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The wonders of olive oil

The Italians, French, and Greeks are on to something
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  April 2, 2008
Many of us may think about increasing our intake of olive oil just by pouring a bit more on our salads. Dr. Mary Flynn, a nutritionist at Miriam Hospital, is an enthusiastic advocate for using olive oil whenever and wherever you can in your cooking. During a workshop sponsored last week by Shape UP RI, she pointed out how flavorful and satisfying a stir-fried rice or pasta dish of fresh or frozen vegetables becomes when plenty of olive oil is used in the sauté.
 
She described using olive oil in baking (the flavor doesn’t come through), as a dip for fresh bread instead of margarine or butter, and as the oil of choice when doing any frying, even eggs, French toast or pancakes.
 
As she talked about her work with women who have had breast cancer, Flynn stir-fried chopped celery, mushrooms, and spinach in olive oil before adding cooked brown rice to the mixture. She noted that “vegetarian meals taste okay, but they don’t always taste great and they leave people feeling hungry.” Flynn emphasized that adding four tablespoons of olive oil per day to a plant-based diet makes it more satisfying.
 
“This is not a low-fat diet,” she noted. “But the recipes are big and bulky with grains and vegetables.”
 
She touted the practice of using frozen vegetables — “because they’re always there” — and even canned, for tomatoes and beans. She said that most people who didn’t like spinach or broccoli as a child have never tried it again, but when they cook those veggies with plenty of olive oil, they are delighted by them. She praised whole grains and whole-grain pasta as having more flavor, allowing smaller portions to quench appetites.
 
And she listed some of the direct health benefits of olive oil: “It makes insulin work better. It breaks up clots, reduces inflammation, reduces blood pressure. One of the studies showed that the more olive oil you have, the less likely you are to get breast cancer.”
 
Flynn explained that she became interested in the results of the “seven-country study” (Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the US, Yugoslavia) in the mid-’80s that showed the dramatic results of eating a diet rich in olive oil and red wine, and low in meat. Flynn prefers to call it “flesh,” to make it sound less appetizing, and she stressed that this category includes chicken and fish, not just “red meat.”
 
“Our need for protein has been exaggerated — you get some protein from the starch and the vegetables, and you gain weight if you have too much protein,” Flynn explained. “Red meat is related to cancer, especially if it’s blackened. It’s like nicotine; it starts cancers. Grilled veggies don’t have that same carcinogenic property.”
 
Flynn also said that “eggs and dairy are okay — there’s no relation to disease” and “there’s nothing wrong with butter.” She pointed out that “wine calories work different than juice calories — with juice, there’s an increase in weight, but with wine, there’s not. With wine, there’s less heart disease. Red wine is healthy because of the red skins, and red wine from the East Coast has the most salicylic acid in it, the active ingredient in aspirin.”
 
So, the Italians, Greeks, and French must have been onto something, with bottles of red wine refilled at the local taverna and eggs deep-fried in olive oil.
 
“I think of olive oil as a medicinal food,” Flynn concluded. “Hunger and appetite are different, but if you put fat into things in the meal, most people aren’t hungry.”
 
And most people at last week’s workshop polished off the plates of brown rice with veggies and plenty of olive oil that capped the presentation. Say goodbye to “flesh” and low-fat diets; say hello to extra virgin olive oil with lots of veggies.
 
Shade Up RI, the weight-loss/exercise/nutrition program, was launched in the winter of 2006, the brainchild of Brown University medical student Rajiv Kumar, who was concerned about the obesity epidemic in America. This year’s 12-week program began February 4 and will wrap up with a Wellness Fair on May 10. Flynn will repeat her workshop, “The Wonders of Olive Oil,” on April 9 from 6 to 7 pm at the Education Exchange, Room 214, Stedman Government Center, Wakefield.
 
Check shapeupri.org for more information about the program and for recipes from Dr. Flynn.
  Topics: Features , Main Dish Recipes , Mary Flynn , Diet and Nutrition ,  More more >
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