There’s an interesting thing that happens when you mix certain plant-based foods together. In many cases, the nutritional power behind one or more of the foods gets super-charged.
For example, when you mix vitamin-C rich foods with those that contain plant-based (non-heme) iron, the vitamin C breaks the iron down so your body can absorb it more readily.
Put a little citrus, like lemon or lime juice, in your tea and it helps preserve somewhere between 80% to 90% of the health promoting catechins in tea after digestion. (Without citrus juice, less than 20% would normally remain post-digestion.)
And when you combine tomato and avocado, the lutein in the tomatoes more than doubles… and lycopene becomes 4.4 times more absorbable by your body.
It’s amazing how little tricks like these can ramp up the nutrient profile of the foods you are eating.
But one of the best nutrient-boosting ingredients I know of is extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO.
Make Your Veggies More Nutritious with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
EVOO is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and a staple in the Mediterranean way of eating. And it can have a huge impact on the bioavailability of all kinds of nutrients.
In other words, many of the positive health effects of eating a Mediterranean style diet may be due to the way EVOO works with other foods to release healthy nutrients and increase absorption of those compounds.
Here is a perfect example. Cooking tomatoes with olive oil can increase your levels of the carotenoid lycopene by more than 80% in only five days! Lycopene is well-known for its ability to protect against prostate cancer. So as a man, I’m all for getting as much of it as I can.
And when you cook other healthy Mediterranean foods like onion and garlic with EVOO, it enhances the bioavailability of their bioactive polyphenols, which all work as powerful antioxidants in your body.
To top it off, EVOO itself is loaded with a complex matrix of polyphenols on its own. These compounds repress pro-inflammatory genes, which gives olive oil a powerful role in the fight against aging. They can also change the expression of genes that influence your risk of heart disease and plaque build-up in the arteries.
One particular phenolic compound in EVOO, called oleocanthal, can even help protect your brain. It boosts production of proteins and enzymes that are critical in removing beta amyloid, which is a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
And just a third of an ounce of EVOO eaten with meals each day can reduce after meal blood sugar, improve insulin response and lower levels of oxidized LDL. You won’t get these kinds of results with plain old vegetable oil!
Switch Things Up
I don’t eat the same foods every day. I like to switch things up and explore the rainbow of foods available to me.
But I do consume EVOO in the majority of my meals. I like blending it with garlic and herbs. Then I use it as a drizzle for my roasted veggies and as a marinade for my meat. I use it in salad dressing, dipping sauces, marinades and a whole lot more.
And guess what happens every time I blend my vegetables, herbs and spices with it?
Some of the nutrients from the plant-based foods leach into the EVOO, and the polyphenols in the olive oil get absorbed by the veggies – thereby multiplying the power of both!
So isn’t it time to give up your pro-inflammatory vegetable oil and start using EVOO on everything?
I recommend avoiding the cheap versions that sound like great deals. Instead, go for quality. Select a cold-pressed, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil that comes in a dark glass bottle and is certified organic.
Then, use it in most of your meals – especially cooked with your veggies – to get the biggest health benefit.
Lynch SR, et al. Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1980;355:32-44.
Green RJ, et al. Common tea formulations modulate in vitro digestive recovery of green tea catechins. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Sep;51(9):1152-62.
Unlu NZ, et al. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):431-6.
Fielding JM, et al. Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oil. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2005;14(2):131-6.
inaldi de Alvarenga JF, et al. Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Cook Vegetables Enhances Polyphenol and Carotenoid Extractability: A Study Applying the sofrito Technique. Molecules. 2019 Apr 19;24(8):1555.
Camargo A, et al. Gene expression changes in mononuclear cells in patients with metabolic syndrome after acute intake of phenol-rich virgin olive oil. BMC Genomics. 2010 Apr 20;11:253.
Abuznait AH, et al. Olive-Oil-Derived Oleocanthal Enhances β-Amyloid Clearance as a Potential Neuroprotective Mechanism against Alzheimer’s Disease: In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2013 Jun 19; 4(6): 973–982.
Violi F, et al. Extra virgin olive oil use is associated with improved post-prandial blood glucose and LDL cholesterol in healthy subjects. Nutr Diabetes. 2015 Jul 20;5:e172.