Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Oily Situation, Part 2-- Grapeseed Oil

Grapeseed oil comes from-- you guessed it-- grape seeds.  It's a byproduct of the winemaking industry.  One ton of grapes are used to make one 8 oz. bottle of grapeseed oil!  If you're curious, here's how it's made:

With a smoke point of about 420 degrees F (220 C) and a very mild flavor, grapeseed oil lends itself well to cooking at moderate temperatures.   It is also often highly refined (although it is possible to find virgin versions),  meaning its health benefits are going to be significantly lower than those of unrefined oils.  However, because it is so difficult to get the oil out of a grape seed, most producers will use hexane in the process.  Hexane is a carcinogen, and it's best to be avoided.  There are companies (Spectrum is one that I know of) that uses an expeller press instead, and no chemical solvents. 

Grape seeds in and of themselves are chock full of health benefits.  The extract of the grape seed is shown to have antiulcer properties, is chock full of antioxidants, and may even help with weight control.  The oil, however, does not seem to have these same properties, although virgin oils will retain more than will their more highly refined counterparts.

Grapeseed oil is particularly high in omega 6 fatty acids.  Most of us get plenty of omega 6 acids in our diets, and while they are necessary in our diets, they also promote inflammation when we consume too much of them.  It is best to get a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, but unfortunately, the American diet is replete with omega 6 and pretty deficient in omega 3's. 

Bottom line:  Grapeseed oil, while it may be useful for cooking, is not all that useful for anything else.  If you're hoping to get health benefits from an oil, there are much better choices out there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Oily Situation, Part 1-- Olive Oil

When it comes to oils, people get confused.  What oils are best, and when do you use them?  And, for that matter, should you use them at all?  This is part 1 of a series of posts about this.  I'll start with olive oil, as it is the healthy oil people tend to use the most.

Let me start by saying that I am pro-oil.  Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K can't be absorbed properly without fats, and adding a bit of oil to your diet can make this easy.  The argument was recently made to me that oils are a processed food since it's not a coconut, olive, etc.  While this is technically true, I would argue back that it is pretty minimally processed, and the product of the processing, depending on the type of oil produced and how it is pressed, can be quite a healthy addition to your diet.  If you think about it, chewing your food and digesting it is processing it as well.  If you'd like to see how, for instance, olive oil is made, check this out:

And here is a nice tutorial on how you can make coconut oil at home:

So you can see that this is not the same kind of high processing that might go into something like white flour, white rice, or anything ending in "-itos."

For those of you who insist on an oil-free diet, I would suggest making sure you eat plenty of nuts and avocados to add a good dose of healthy fats to your diet. 

For those of you who are willing to take the leap into my oily world, let's talk olive oil.

First of all, there are several types of olive oil, which might be confusing to most.  Let's get those defined so you know what's what.

Lite-- This does NOT, by any means, mean that this is a lower-calorie or lower-fat oil, so don't be fooled by the name.  All this means is that it is very light-tasting.  This is because there is almost no virgin oil in it. 

Pomace-- This is oil that has been derived from the dregs of the olives that have already been pressed for higher-grade oils.  They generally use chemicals to get it out, and it's usually refined from that point.  In order to make it more palatable, they will generally add some virgin oil to it, but the end product doesn't really have the benefits that a higher-grade oil would.  This is usually used for high-heat cooking (and not much else), as its smoke point is much higher than a virgin oil's.

Pure Olive Oil (or, simply, Olive Oil)-- This is a blend of refined oil and virgin oil.  Like Pomace oil, it doesn't have much of the benefit of a higher-grade oil, and isn't used for much beyond high-heat cooking.

Refined-- This means the oil has been derived via chemical means.  It will usually have a higher smoke point and lower nutritional value.

