Mediterranean diet made me feel not only virtuous but full. I could add a bit of olive oil and vinegar to some tomatoes and sliced zucchini on lettuce for a sparse but reasonably filling lunch. And it was heart-healthy!
Trouble is, we had it all wrong. An article in the August 2013 Psychology Today says it’s not just olive oil that makes the difference. It’s a certain kind of olive oil. Like you, I thought I knew it all: olive oil was either yellow or green. The yellow stuff was for cooking. Even at relatively high temperatures, it wouldn’t smoke up the kitchen. The green kind was for salads. But both were equally good. Seems that’s not true.
The Mediterranean diet has grown so popular that companies in several states and countries are bottling the olive oil at its heart. But what we buy is often not just olive oil. Sometimes it’s even partly peanut oil. According to Hara Estroff Marano, author of that Psychology Today article, the terms “virgin olive oil,” “pure olive oil,” and “refined olive oil” are meaningless. Anything we eat that isn’t the good stuff is no better than industrial-grade olive oil. Isn’t that disappointing?
If you go to a local organic foods market, you’ll find some bottles of the greenish variety of extra virgin olive oil. Marano says that alone is not enough. Look for the date stamped on the label. Olives are harvested and made into the best extra virgin olive oil around the end of the year/New Year’s holidays. The oil is at its best within one year of harvesting (even though manufacturers say it’s good for two years). Keep it in a cool, dark place. Never decant it—that oxidizes the oil. And keep the cap on the container
How do you know if it’s the real thing? That’s easy. The good stuff is called “one cough” or “two-cough” oil. “Two-cough” is better. According to Gary Beauchamp, director of the Monelli Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, extra-virgin olive oil that makes us cough is fresh, unfiltered, and unadulterated. It contains oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Why don’t we cough our way through our salads? It’s because we don’t get that much olive oil in a single bite. But it’s also rare that we get the good oil either at home or in a restaurant. And even if it started out good, it’s probably already more than a year old.
Coughing is the sign that the back of the throat has been irritated—and in this case, that’s good. That quality, as Beauchamp and his colleagues reported in Nature, is what may protect the body against rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, heart disease, and possibly against the inroads of Alzheimer’s disease.
Test it out. Buy a bottle of the good extra-virgin olive oil from Italy—the kind with the date stamped on the back. If it’s already a year old, put it back and look for a younger oil.
If you cough after you take a swallow (about a tablespoon of oil), you’ll know it’s got what you’re looking for. If not, return it. Try another kind. Good extra-virgin olive oil is not cheap. But as an investment in your future, it’s worth it.
Carol Marleigh Kline is a wellness coach and author of Streetwise Spirituality: 28 Days to Inner Fitness and Everyday Enlightenment. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See also www.arcadiawellnesspartners.org.
Photo courtasy Flickr.