While many of you may begin reading this post with the notion that I will be addressing oil (as in the oil we put in our cars) and the great power it maintains over our world today in terms of the global economy and global relations, I will unfortunately not be addressing any such matter, as important as it may be. However, while the oil we put in our cars may appear a more imposing force than the oil I am about to discuss, I think that by the end of this post, you might think differently about which one is more important (at least in terms of your own personal health and well-being.)
Every day for lunch, my host mother gives my roommate and me heaping plates of food. We usually look at the amount on our plates, then at each, take a breath and begin eating. While most people believe that all European countries eat smaller portions than we do, I don't think Spain should be considered one of those countries, at least not the Spain that I have come to know. The two main meals of the day are lunch and dinner; snacking is optional and usually consists of coffee and pastry at a cafe. So this means that while Spaniards may eat LESS than Americans, portion sizes are substantial due to the lack of snacking throughout the course of the day.
And today was no different. We had a nice big lunch of some kind of stew (I think) with potatoes, carrots, artichoke hearts, pork (I think), chorizo and peas. This was accompanied by bread (Córdoba is known for their "bread at every meal" rule) and then followed by a serving of cold shrimps. And at the end of lunch, just like every lunch, our host mother asked us if we wanted more, and just like every lunch, we responded with "Gracias, pero estamos llenas", or "Thank you, but we are full". I, however, made the mistake of saying that although I was full now, I would probably be hungry in two hours time.
...You should have seen the look my host mother gave me; I thought she was either going to pass out or eat my soul. "Why don't you eat more?" she said in Spanish. "I cook enough food for you to have two servings!" Immediately, I felt bad, so I quickly began explaining that my body just isn't used to the eating schedule here quite yet. I'm a grazer. I eat all day: smaller meals for lunch and dinner, and snacks in between. Also, as most of you may know, my blood sugar drops, and, well, that just isn't good for anyone within a 2 miles radius of me.
After explaining this, the fire in her eyes began to turn from blue to a light orange, so I thought I was in the clear. Oh, but I was not. My host father then made a comment that translates into something like, "Well that's why there is so much obesity in America. People eat and eat and eat until they can't anymore." I kind of looked at him and couldn't tell if he was calling me obese or not, but I quickly dismissed this idea because he's too nice to suggest such a thing, and, well honestly, if I'm obese, he's an elephant. I finally decided that he was merely comparing the two different cultural eating habits. He then started in on a full description of the Spanish diet, which of course he praised until the cows came home. He said that the omega 3s in the fish are wonderful for your health, and vegetables, fruit and protein are the dietary staples (in comparison to the Italians and their carbohydrates). And what is the essential difference between the American diet (oh, and yes, he threw the French diet under the bus, too) and the Spanish diet? The Spanish use of olive oil instead of butter.
Aceite de Oliva (Olive Oil). With what he said about it, you would have thought Jesus had risen from the dead. So there we were, at lunch, wanting a siesta, listening to our 66 year old host father talk about the health benefits of olive oil, in Spanish, not understanding anything (except for words like omega and cholesterol because, well, they're the same words in Spanish.) Finally, after talking about the perfection of the Spanish diet and my poor attempt at explaining that while yes, Americans may eat a lot, it's also about WHAT you eat, not necessarily how much, we were allowed to leave.
And what did I do? Did I siesta? No. I researched aceite de oliva (it just sounds better in Spanish, doesn't it?).
Well let me tell you. After reading up on this stuff, I might start bathing in it. Shoot, I might start drinking it like water. And I'm only being sarcastic to a point. Apparently, from what I could understand (in both English AND Spanish), aceite de oliva is high in monounsaturated fats. Translation: it helps to lower cholesterol in the body and, as such, is linked to the reduction of coronary heart disease. Also, it displaces some omega-6 fats while leaving the omega-3s intact, helping to maintain balance between the two in the body. Additionally (I might run out of transition words), aceite de oliva is believed to reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels. "And what about cancer?" one might ask. Well shoot, preliminary research has begun to show that olive oil may reduce oxidative damage to DNA and RNA (no idea what that means), thus helping to prevent certain types of cancer (I think we all understand that part!).
However, there IS one negative point among the numerous positives. A high consumption of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in olive oil and other vegetable oils, may increase the likelihood of the development of breast cancer in postmenopausal women and prostrate cancer in men.
So while my host father was very right about the power of olive oil (aceite de oliva for poetic purposes) in some ways, too much of one thing is, as proven yet again, a bad thing. Moral of the story: aceite de oliva is good for your health, but keep the butter handy!