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Cal-Med cuisine and olive oil—a little bit of the Mediterranean right here at home in the U.S.!

by Wendy on September 23, 2013

There’s a reason that California has such amazing fresh foods – many which can make us feel like we’re taking a trip to the Mediterranean on a regular basis at meal time.

Consider . . .apricots,  artichokes, avocados,  dates,  eggplant,  figs,  garlic , grapes (wine),  kale,  lemons , pomegranates, walnuts and  olives and olive oil!  

Indeed, these foods make you think of the Mediterranean, but did you know they are leading foods grown and produced in California? In fact, nearly half of the fruits and veggies grown in the U.S. come from California and there’s a reason. California is one of four Mediterranean-ecosystems in the world, so it should be no surprise that there is considerable overlap in what grows and flourishes along the west coast of the U.S. for us to enjoy here and nationwide.

And when it comes to the traditional Mediterranean diet – that has since the 1950s shown to be one of the healthiest dietary patterns known resulting from literally hundreds of studies — this eating pattern wouldn’t be complete without thinking about olive oil.

Image about Olive Oil and Olive Oyl Mediterranean Diet | Bazilian

Olive Oil, meet Olive Oyl
(The clear bottle is for emphasis.
Please buy your olive oil in dark glass bottles.)

In fact, olive oil (no, not Olive Oyl*–though there’s something cute about relating the two) is one of the hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet, being the primary culinary oil favored and used liberally instead of saturated fats like butter. It’s the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat profile of olive oil that makes it particularly special to our bodies—from our heart to our brain to our skin and beyond. And it’s a plant-based fat so olive oil contains other phytonutrients, as well!

Research has shown that diets that include olive oil predominantly as the culinary oil—and as part of a traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern rich in fresh, whole foods and favoring fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, herbs & spices, beans, and fish—help manage healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors for heart disease.

Plus it’s so fun and easy to use.  Extra virgin olive oil is delicious in easy homemade salad dressings or drizzled on cooked veggies.  It’s a wonderful base of an herb and spice marinade (with a little balsamic vinegar, mustard and herbs and spices) to pair with fish, shrimp or chicken before hitting the grill. Olive oil can be used as a cooking oil at low to medium temperatures to sauté as well, but I think its best flavor comes out used to ‘finish’ and compliment the other foods in your meal used fresh and easy from the bottle. And of course, we all know about the practice of dipping the bread in the olive oil poured tableside before a meal, which can be a lovely way to experience the true flavor. Just be aware that olive oil is a fat and does have calories – a notable 120 per tablespoon – so measuring does matter when you’re watching your waistline.

To ensure you are getting true extra virgin olive oil – and buying real olive oil that is not adulterated or inferior, here are some tips from the experts:

  • Check for a harvest date on the bottle or box. That can let you know when the oil was harvested and how old the oil is.
  • Buy extra virgin olive oil in a dark glass bottle (not clear or plastic).  Air, light and heat create oxidation and degrade the quality of olive oil.
  • Check for a quality seal such as the California Olive Oil Council’s seal on the bottle, an organization that requires the olive oil to pass strict criteria for through a sensory evaluation and chemical analysis to earn the seal.
  • There are other ‘home tests’ that are not sure-fire but will give you a sense.  Extra virgin olive oil should harden up (or clump) and get cloudy in the refrigerator. This isn’t 100% proof, but if your oil stays runny in the fridge, it’s not EVOO.  And extra virgin should keep a candle wick burning, too!  If you used it in a candlewick lantern and the fire kept going out, it’s adulterated.
  • The ultimate way to know (aside from growing and pressing the olives yourself, of course, is to buy locally. If you live where olives grow or when you’re on vacation, consider visiting the olive farm, get to know the farmer and buy from the source!  We’ve recently been enjoying McEvoy Ranch and Ojai Olive Company oils.

So how about that?! You might just consider as you enjoy some tasty real California olive oil, (yes, we love Spanish and Italian EVOO, too!)  that you’re taking a little Cal-Med vacation at mealtime. Mangia, mangia—and cheers to your health!

*By the way, Olive Oyl and Popeye, with all that spinach he consumes, really do compliment one another.  Research has shown that pairing heart-healthy oils (like olive oil) along with carotenoid-rich foods (like spinach) create nutritional synergy!  This means that the olive oil enhances the absorption of the plant nutrients from the spinach.  Now that really IS a great pair!

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