Healthy fats are essential to an athlete’s diet, and a key consideration is the selection of an appropriate cooking oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) offers a host of health benefits and it is now well established that the health benefits are not only attributed to its fat profile but also to the range of active plant compounds within EVOO.
What is the difference between Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
EVOO is the highest grade of olive oil, extracted from the fruit of the olive tree via mechanical means without heat or chemicals. As a result, it retains maximal levels of nutrients and does not contain any trans fats. EVOO contains a high proportion (~70%) of monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat.
Olive Oil is a lower grade oil that has been subject to refining processes involving high heat, pressure, and chemicals that render the oil suitable for human consumption. Olive Oil has the same fat profile as EVOO but lacks natural antioxidants and is high in trans fats.
Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
EVOO is a safe, stable, and flavourful oil to cook with for all home cooking – the antioxidants protect the oil from breaking down when heated. Using EVOO in cooking can also help to improve the taste of foods. Additionally, EVOO can help to improve the absorption of nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
Health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Recent research shows a growing range of health benefits relevant to athletes. These include positive effects on:
- Inflammation and injury
- Bone health
- Metabolic health
- Cardiovascular (heart) heath
- Weight management
- Blood glucose control
How much EVOO should an athlete consume?
To achieve the maximal health benefits associated with EVOO, studies recommend including 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO per day in the diets of active people. However, individuals should work closely with their Accredited Sports Dietitian to determine the exact amount required and how to best incorporate this into their daily eating plan. Variations will occur between active individuals depending on factors such as chosen sport, training level, and overall goals.
Below are some examples of how a busy athlete may incorporate EVOO easily into their training nutrition plan:
- Breakfast: Two boiled or poached eggs served on wholegrain toast drizzled with 1 tbsp EVOO – use EVOO on the toast rather than butter or margarine. Having an oil container that has a nib for pouring makes this a lot easier.
- Lunch: Roast an assortment of vegetables in the oven with EVOO (Tip: use 1 tbsp of EVOO per cup of vegetables). Mix roasted vegetables with quinoa, freekeh or other wholegrain you have on hand and toss in some feta, toasted almonds, parsley, and mint for extra flavour.
- Dinner: Fish poached in tinfoil with EVOO, cracked pepper and squeezed lemon. Serve with oven-baked sweet potato chips cooked in a little EVOO and a green salad dressed with EVOO and balsamic vinegar.
Practical Tips to select a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Ensure the oil is clearly labelled “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil.
- EVOO is best used within 12–14 months from the time of harvest. Australian EVOO is harvested between March and June each year. Look for the harvest date on the front or side of pack to ensure you are buying the freshest and healthiest oil.
- Once opened, use the oil within 4–6 weeks to ensure the oil has the best flavour and health benefits.
- Choose a fresher, higher quality Australian grown product.
- To check the oil is certified for meeting the Extra Virgin grade requirements, look for the Australian Olive Association symbol on pack.