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11 Jun Tuesdays With Jeff: Insights Into Your Health: The Myth of Moderation Part 2

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The Myth of Moderation Part 2: “The Impact of Just a Little Oil” © Jeff Novick, MS, RD

Read Part 1 

The following question is one I am frequently asked. It is about he impact of “just a little olive oil.”

Q:  I know that it is best to order (or make) steamed vegetables. If I were to order (or make) vegetables with a ‘little” olive oil, how much olive oil do you think is usually used in proportion to the vegetables and how bad would that be?

A: No one knows for sure. And little amounts can have a big impact since oil is the most calorie dense food there is. And, while vegetables are the lowest in calorie density, the impact of even small amounts of oil on the vegetables can be huge.

In addition, in spite of all the health claims, olive oil is a very rich source of calories and, in addition, 14% of the calories in olive oil come from saturated fat. The current recommendation from the American Heart Association is to limit our intake of saturated fat to no more than 7% of calories. Personally, I think less than 5% is better.

Now, this is a great question because everyone always wants to know, “how bad is a little of this” or “a little of that.”  Your question, will give us an opportunity to look at this issue in detail.

So, let’s see how this works (and bear with me and all the math as I think this is very important)…

Let’s say you ordered a plain side of steamed vegetables. For every 1/2 cup serving of steamed vegetables, that would be about 25 calories. So, even a larger 1 cup serving would be only 50 calories.

Olive Oil, like all oils, is 40 calories per tsp.

So let’s see the impact.

If the serving of veggies is 25 calories (1/2 cup), adding even just 1 tsp. of oil would raise the total calories from 25 to 65 and the majority of the calories (62%) would now be coming from oil. Since most of the calories are no longer coming from the vegetables, this technically is no longer a side of veggies but a side of oil, with some veggies added.  :)

In addition, in regard to saturated fat, the vegetables would have virtually none. But by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now about 10% saturated fat.

As we can see, the impact of the oil on the vegetables, at this level, is dramatic and that is just for a tsp. of oil.

If we add 2 tsp. of oil to a 1/2 cup serving of steamed vegetables, we would raise the total calories from 25 to 105, and the majority of the calories (76%) would now be coming from oil. This side dish is also now 11% saturated fat.

If we add 3 tsp. of oil (which is the same as one tablespoon) to a 1/2 cup serving of steamed vegetables, we would raise the total calories from 25 to 145 and the majority of the calories (83%) would now be coming from oil. The side dish is now also 12% saturated fat.

For those of you who eat more than a serving of vegetables at a time, let’s see the impact of the oil on the vegetables if we double the side dish of vegetables to 1 cup, which, according to traditional serving sizes, is 2 servings of vegetables.

If the serving of veggies is 50 calories (1 cup), even just 1 tsp. of oil would raise the total calories from 50 to 90 and almost half of the calories (45%) would now be coming from oil.  In addition, in regard to saturated fat, the vegetables would have virtually none, but by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now 7% saturated fat.

If we add 2 tsp. of oil to the 1 cup serving of vegetables, we would raise the total calories from 50 to 130 and the majority of the calories (62%) would now be coming from oil. The dish is also now 9% saturated fat.

If we add 3 tsp. of oil (which is the same as one tablespoon) to one serving of vegetables, we would raise the total calories from 50 to 170, and the majority of the calories (70%) would now be coming from oil. The side dish is also now 11% saturated fat.

As we can see, the impact of even a little oil on typical serving sizes of vegetables is dramatic.

Now, remember, this analogy is with olive oil, which is supposed to be one of the healthier oils.  Imagine the negative impact a little coconut oil, which is over 90% saturated fat (with about 30% of the calories being the worst saturated fats), would have in the same scenario.

But, I know, some of you say you REALLY eat lots of vegetables.  :)

So, let’s look at the impact of even a little oil on a large amount of salad and/or vegetables. Let’s use a pound of steamed greens, which, for the record, would be about 3.5 cups of steamed kale.

A pound of steamed kale is 125 calories and is 1.4% saturated fat.

Adding 1 tsp. of oil would raise the total calories from 125 to 165 and 25% of the calories would now be coming from the oil. In addition, in regard to saturated fat, by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now 5% saturated fat.

Adding 2 tsp. of oil would raise the total calories from 125 to 205 and 40% of the calories would now be coming from the oil.  In addition, by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now almost 7% saturated fat.

Adding 3 tsp. (1 TB) of oil would raise the total calories from 125 to 245 and almost 50% of the calories would now be coming from oil.  By just adding 3 tsp. of oil to a pound of veggies, almost half the calories now come from the oil.  In addition, by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now almost 8% saturated fat.

In my personal and professional opinion as both a RD, a former chef and a frequent visitor of restaurants, a TB of oil, if not more, is what many people are using (or getting) per typical serving of food/vegetables, which as we can see, can have a huge impact.  But, you actually may be getting much more.  So, let’s do one more example with 2 TB of oil.

