Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils around! We go through a lot of it in our house and I want to make sure we are getting the good stuff! You know, the highest quality with the highest nutritional benefits kind of good stuff. There are so many options to choose from though! There is cold-pressed, oil in plastic bottles, oil in glass bottles, dark and clear bottles… so, what's the difference and which ones should you be considering to get the best health benefits? And what exactly makes olive oil such a power house?
Olive Oil In the Making
Olive oil comes from simply pressing the oil from the olive. The different types are a result of how that oil is actually processed and what the oil goes through before making its way into your kitchen.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality olive oil you can buy. It is unrefined, meaning the olives are pressed to extract the oil as opposed to being industrially processed in any way. A much healthier oil is born by pressing the olives.
Light, or regular olive oil is made from refined oil and can sometimes have other vegetable oils added in. Typically they are chemically processed and are a mix of low-quality oils. You will want to stay away from these.
Many bottles of extra-virgin olive oil will also list "but first cold pressed". Cold-pressed is just a descriptor of the oil , but it's a little confusing because in order to be considered "extra-virgin" it has to be cold-pressed. In addition to cold-pressing, extra virgin oil also has quality standards, like purity, taste, and scent. Extra-virgin olive oil is the good stuff!
You Say Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is Good For Me!?
Yes! It's a staple in the Mediterranean diet and the Mediterranean diet is known to be one of the healthiest around.
Extra-virgin olive oil possesses extensive health benefits! It is particularly high in monounsaturated fat (healthy fat) and is loaded with antioxidants. EVOO has anti-inflammatory compounds, which can reduce inflammation. This personally stands out to me as one of the most important health benefits, since chronic inflammation is believed to be a main driver of many diseases.
In addition to reducing inflammation, EVOO can lower rates of heart disease, depression, dementia, obesity, and can promote a healthy immune system. It provides key vitamins and phytonutrients (healthy stuff produced by plants) like Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Potassium, Iron, and Calcium.
But Which One is the Best?
Not all olive oil is created equally, that is why you need to ensure you are getting the highest quality to take advantage of the amazing benefits it has to offer. As a starting point, always look for extra-virgin olive oil (remember, EVOO should be cold pressed with no use of chemicals or refinement), however, even some labeled as "extra-virgin" could be laced with other types of unhealthy oils (nothing is straight forward these days... sigh).
So, how to know if you're buying 100% extra-virgin olive oil?
- There are numerous seals and certifications to look for. Certified Extra Virgin or Olive Oil Commission of California (CA oils only) are good ones to look for. If not those, look for something that certifies it's purification or research the brand to understand their processing standards.
- Pure EVOO will solidify in the fridge. Throw a little bit in the fridge and if it solidifies after a few hours you know you have the good stuff.
- Try a spoonful! EVOO should be darker in color and have a slight peppery and bitter taste to it.
To Cook, or Not to Cook with EVOO
If you look (and trust me, I've looked), you'll find a lot of conflicting information about cooking with EVOO and if it's safe or actually harmful to your health. And it all comes down to the smoke point of the oil. When an oil reaches its smoke point, it loses many of the health benefits and can release harmful substances.
According to the North American Olive Oil Association, EVOO's smoke point is 350 to 410 degrees Fahrenheit, and olive oil's smoke point is 390 to 468 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due to how the two are processed. Even though EVOO has a lower smoke point (technically speaking) it has high oxidative stability (meaning high heat doesn't break down the oil) and this may be due in part to the high content of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Some believe that because of EVOO's low smoke point and is best suited for dressing or drizzling on food after it's been cooked. In actuality, due to EVOO's great oxidative stability, it's still a great choice for cooking. So go ahead, and saute those veggies using EVOO.
But Wait, There's More
- Dark glass containers protects the oil from light and oxygen. Avoid clear or plastic bottles.
- Store away from heat to maintain freshness of oil.
- Check the harvesting date on the bottle to ensure your oil is still fresh. Once opened, be sure to use within 2-3 months in order to take advantage of all the health benefits. And of course, store in a cool, dark place.
- Don't be misled by the term "pure olive oil" - it's just a marketing scam to think you are getting quality oil, but in fact it's most likely just a mix of refined and unrefined olive oils. Always look for extra-virgin.
- Origin doesn't matter. As long as it's extra-virgin and 100% pure, where it's from isn't a big deal.
In conclusion, 100% extra-virgin olive oil is a nutrient power house. As long as you know you are getting the good stuff, drink up (and if that's gross, just pour a bunch of it on your food)!
(photo credit iStock Photos)