January 29, 2024

Olive Oil, Second Breakfast, and Thoughts on Health

Olive Oil, Second Breakfast, and Thoughts on Health

Olive Oil and Health

I'm writing to you today as your olive oil friend. I received a number of calls this month from folks looking for authentic olive oil to take each morning for health reasons. The Mediterranean Diet, the Predimed Study, and various Alzheimer's or cancer studies find renewed interest in print and in discussions each January, so it's expected.

After finding a fresh and authentic extra virgin grade olive oil, the most common question revolves around how much to take, so I like to share two statistics to establish a range. In April 2022 Harvard Medical School published a study with the title "High olive oil consumption associated with longevity" looking at 92,000 US men and women and found that those that consumed the most olive oil--in this study a little more than ½ tablespoon daily--had a 19% lower risk of death. 

The Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public health received considerable notice in 2008 for their "healthy eating plate" graphic as a replacement for the old "Food Pyramid" and suggested that 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily would be part of a healthy diet. 4 tablespoons daily is what is cited in the Predimed Study.

While it is true that in many ways we should let food be our medicine, what we know about nutrition is that micronutrients are more efficacious or bioavailable when eaten as part of a meal. Rather than take 2 or 4 tablespoonfuls as a dose like a 21st century cod liver oil, it is better for you to enjoy your olive oil with food (and if possible with friends or loved ones). This last fact was gathered via a lecture I attended in Jerusalem in 2010 from the lead scientist on a 30 year in vivo study at the University of Granada in Spain but, alas, I do cannot cite the name of the paper. 

Olive Oil to Start my Day

When I was in elementary school mom would make Quaker rolled oats with milk, butter, and brown sugar. I hated the texture and could barely choke them down, but she would cajole and tell me to eat them anyway because they "stick to your ribs".

This altogether unappetizing description for describing satisfying and filling food has apparently been in use since 1603, but did nothing to inspire me. Onward to the 21st century, and today I start nearly every morning with oats, but not rolled, mind you. I've come to appreciate a good porridge of steel cut oats.

Whether you purchase McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal with its certificate of award for "Uniformity of Granulation" from 1894 or from Bob's Red Mill in Oregon, winner of the 2016 Golden Spurtle™ World Porridge Making Championship in Scotland or perhaps in the anonymous bulk section of your local grocery store, steel cut oats offer a nutty and satisfyingly chewy bite that is just not possible with the quicker cooking rolled variety of oats.

 A bowl of porridge with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.

Oats are a healthy way to start your day with a whole grain, and we cook enough for me to heat and eat all week, adding both ground and whole flax seed to the cooking process. Instead of cow's milk and some sweetener, my porridge is adorned with Olio Novello when in season or another EVOO in the off season. The porridge above was photographed with Olio Novello and grated parmesan cheese (yum), however, my plate is more often covered with olive oil followed by a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and brewer's yeast, which I'm told by my brother is a challenging and acquired taste.

That's just first breakfast, I eat second breakfast, too!

Whether called morning tea, little lunch, a coffee break, elevenses, or second breakfast, a quick Google search tells me that most cultures have a tradition of a small meal sometime mid morning, most frequently cited as 10 am, 10:30 am, or 11:00 am. At Bret Harte Junior High School in Oakland (yes, I went to the same junior high as Tom Hanks), we had "Nutrition Break" or "Nut Break" with ginormous hot cinnamon rolls for 25¢ and a small carton of whole milk at 10:25 am. Years later I found out that this was the practice throughout Oakland Public Schools for teens across the city. The giant cinnamon roll, while delicious, was hardly nutrient-dense, but it was nice to have that mid-morning break between algebra and English.

Today I enjoy a mid morning meal after breakfast because Donald breaks his fast  later than I do. I join him at his morning meal, always sautéed "a la minute" with our olive oil and freshly picked greens from the garden, assorted root vegetables or perhaps leftover rice or quinoa from the night before making sure we're both "eating a lot of colors".  He also fries an egg for each of us (his sunny side up, mine over medium) so we have a bit of protein also. I reckon that, between the porridge and second breakfast, I've enjoyed at least 4 tablespoons of high quality EVOO by that point, and I have olive oil with dinner and sometimes snacks.

At 120 calories per tablespoon, I'm getting more than 30% of my calories each day from extra virgin olive oil, as would be expected with a Mediterranean diet. 

What about you? 

I share this because I hope you are finding ways to enjoy your olive oil and not just take it as a dose each morning like having to take cod liver oil.  Here are a few of my recommendations outside of salads and entrées if you're looking for inspiration:

Olive Oil & Dairy

The "fruit fat" from olives and "milk fat" from dairy emulsify in a smooth and satisfying way. A nice olive oil over yogurt or cottage cheese is quite satisfying! Try with or without fresh fruit. 

This old girl has recently learned that olive oil over ice cream with a bit of salt is trending on TikTok. Now, those of you who visited us in the tasting room as early as 2010 know that this is not a new idea, but for those of you who might find this puzzling let me remind you once again that olives are a fruit, and once a fresh olive oil is mixed with a nice vanilla ice cream all of that fruitiness comes to the forefront. A topping of flake salt for finishing your olive oil and vanilla ice cream is de rigueur. 

Olive Oil & Popcorn

Most of us enjoy crunchy savory snacks, however, rather than purchase pre-made bagged snacks (you realize you're paying mostly for air and branding, right?), satisfy that need with a bowl of freshly popped corn. I make my popcorn in a wok, however, if you prefer an air fryer, then a drizzle of olive oil on top -- whether EVOO, garlic, or basil, is a healthy choice.

So Much More to Say

We're working on publishing a few recipes each month, and I have more to share  about olive oil and health so will do so in future posts. Perhaps I'll write about "free fatty acid" or "polyphenols" next.  

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy cooking, and stay well.