Everyone knows eating your veggies provides beneficial nutrients. But, what if there was a way to boost those nutrients, and get even more health benefits from the food you eat? New research suggests there is, and it’s a bit surprising.
Fats and oils often get a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating. Many people believe that adding them to an otherwise healthy salad, or a plate of fresh vegetables, does more harm than good. But according to a new study from researchers at Iowa State University, fats and oils may actually be a nutritional asset. By adding them to your vegetables, you may actually be able to absorb more of their beneficial nutrients.
Can adding a little healthy oil really boost the nutritional potency of your veggies?
Researchers at Iowa State University focused their study primarily on added fat. Study subjects ate salads with varying degrees of soybean oil on them. Soybean is a common ingredient in many commercial salad dressings. The subjects then had their blood levels tested for nutrients. The results showed that maximum nutrient absorption occurred at around 32 grams of oil, a little over two tablespoons.1
And it’s not just the oil itself that’s important. It’s the fat in the oil that affects nutrient absorption, research suggests. Those who used fat-free dressings showed minimal amounts of carotenoid absorption. Why does this matter? The pigments responsible for colors or carotenoids have health benefits. This includes conversion to vitamin A in the body and antioxidant activity.2
“For most people, the oil is going to benefit nutrient absorption,” concluded lead researcher Wendy White. “The average trend, which was statistically significant, was for increased absorption.”
To give a bit of perspective, carotenoids are a major part of some of the healthiest veggies you will find. These include bell peppers, kale, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. The most common of these is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is both the most studies of the carotenoids as well as the most powerful when it comes to turning into vitamin A.3
White, a food science and nutrition professor, noted that the nutrient combo covered in the study supported eye health and immune health.
It’s important to note that this particular study focused on soybean oil. It suggests that fats and fatty acids can help the body better absorb valuable nutrients from vegetables. Could other oils, like olive oil or coconut oil offer similar benefits?
In a 2012 study, researchers addressed this idea. They compared saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, fat-based salad dressings. They wanted to see if adding more fats could help the body absorb more carotenoids from the vegetables.
Monounsaturated, fat-rich dressings had the best results. The study lead author concluded that going fat-free with your dressings was a trade-off. Fat-free dressings add fewer calories to a salad, but you absorb fewer nutritional benefits from the vegetables you’re eating. Vegans often need to pay attention to things like zinc and iron absorption. As a result, adding a little oil may be worth looking into.4
Incorporating Oil Into Your Meals
So, it looks like a little monounsaturated fat is the way to go. Monounsaturated fats are praised for heart support. Some common monounsaturated fats, or foods rich in them, include:5
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Almond butter (and nuts in general)
- Coconut oil
What is the best way to incorporate monounsaturated, “healthy” fats, into your meals? Many of the oils, including olive oil, can easily be used as a light dressing for salads, or over fresh, steamed veggies. It’s important to note that cooking with certain oils is a bit of source of controversy. Some studies suggest that cooking with oils like extra virgin olive oil can actually lessen health benefits. Others suggest that it is fine. This is worth following the debate until science can provide a definitive answer.6,7
What Else Can Oils Do For You?
Healthy oils and fats do more than enhance the flavor of your food. There are plenty of reasons to incorporate these beneficial fats into your diet. For one, 60 percent of our brain matter consists of fat. As a result, fatty acids play a role in many of its critical functions. Some studies show that fat deficiency is linked with impaired brain performance and certain conditions. In addition, they have many other roles. And of course, as covered earlier, fats help with nutrient absorption.8,9 There may even be more potential, especially with omega fatty acids. These are linked to health support against many serious conditions.10
Fatty acids may present a challenge for vegans. The most common sources, particularly of omega-3s, are from fish. Dietary supplements may be helpful to ensure you’re getting enough omega fatty acids. If you go this route, be sure to consult with a doctor first.11
However, healthy oils have plenty more to offer. Perhaps nothing sums this up better than coconut oil. Coconut oil is notable for raising HDL, or “good” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol actually supports several health functions.12
However, coconut oil is a bit different than the other healthy oils mentioned so far. For foods, it’s more of a cooking oil rather than a dressing. Part of this is due to the fact that it can take high heats compared to other oils.13 This may mean that you can employ a two-pronged approach. Use oil-based dressings on your salads and veggies to boost their potential. Then, cook your other foods with coconut oil to take advantage of its unique benefits. As a note, coconut oil is high in saturated fat. As a result, while it can be great, you need to use it in moderation.
Oils and Vegetables In Review
Fats have a history of a bad rap, but certain ones are an essential part of a healthy diet. Rather than ditching the dressing, choose some that focus on the above mentioned good-for-you fats. A simple spoonful of these oils on your salads and veggies is the perfect way to use these. Not only do you get their specific benefits, but can also get more out of your favorites. So, do your taste buds and your body a favor – drizzle some healthy oil on it!