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The following is an excerpt from the book The Sonoma Diet
by Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D.
Published by Meredith Books; December 2005;$24.95US/$34.95CAN; 0-69622-831-9
Copyright © 2006 Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D.

Olive Oil: A Weight Loss Blessing

In Sonoma County each year, there's a special festival called the Blessing of the Olives. That's how central olive trees and the foods they yield are to the economy and the eating habits of the region.

Olive oil, the most treasured gift of these blessed trees, is just as central to The Sonoma Diet. There's probably no food choice you'll make that does more for your health and weight loss efforts than olive oil.

Which is good news for your taste buds, because no other vegetable oil comes close to olive oil's rich and pleasing flavor. It's at the heart of Mediterranean cuisine's appeal. A dish prepared with olive oil almost seems to announce to anyone who smells or tastes it, "I'm special."

Healthy Fat
The research is clear as can be that a major reason for southern Europeans' low rate of heart disease is their liberal use of olive oil as their main source of dietary fat. By adopting olive oil in the same way, you'll get the same benefits. And because you'll learn to enjoy olive oil in healthy amounts in place of the harmful fats you may be used to, you will lose weight.

To appreciate olive oil as a power food, banish from your mind the notion that it's the "least bad" fat. It is a heart-healthy food that is good for you. You need dietary fat to lose weight, but you need the right kind. Olive oil is one of the best. Choose extra-virgin olive oil and you'll also enhance the flavors of your food.

Put simply, the kind of fat that olive oil is mostly made of (monounsaturated fat) actually lowers your levels of the bad LDL cholesterol as well as blood fats called triglycerides. The fats you'll be avoiding (saturated fat) raise those levels. That right there qualifies olive oil as a power food par excellence.

A Wealth of Antioxidants
But there's more. Unique among vegetable oils, olive oil -- particularly extra-virgin olive oil -- is rich in the same family of antioxidant phytonutrients that make all the other power foods on the Top Ten list so effective in preventing heart disease. The same phenols that make olive oil taste so good also make up its main category of antioxidants. Olive oil also contains carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and vitamin E.

In addition, olive oil reduces two other heart disease risks -- high blood pressure and inflammation.

There's Fat and Then There's Fat

As the title tells us, not all fats were created alike. There are three naturally occurring types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, as well as one manufactured fat, known as hydrogenated oil (commonly referred to as trans fat).

The majority of the types of fat you should eat come mostly from plant oils. The healthiest are led by monounsaturated fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, canola oil, and avocados. Other healthy oils are found in the polyunsaturated category, such as grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and the omega-3 oils found in some cold-water fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts.

The kind of fat you must limit eating is the saturated fat found mostly in animal foods such as meats and dairy products, as well as those found in palm and coconut oils. This does not mean you can't eat meat or dairy. You can. But it does mean that you must seek the lean or nonfat versions of meat or dairy foods.

You can recognize saturated fat because it's solid at room temperature or lower -- the white rimming a steak, the marble in prime rib, the chicken fat that skims a soup in the fridge, a stick of butter. Its primary sin is raising the levels of bad LDL cholesterol in your arteries, inviting heart disease. In fact, saturated fat ups your blood cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol itself. Hydrogenated oils should be avoided because they have far worse effects on your health and heart than saturated fats.

Copyright © 2006 Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D.