Here’s Today’s Tip… Pair Your Veggies with FAT. – from Change that up!
More and more research has demonstrated that in addition to the micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals) and fiber packed into vegetables, there are also important phytonutrients that are essential for optimal physiological functioning. For instance, carotenoids, phytochemicals that are responsible for providing the dark colors of various plant foods, are potent antioxidants that combat oxidative stress, one of the most important factors mediating the deleterious effects of aging.
Like some of the important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins A, D, E, and K) in vegetables, many phytonutrients (e.g., alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopeine, lutein, zeaxanthin) are fat-soluble nutrients. In other words, dietary fat is necessary to ensure absorption of these health-promoting nutrients.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared the absorption of carotenoids when participants consumed a salad dressed with a fat-free (i.e., 0 grams of fat), reduced-fat, or full-fat salad dressing rich in monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil). After consuming the salad with the fat-free dressing, the appearance of carotenoids in the bloodstream was negligible. That’s right, the participants literally absorbed NONE of the free radical-fighting nutrients. While there was a relative increase in absorption of carotenoids when participants ate the salad with a reduced-fat dressing, “a substantially greater absorption of carotenoids was observed when salads were consumed with full-fat dressing.”
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from The Ohio State University found similar results when they added avocado or avocado oil to salsa and salads. When avocado or avocado oil, both rich in monounsaturated fats, was added to salsa, the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids was up to four times higher than when the salsa was avocado-free. If that’s not enough, when avocado was added to salads, the researchers found that absorption of carotenoids was up to 15 times higher than when the salads were consumed avocado-free (i.e., fat-free).
By now, you’re starting to see the picture, and recent research from Purdue sheds even more light on the types of fats that may be best for salads and veggies. In a 2012 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, researchers found that salads topped off with olive oil (i.e., monounsaturated fats) led to significantly greater carotenoid absorption compared to soybean oil-based dressing, which is high in polyunsaturated fats.
“If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings,” said Mario Ferruzzi, a Purdue associate professor of food science. “If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there may be a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.”