How to Choose the Right Fats!
Last updated: August 2022
The Mediterranean diet wasn’t deliberately developed with the intention of becoming a popular healthful diet. It emerged organically as a result of the land and water in the region being perfectly suited to grow the right combination of foods. These regional foods just so happen to provide incredible benefits to your health!1 Especially healthful in the Mediterranean diet are olives, fish, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide fats that are famous for their healthful properties, and for good reason. Let’s check out the reasoning behind why they call Mediterranean fats the “good” kind.
Can you say satisfying?
Although the Mediterranean Diet has more fat than a classic “heart-healthy” diet, the fat emphasized in the Mediterranean diet is mostly unsaturated, including those from sources such as olive or other vegetable-based oils, fish, and nuts.2 These fats give a flavor boost to every meal!
When buying olive oil, choose EVO, which stands for extra virgin olive oil, this means it’s free of defects or odor. You also want to see if there are notes about the date it was harvested or the best-by date. Choose the olive oil that’s the freshest. Always smell and taste your olive after purchasing—you can tell when it’s rancid because it tastes horrible and smells!
So why is fat from olive oil sometimes called “healthy” or “good” fat? Fat in olive oil—unsaturated fat— helps decrease inflammation and lowers your risk of heart disease.3 Despite the rumors –butter is not back! If you eat more unsaturated fat (from olive oil, nuts, and fish), and eat less saturated fat (from meat and full-fat dairy), you may see an improvement in your cholesterol levels.6
Unlike unsaturated fats, saturated fats can increase blood cholesterol and blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, heart disease, or stroke.6 Saturated fats and the foods that contain them are consumed in limited amounts in the Mediterranean Diets. Bottom line—eat more of the good fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish!
Polyphenols are plant compounds that are really beneficial for your heart and can even lower your risk of cancer. And guess where they are found – olive oil! Olive oil compared to other oils has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer when compared to other added fat sources, including butter.7 While research is still ongoing as to how exactly olive oil reduces our cancer risk, more recent studies believe it is due to the polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil.
Polyphenols are naturally found in various foods such as fruits, tea, legumes, and some cereals — which each also naturally occurs in the Mediterranean diet.8
Even wine contains these super-powered polyphenols, so pass the vino (in moderation and monitor your blood glucose!8 Overall, a Mediterranean eating plan is naturally polyphenol-rich. These powerful compounds offer health benefits beyond basic vitamins, minerals and fiber – aka the building blocks of basic nutrition. On the contrary, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants in the body. In fact, a recent study shows that eating more foods with polyphenols can protect against heart disease and having a heart attack.9 Bottom line—polyphenols found in a Mediterranean diet protect your heart!
Olive oil will give you ripped abs?
Olive oil might not give you that 6-pack you’ve always dreamed of, but olive oil may help your gut girth! Olive oil, along with other mono- or polyunsaturated oils lowers your risk for chronic diseases.
Recent research shows that although all oils are relatively high in calories, consuming an unrestricted calorie Mediterranean-style diet that includes regular consumption of oils was associated with bodyweight maintenance and less weight gain in the central abdominal area—aka that center tire!10
Go nuts! Just not that nuts.
Other foods high in health-promoting fats, such as nuts, occasionally get a bad rap in weight loss diets because they can be high in calories. Truth is, the benefits of healthy fats in nuts along with their protein content make them great snack options that offer way more benefits than more typical snacks like chips or pretzels that have higher calories and less nutrition.
Which do you think you would find more satisfying, 15 potato chips or 49 pistachios? They actually have the same amount of calories but completely different nutrient profiles!
Another fast fact: new research shows that walnuts, in addition to almonds and pistachios, do not actually contribute quite as much “metabolizable” energy as previously thought.10
This basically means that these nuts have fewer calories than we would normally think because they use energy to digest. So while the old-school weight loss manual might tell you to ditch the nuts, it’s out of date. Experts are reconsidering specifically walnuts' energy content and how walnuts should be labeled.10 It’s not just about your waistline – high nut consumption has also been associated with decreased risk of several cancers, including colorectal, endometrial, and pancreatic cancer.11 So go nuts on walnuts – but watch the portion size and stick to 1 ounce or about 12-14 halves.
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?