Eating plenty of vegetables and salad is good – but adding some avocado or olive oil is even better…
Apart from the starchy ones, vegetables are pretty low in calories so the main reason to eat them (aside from taste and fibre) is to get a fix of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – plant chemicals which act as antioxidants in our bodies.
The problem is, four key vitamins (A, D, E and K) plus a number of phytonutrients are fat soluble – which means your body does a better job of absorbing them when they’re consumed with some dietary fat. (p.s. fat isn’t bad – we need a moderate amount in our diets to keep things running smoothly).
In one 2005 study healthy volunteers absorbed up to 15 times more plant antioxidants from a veggie salad when it was topped with 75 or 150 grams of avocado. Pretty impressive.
If you can’t get hold of an avocado, a drizzle of olive oil also does the trick – researchers from Iowa State University found that just 6 grams (about a teaspoon) of oil to a spinach and tomato salad was enough to significantly boost carotenoid absorption (and it’s worth noting that when the salad was eaten with no oil, almost no carotenoids were absorbed).
Why olive oil? In 2012, Purdue University researchers found monounsaturated fats were more effective than saturated or polyunsaturated fats at helping the body absorb carotenoids. So if you’re watching your overall calorie intake, bear in mind a generous teaspoon of olive oil is all you need to benefit.