Virgin Olive Oil-- Virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, and uses no chemicals or water in its production.  It is allowed to have an acidity of up to 3.3%. 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)-- this is pretty much the Really Expensive Wine of the olive oil industry.  In order to be considered extra-virgin, it must be an oil from the first pressing that is produced by mechanical means only (so no water or nasty chemicals allowed), has to pass some serious taste tests, and must be less than 1% acidic. 

Unfiltered-- All this means is that the small olive particles left over from pressing are not removed from the oil.  It might look a little cloudier than filtered oils because of this.

The smoke point of an oil is when vapor begins to come out of it-- it is basically when the oil begins to degrade, reducing the nutritional benefits and increasing the cancer-causing ones.  The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil, although it varies from type to type, is around 300 degrees Farenheit (148 Celcius).  This means it is not a cooking oil unless you use extremely low temperatures.  This is a dressing oil, made to be added to foods after cooking. 

Some of the benefits of olive oil are as follows:

1)  It appears to have some ibuprofen-like qualities, meaning some of its components can decrease inflammation in the body.   

2)  EVOO seems to have excellent cardiovascular benefits, as seen here, here, and here.

3)  EVOO and olive (especially those not preserved in brine) consumption may have anti-cancer benefits, as seen here, here, and here

4)  EVOO may even help reduce excess central body fat

There's a lot more good stuff to be found about olives and their oils, but this should give you a good head-start.  Bottom line:  go extra-virgin, don't cook with it, and enjoy.  :)

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Own Little Easter Weekend Victory

I am supremely, phenomenally, overwhelmingly proud of myself today.

You may or may not know this, but I have a pretty impressive history with sugar addiction, and I managed to cut it almost completely out of my diet about two years ago.  Since then, I've noticed some pretty cool things happening.  First and foremost, my body fat dropped out of the 22% range for the first time in my life-- as a matter of fact, it dropped 6% the year I made the change!  I took my body fat measurement yesterday, and it was the lowest it has ever been-- 13.6%!  The really cool thing about that is that I don't look gaunt or emaciated, and my strength levels are increasing through it all (I managed a 20kg pullup not long ago, and I am almost at a 24kg one-arm overhead press- more than twice my bodyweight!).  My blood tests, which I had done last month, are excellent, despite having a lot of heart disease, diabetes, and other nasty diseases all over my family tree.  When I was still on the sugar, my cholesterol was actually high-- sugar is at fault for a lot of heart disease.

My results, in case you were wondering.

But this is not what I wanted to tell you about today-- it's something much more exciting.  Yesterday, I was at Whole Foods (which should really have a Melody Wing, based on the amount of time I spend shopping there), and I thought, since it's a special occasion, I might buy some Easter candy to share with my boyfriend (meaning, of course, that I'd probably pop the whole bag in my mouth within an hour).  I went over to the bins of "Natural, Organic candy" and started reading the ingredients.  Sugar.  Corn syrup.  Cornstarch.  I moved on to another bin.  And another.  And I realized I had absolutely no desire to consume sugar, corn syrup, and cornstarch.  I left the store with no candy and a shocked look on my face.   I don't think I've ever given myself permission to eat candy and not gone ahead and eaten the candy.  I just did not want it.

This is HUGE.

Equally huge was that I had a few dried apricots when I got home and that was all.  I didn't eat the whole bag like I usually do (which is why I rarely buy dried fruit).  I was satisfied with what I'd had.

Seriously, if you don't think that cutting the junk out of your diet changes what your body craves, you haven't done it for long enough.  It took me 6 months to get rid of most of my sugar cravings, and it was only now that I realized that I just did not want the sweet stuff.  It's pretty cool when that happens.   I can't even begin to tell you how good it felt to have flipped the bird to gumdrops.

Just do it.  Get rid of the processed foods, the sugars, and all that crap.  Your body doesn't need it, and real food tastes better when it's gone.  If I can do it, ANYONE can do it.   Most importantly, be patient with your progress.  If you slip up now and then, it's not the end of the world.  Just jump back on the ole proverbial horse.  Your health and your waistline will thank you.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!