Eating out: The butter dilemma

Bread and butterI'm not one to eat a lot of bread...but when I do, I want it to be good. I'm most tempted when we go out to eat for dinner on the weekend. I am most happy when the bread is multi-grain, fresh made and warm when it gets to the table. And thanks to a few trips to Italy, I am doubly happy when there is olive oil on the table to accompany my warm, fresh bread.

In a society where we understand so much about health, it amazes me that so many restaurants still serve white bread as the default, and butter, an unhealthy saturated fat, as its faithful companion. There is no reason, however, that we have to accept this as the standard. Personally, when I sit down for dinner and the bread and butter soon follow, I ask the waiter or waitress if they might bring olive oil. Granted, I can't ask for them to bake a loaf of whole grain bread for me, but most restaurants have olive oil on premises and can provide it when requested. Nutritionally, the case for olive oil is a no brainer. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, while butter is a saturated fat. Olive oil:

  • Helps lower cholesterol, essentially lowering risk of heart disease
  • Protects against wrinkles and reduces oxidative damage
  • Helps in absorption of fat-soluble antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin E and lycopene found in many antioxidant-rich vegetables
Butter on the other hand, raises LDL, the bad type of cholesterol and therefore increase your risk of heart disease. Interestingly enough, in a study done by the International Journal of Obesity, it was found that when people are given olive oil in a restaurant, they consumed more olive oil on each piece of bread than those given butter, HOWEVER, they ended up consuming less bread in total. Additionally, they consumed a higher percentage of their calories in fat but had a lower level of total caloric intake, supporting the theory that low-fat isn't always better. So next time you are in a restaurant and the butter comes your way, ask for the olive oil...or even better...eat it without a condiment...the healthiest of options. Any tricks you have to share?