Healthy eating: Susan Jane White with Olives and other good fats
Olives and other good fats, says Susan Jane White, can do wonders for you and your waistline, so choose wisely
Western diets are disturbingly high in bad fats. I'm not referring to steak or butter. There are far worse offenders. Culprits include trans fats in convenience foods, fried foods, and highly processed oils unknowingly found in our supermarket trollies.
These cause damage to our cells and are especially talented at bumping up cholesterol levels and dress sizes. Poor-quality fats such as these also antagonise inflammatory conditions such as eczema, arthritis, bronchitis, Alzheimer's, colitis and IBS. Up to 70 per cent of a GP's waiting room can be associated with inflammatory conditions.
Here's another shocker. Ready? Margarine is even worse. Felicity Lawrence, author of Eat Your Heart Out, warns that manufacturers use the cheapest possible vegetable oils in margarine and hide under the pretence of being 'healthy'. Hydrogenation techniques make the oil artificially hard at room temperature. This noxious process extends the product's shelf life, but not your life. A professor at Harvard Medical School publicly referred to this as "the biggest food processing disaster in US history".
So where can we find good fats without piling on the pounds? Cold-pressed virgin oils such as olive, macadamia, linseed and hemp seed are the Kate Middleton of fats: wholesome, healthy and pure. Star-studded munchies include olives, avocados, nuts and seeds. Olives contain monounsaturated oleic acid, which helps ward off cardiovascular disease by raising good HDL cholesterol. Both black and green olives house active compounds -- oleocanthal has a strong anti-inflammatory action to fight heart disease, while polyphenols help lower blood pressure and the risk of coronary disease. So you see, our fetish for driving down cholesterol by fighting fat is perverse. Fat is not the enemy. Our choice of fat, however, is.
Carpaccio of Fennel
This dish has a snazzy name, but it's basically chilled, crunchy fennel with a good smack of olives. If you're planning a party, you can make this salad the day before and keep it covered in the fridge, away from thieving fingers.
You will need:
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons good-quality sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon whole black or white peppercorns, crushed
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup pitted green olives, cut into strips
Make sure your fennel is fresh and tender -- age tends to turn the outer layers leathery. A bit like ourselves. Using a food processor, find the special slicing blade that fits snugly into the processor's bowl. Thinly slice both bulbs of fennel, reserving the wispy fronds to decorate the dish with later. You can also use a Japanese vegetable slicer or a mandoline if you have one, but remember to keep the bulbs whole -- it makes slicing so much easier. You're looking for very finely sliced fennel.
In a separate bowl, socialise the fennel seeds, the extra virgin olive oil, the sherry vinegar, the crushed black or white peppercorns, whichever you are using, and the crushed garlic. Tumble this mixture into the finely sliced fennel and leave to infuse for a while.
When you're ready to serve, scatter the fennel fronds on top, followed by the strips of pitted green olives. If added in advance, the fronds will wilt and turn grey while the olives will cannibalise the fennel's delicate aniseedy taste. To tap into the health benefits described above, remember to choose oil, brine or water-cured olives over the canned variety.
Either serve on a plate alongside fish, or let your guests help themselves from the salad bowl.