Olive Oil and Lemon Juice: The Mediterranean Diet Combo

Have you ever wondered why we add lemon and olive oil to our salads and main dishes? Why are these two ingredients the most common among all others? Are there any culinary or physiologic factors behind this habit? Today, we will talk about the effects of olive oil and lemon and their synergistic actions!

We know that every food has a special benefit for our body. Some of them mainly provide energy, while some of them have a special function, such as immunity boosting or blood sugar regulation. That's why we call those foods with special health effects as functional foods. And yes, you are right; both olive oil and lemon are functional foods. Let us learn what are their functions, both individually and synergistically.

Olive oil: the core of the Mediterranean diet

Almost every day, we come across a new study about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil, or its active compounds. The reason which makes this oil very special is its great and unique characteristics.

Extra virgin olive oil, especially, includes strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds like monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols. Studies show that using olive oil in your diet can help prevent and manage chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or even neurodegenerative diseases or cancers.

Lemon: a strong vitamin pack

Sometimes, we need to pay attention to the common foods that we consume regularly. Lemon is one of them. It is a fruit from the citrus family, which means it provides us with a bunch of vitamins. For example, when winter arrives, we always think about increasing our consumption of oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines to prevent ourselves from getting the flu. But one of the most reachable citrus fruits as a vitamin source is lemon.

Also, it's worth mentioning citrus fruits are also important members of the Mediterranean diet, as these fruits generally grow well in Mediterranean areas. So, it is not a coincidence that people start using olive oil and lemon together.

The circumstances were suitable for combining these two products at first sight, but afterward, people realized something very good about combining them as it became a habit that was accepted by almost every culture.

Synergistic effects between olive oil and lemon

In the past, people might have realized the taste combination first. As we mentioned above, these two products can be easily found together in the Mediterranean region. But there is also great scientific background on why they increase the taste when they are used together.

Culinary effects

Citrus fruits contain a variety of flavorful compounds that play a crucial role in the overall taste experience. Some of them are fat-soluble phenolic compounds, which means their activity increase by dissolving in fat and this imparts a unique citrusy aroma.

When people combine lemon and olive oil first, they must have realized they are enhancing the overall flavor of the dish.

Health effects

Over time, scientific advancements have unveiled the health benefits of these age-old practices. Regarding their synergistic effects, olive oil and lemon are a perfect match. Citrus fruits like lemons have one special abundant compound called beta-carotene.

Beta-carotenes are the reason why citrus fruits have a yellow or orange color. But beyond appearance, beta-carotenes are crucial sources for our bodies to synthase vitamin A. The most vital functions of vitamin A are vision and immunity.

As you can guess, beta-carotenes and vitamin A are fat-soluble compounds, meaning they need fats to be absorbed from our gastrointestinal system and actively used for physiological functions.

Also there are several phenolic compounds playing antioxidative and anti-inflammatory role in the body. Some of them are also fat-soluable.

Olive oil and lemon combinations provide these health effects while leaving a unique taste on our palate.

How to consume olive oil and lemon

It is easy to incorporate olive oil and lemon into your diet as they suit well with many meals and dishes:

  • Make a salad dressing. You can combine extra virgin olive oil with freshly squeezed lemon juice to create a simple and nutritious salad dressing. Preparing and adding the salad dressing just before you start eating is important so as not to lose the activity of the phenolic compounds and vitamins.
  • Marinate foods. People commonly use the mixture of olive oil and lemon juice as a marinade for meats, poultry, or vegetables before cooking. This adds flavor and helps tenderize the food. You can also prefer herbs and garlic for additional taste and potential health benefits.
  • Drizzle over vegetables. Roasted or steamed vegetables are perfect foods to drizzle some mixture of olive oil and lemon juice before serving. This enhances the nutritional value while adding a fresh, citrusy flavor.
  • Combine with whole grains. To create a healthy side dish for your meals, you can mix olive oil and lemon juice into quinoa, brown rice, or other whole grains.
  • Use as a dipping sauce. You can create a simple dipping sauce by mixing olive oil and lemon juice just to eat with a piece of whole-grain bread as an appetizer. You may have seen this appetizer tradition in many Italian or Turkish restaurants already. You can also add balsamic vinegar if desired.

The last words

The pairing of olive oil and lemon in the Mediterranean diet goes beyond mere culinary tradition — it's a harmonious blend of health and taste. Both ingredients individually boast significant benefits, acting as functional foods with positive effects on our well-being.

The synergy between these two components is not only evident in the kitchen but also supported by scientific findings. The fat-soluble compounds in citrus fruits, such as terpenes and beta-carotenes, find an ideal partner in the healthy fats present in olive oil. This combination not only enhances the flavor of dishes but also facilitates the absorption of essential nutrients like vitamin A.

It is fascinating how people realized these benefits hundreds of years ago, isn't it?

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