Adding 6 tsp. (or 2 TB) of oil would raise the total calories from 125 to 365 and 65% of the calories would now be coming from oil. In addition, by adding in the olive oil, the side dish is now 10% saturated fat.

And this is playing out in homes and restaurants every day under the mistaken guise that oils, like olive oil are healthy for you.

For example, I was in an Italian restaurant a few weeks ago that is supposed to be known for its “healthy” food.  One of the members of the party I was with was trying to order a “heart healthy” meal.  She ordered pasta primavera with a plain tomato sauce and specifically requested it be cooked with “as little oil as possible.”   When the dish came out, there was so much oil in the plate, she asked for a second plate so she could lift out the pasta and veggies from all the oil and put them in a new bowl.  After she did this, we looked at the remaining oil in the original plate and there had to be over 1/2 cup if not more, of oil left in the original bowl.   A 1/2 cup of oil is the equivalent of 8 tbsp.  Imagine the impact this would have had on someone trying to eat “Heart Healthy.”  Even though she removed the pasta she was going to eat from all this oil, we still have no idea how much oil was still left in the pasta, veggies and sauce.

Instead of using oil, try sprinkling some balsamic vinegar and/or some lemon juice on your veggies along with some fresh herbs/seasonings.  Balsamic vinegar has only about 5 calories per tbsp. and has no saturated fat.  It will also add lots of flavor without adding any of the extra calories, fat and saturated fat that is in olive oil.

This is a real win/win/win.

It is time to clean up America’s dietary oil spill.

In Health,

Jeff

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Jeff Novick
Jeff Novick

Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LD, LN is truly a unique dietitian and nutritionist. With over 24 years of experience in nutrition, health, fitness and natural living, he offers expert health advice distilled into powerful, easy-to-understand language on a variety of current topics.Novick’s insightful and humorous approach to nutrition and health has helped thousands worldwide make the transition to healthy living. He holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Indiana State University in nutrition, with a minor in exercise science.Novick serves as Vice President for Executive Health Exams International and lectures at the McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, California and at the Engine 2 Immersion program in Austin, Texas. He is also the Director of Nutrition for the Meals for Health program, which is helping empower low-income families to achieve optimal health.For almost a decade, Novick served as the Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Center in Aventura, Florida, and as Vice President of the Board of the Directors for the National Health Association (NHA). He also served as the Director of Health Education for the NHA and as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Health Sciences for Kaplan University.Novick has taught nutrition classes at Indiana State University, Indiana University Medical School, the University of Miami Medical School and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians. He regularly lectures at medical conferences across the country. While in Indiana, he created and taught the Nutrition Education Initiative, a preventive medicine curriculum for medical doctors, residents and medical students. In recognition of this groundbreaking project, Indiana’s governor awarded Novick the Indiana State Public Health Excellence in Health Science Award and Indiana State University awarded him the Graduate-of-the-Last-Decade Award.He has been interviewed by Newsday, Parade, Men’s Health, Shape, Women’s World and has appeared on Fox News, Discovery Health, the Today Show and other media outlets nationwide. He recently appeared in the documentary Processed People and the movie Fatboy, which won the Best Documentary award at the Fort Lauderdale and Queens Film Festivals.

  • Brenda Rowe

    Wow!! I had never thought of it in that way! Thank you! I don’t add any oil except for a small amount of cooking spray occasionally. But I never thought about what small amounts of oil can do.

  • csjohnsrud

    I think when presented this way, it’s very misleading. Based on an average of 1500 calories a day, the saturated fat in a teaspoon of olive oil (less than 1 gram of saturated fat) is very minimal and well under your guidelines of no more than 5% saturated fat a day (even adding in the small amounts naturally present in fruits/vegetables/grains/beans). I think it’s more important to look at the total for the day and not just on a cup of vegetables. That really skews the numbers. And one teaspoon of oil makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy my large salad.

  • healthygirlskitchen

    Hey Jeff, thank you for another great article. I have been putting different vinegars on steamed greens each morning for breakfast and I have heard some different opinions on whether or not vinegar is actually okay to consume every day. Also, whether or not there really is a difference between Raw Apple Cider Vinegar and other vinegars. I would love your expert opinion on this matter!

    • Engine2Team

      Wendy, Jeff said to e-mail him :)

  • Linda Patrick Myler

    Thank you Jeff, I needed this! I’ve been “sneaking” a little oil & cheese into my diet without realizing the true numbers. This was a timely eye opener for me>

  • m2c

    I enjoy watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, which is a “reality” show where you often seen Chef Ramsey and the chefs/cooks in the kitchens he visits actually making food.

    Let me tell you, from the standpoint of oil, it’s a real eye-opener. They are easily putting a minimum of 2, 3, 4, or even more tablespoons of oil on virtually everything. And salad dressings are typically half or more oil.

    Before watching the show, I figured I was doing okay when I ate out by for sautéed/stir-fried veggies with “as little oil as possible.” Now with what I have seen and what Jeff has explained, I can see I’ll have to order steamed without oil or butter, only.