Olive oil is well-known as one of the healthiest sources of dietary fat. But with all the options out there, how do you know which to choose? This article will help you understand what makes olive oil so good, why some olive oils are better than others, and how to use olive oil for optimal health benefits.
First, let’s look at the chemistry.
Long gone are the days when fat-free was thought to be the healthy option. Today scientists recognize that small amounts of fat in the diet is actually essential for fat-soluble vitamin absorption and cellular integrity. The key is to balance the types of fats you consume to give your body the proper cholesterol ratio (high HDL: low LDL).
Olive oil is full of oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, containing anywhere from 55-85% of this desirable constituent. Also, the higher the oleic acid content, the longer it will take to go rancid, leading to an extended shelf-life and higher heat resistance.
Polyphenols are a group of chemical compounds that can be found in fruits, vegetables, green and black tea, red wine, chocolate, coffee, olives, and yes, olive oil.
Polyphenols are what give olive oil that bitter/pungent, back-of-throat bite. The more bite you experience, the higher the polyphenol content of that olive oil. The higher the polyphenol content, the more heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory the oil will be.
Based on the International Olive Oil Council’s standards, the maximum peroxide value for extra-virgin olive oil is 20. Lower peroxide values are most desirable, as peroxide can hasten the oxidation process of olive oil, making it go rancid sooner.
Which olive-oil is best?
Olive oil is lauded as the primary health-boosting ingredient in the traditional Mediterranean diet. But there are thousands of olive oils out there, so how do you know which ones to choose?
Only Buy Extra-Virgin Olive-Oil
Extra virgin olive-oil is the highest quality olive-oil you can buy, with a PH acidity level up to 10. Extra virgin means the oil is produced using no solvents, and ensuring that the oil is never heated above 86°F (30°C). The oil will also be purely olive-oil, undiluted by other vegetable oils.
Once you’ve had good olive oil, the taste is indisputable. To learn what good olive-oil tastes like, your best bet is to go to an olive-oil specialty shop. These shops pride themselves in offering the best oils, and you have the opportunity to taste the oil before you buy.
When you select an oil, it is always best to taste-test to see if you get that bite in the back of your throat. If the bite is absent, there’s a good chance the olive oil is not pure or has gone rancid, and consequently has far less of those lovely polyphenols available to boost your health.
Check the Production Date
Oil that was pressed more than 6 months ago usually doesn’t have many beneficial properties left in it. In order to ensure the quality of your olive oil, try to find out when it was pressed. If you can’t find this information, a good rule of thumb is to buy oil from the region that most recently produced olive oil.
In the Mediterranean, olives are pressed in the late fall and winter. Therefore, in the fall, olive oils that were produced in the southern hemisphere will tend to be fresher. When spring rolls around Mediterranean olive oils will be the oil of choice.
How to Use Your Olive-Oil
Once you have chosen your olive oil, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most benefits from it.
First of all, make sure you use your olive oil within 6 months of its press-date. This shouldn’t be hard to do, as studies indicate the benefit of consuming at least 2 tablespoons of highly-phenolic olive-oil per day.
Make sure your olive oil is stored in a dark bottle, in a cool dark space in your kitchen. Also, always double-check that the cap is properly secured on the bottle, as the more oxygen contact the oil has, the faster it will spoil.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with olive oil is exposing it to high cooking heats. To get the most benefits from your olive oil, use it as a finishing-oil on already-cooked or cold foods. If you want to cook with your olive oil, only do so over low heat.
I hope this article has helped you understand the many sides of olive oil, and inspires you to enjoy it on a daily basis.
- Aubrey, Allison. “To Get The Benefits of Olive Oil, Fresh May Be Best.” The Salt, NPR. 2013.
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What’s your favorite brand of olive-oil? Why do you like it? Share your experiences in the comments section!