How do you feel today? I mean really feel – inside? I work with so many women who to the outside world, are a high-functioning, happy, always-on-the-go superwomen, but behind the scenes they are feeling the strain.
Like many of my clients, I imagine you’re expertly juggling a thriving career with a bustling social life (when we’re free to socialise again!), while also looking after your family and somehow managing to take time for yourself, too.
You feel in your prime and ready to take on the world, but your body is starting to fight back. Fatigue, stiff joints and tired muscles means you are struggling to keep up with yourself and it’s incredibly frustrating. Chronic, low-grade inflammation may be to blame, and while these symptoms may not be life-threatening, they can feel debilitating, holding you back from doing and achieving what you want in life – sound familiar?
When I start working with client one of the core areas within their diet we visit are oils and fat. Choosing the right types of oils and fats in your diet can play a huge role in the way you feel and the level of inflammation you’re experiencing. In my previous post I explored the role fats play in inflammation and provided you with an anti-inflammatory guide to cooking with fats and oils. Today I’m, deep diving into an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean staple.
Olive oil is a staple ingredient in many of our kitchens, olive oil is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is a key component of the Mediterranean diet; introducing it into your diet may support to reduce inflammation and improve the tiredness and niggling aches and pains, allowing you to get back to living the life you want.
What is olive oil?
Olive oil is a liquid which varies from pale yellow to dark green in colour and is made by pressing olives to extract the fats. It’s no wonder olive oil features so heavily in Mediterranean cuisine, as olives grow in abundance in those regions of the world - in fact, many families in these countries make their own olive oil at home! If buying it from the shops, you’ll usually see both olive oil and extra virgin olive oil on the shelves – but what's the difference? It’s all down to the amount of processing the olives go through; extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and processed very minimally, whereas regular olive oil is heat-treated to remove impurities. While this may sound useful, this additional processing removes much of the nutrient value and flavour profile of the olive, so opt for extra virgin olive oil where possible.
What’s so great about olive oil?
Olive oil is often promoted as one of the healthiest oils in the world – and with good reason! As well as being a source of essential vitamins E and K, it is incredibly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. It contains approximately 85% monounsaturated fats, made up of around 70% oleic acid (an omega-9 fatty acid) and 15% linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). High intakes of monounsaturated fatty acids have been shown to dampen the production of inflammatory chemicals, such as C-reactive protein, and may also reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory genes (1). Lowering systemic inflammation is key to reducing those aches, pains and stiffness – allowing you to feel re-energised and back to your usual self.
Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols, compounds which provide its distinctive colour, taste and smell. These polyphenols act as antioxidants in the body, reducing the activity of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules which can damage nearby healthy cells, resulting in increased inflammation. Therefore, consuming a diet high in polyphenols can reduce free radical activity and inflammation (2) - hello renewed physical and emotional vitality!
How much olive oil should I be eating?
While there are no official recommendations for olive oil consumption, you may want to swap out your usual cooking oil for olive oil to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits - make like the Mediterranean and use liberally! However, as a fat, it contains around 9 calories per gram (approximately 119 calories per tablespoon) so you may wish to measure it out rather than pour from the bottle, to avoid unknowingly loading up on excess calories. Aim for at least a couple of tablespoons a day.
What’s the best way to use olive oil?
Olive oil can be used in virtually every savoury dish (and even some sweet ones!); you can use it as a base for salad dressing and marinades, mixed with balsamic vinegar as a dip for bread, for cooking meat, fish and vegetables or to create a delicious apple and olive almond oil cake full of anti-inflammatory fats.
It is important to note that extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, meaning its fats can be broken down and its beneficial properties lost at high temperatures. As such, opt for using extra virgin olive oil at lower heats - such as when roasting or baking rather than frying – and use cold to dress salads or drizzle over fish or meat before serving.
Lowering inflammation in the body is key to reducing symptoms such as joint pain, muscle stiffness and fatigue. Due to its high monounsaturated fatty acid and polyphenol content, olive oil can make a great anti-inflammatory addition to your diet.
I’d love to hear how you enjoy olive oil in your diet… do you have a favourite salad dressing? or perhaps you’re as addicted to hummus and pesto as much as I am?! Please comment below or send me an email.