Healthy Fats and Health Benefits of Olive Oil

The Inuit people of Greenland have a low incidence of heart disease. They eat a diet that is rich in fish oils. It is thought that the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish oils lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the tendency for the blood to clot. A reduction in clotting helps to prevent the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries, thereby protecting against heart disease.

  

THE FAMILY OF FATS

Fats are classified as saturated or unsaturated, according to the fatty acid compounds they contain. The group of unsaturated fats can be further divided and subdivided:

1. Unsaturated fats

–> Monounsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil.

–> Polyunsaturated fats –> Omega-3 fats in seeds and their oils (flax, hemp, pumpkin) and oily fish.

                                    –> Omega-6 fats in seeds and their oils (pumpkin, sunflower) and soya beans.

                                    –> Trans fats in margarines and processed or fried foods.

2. Saturated fats in animal fats, and coconut and palm oils.

 

TRANS FATS IN COMMON FOODS

Many processed foods contain high levels of undesirable trans fats. These include:

• Margarines

• Biscuits and cakes

• Confectionery

• Manufactured desserts

• Salad dressings and mayonnaise

• Crisps and similar snack foods

• Processed breads

• Deep-fried foods (including chips)

 

FAT CONTENT OF SELECTED COMMON FOODS

The total fat content of most foods and oils consists of a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats. The figures shown in this chart indicate the percentages of these two types of fat and the total fat content in a 100g (3-1/2 oz) portion.

 
 

FOOD

SATURATED FATS

UNSATURATED FATS

TOTAL FAT

Salmon

2%

7%

9%

Mackerel

4%

9%

13%

Pork

19%

12%

31%

Beef

12%

13%

25%

Chicken (lean)

4%

10%

14%

Eggs

4%

8%

12%

Cow’s milk

2%

2%

4%

Olive oil

10%

90%

100%

Butterfat

66%

34%

100%

Walnuts

7%

66%

73%

 

Inuit people have a low incidence of heart disease

HEALTH BENEFIT OF OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is an important part of the diet in Mediterranean countries, where people have a lower risk of heart disease. It is thought that their relatively high intake of olive oil – in place of the saturated fats eaten in other countries – is a positive factor in this reduced risk (others include a high intake of fruit and vegetables and relatively more fish than meat). Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and so does not adversely affect blood cholesterol levels; it also provides natural antioxidants. Using olive oil in place of saturated fats and processed margarines can therefore be desirable. Olive oil is sold in several grades. Oil labelled ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ is the purest unrefined oil, obtained by mechanical cold pressing of the olives. The oil is filtered but not refined. It has a superior taste and nutritional value, and is best used raw as a condiment or in salad dressings.

Olives used in virgin oils can be pressed again, with the addition of heat (and sometimes chemical solvents) to obtain larger quantities of a nutritionally inferior oil. The nutritional value of the oil is further reduced if it is used for frying.

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