Olive Oil: A Wonderful Ancient Oil
Olive oil is the oil that is pressed from olives which are the fruits of the olive tree. Olive oil has been a staple in the diet of many Mediterranean countries for more than five thousand years. Olive oil is one of the world’s most popular oils for culinary purposes, and there are many varieties to choose from.
The recent re-discovery of the Mediterranean diet has caused olive oil to become very popular in the United States in the past few decades. Today, much of the commercial cultivation of olive oil is still centered in the Mediterranean region in such countries as Spain (40% of total production), Italy (30%), and Greece (20%).
Benefits of Olive Oil
The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids are actually considered a healthy dietary fat. If you replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats, you may gain certain health benefits. For instance, monounsaturated fatty acids have been found to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Some studies suggest that olive oil can help prevent unwanted blood clotting, key features of heart attacks and strokes.
Here are other benefits:
*Olive oil has been shown to lower the levels of total blood cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides.
*Olive oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation.
*Recent studies indicate that regular consumption of olive oil can help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
*Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin E, long thought to minimize cancer risk.
*It has been clinically demonstrated that a diet that is rich in olive oil, low in saturated fats, moderately rich in carbohydrates and soluble fiber from fruit, vegetables, and grains is the most effective approach for diabetics.
*A high consumption of olive oil appears to improve bone mineralization and calcification. It helps calcium absorption and so plays an important role in aiding sufferers and in preventing the onset of osteoporosis.
Types of Oils
There are three types of olive oil: extra virgin, virgin and pure.
Extra virgin means the oil was taken from the first pressing of the olives with a maximum acidity of 1%, without further refinement. It is just filtered, and is the least refined of all the processing methods. Many people prefer this type, as the flavor is strong, and the oil is high in antioxidants.
Virgin olive oil is simply filtered olive oil and it has a milder taste than extra virgin.
Pure olive oil is a blend of refined olive and extra virgin or virgin olive oil.
All of these unrefined oils are found in most health food stores. However, some “pure” and “light” olive oils found in the supermarket may be processed with the use of solvents so when buying these oils in the supermarket, I recommend getting the least refined extra virgin olive oil. Subsequent processing and refining yields an olive oil with a higher acidity and bland taste. Unfortunately, natural antioxidants and polyphenols are lost in the refinement process, which can include the use of harsh chemicals and higher pressing temperatures.
Even with extra virgin olive oil, not all olive oil is created equal. There’s a wide variation between high-quality and low-quality oils, and even among the best varieties, rancidity can be a major problem. Buying the right olive oil is important. There can be deception in labeling in the olive oil market and it is essential to buy from a reputable seller. Even “extra virgin” olive oil is often diluted with other less expensive oils, including hazelnut, soybean, corn, sunflower, palm, sesame, grape seed and walnut. But these other oils will not be listed on the label, nor will most people be able to discern that their olive oil is not pure.
Is My Olive Oil Good?
There are many factors that influence olive oil quality, from how long the olives sat before processing to how long you’ve left the oil sit out on your counter.
Olive oil is highly perishable, but is generally said to be “good” for two years from the date it was bottled (this will usually be the “Best By” date). However, a better indicator of freshness is to go by its harvest date, which will tell you when the oil was actually made. Oils that have a more bitter, peppery flavor have a higher polyphenol content, and these oils will generally keep better than oils made from ripe olives, which have a softer flavor. The latter should be used within six months to a year at most. Only buy oils that have this information on the bottle.
From there, many other factors, including storage temperature, exposure to air and light, and the level of antioxidant content in the oil will also influence how resistant it is to going rancid.
How do you know if it’s bad? The olives may be moldy which would cause a funny, “off” taste. Or it will taste rancid, and it could even taste fermented if they added vinegar.
If you live in an area where olive oil is made, buying from a local producer is the ideal solution as it allows you to know exactly what’s in your oil. If not, buy from a health food store and seek out a brand name that you trust to produce quality oil like the one we sell from Omega Nutrition. (See the Nutritional Information tab on my website, www.lifedesignnutrition.com for more information about Omega Nutrition.)
If at all possible, taste the oil before you buy it. While this won’t necessarily be a guarantee of quality, it can help you to pick out the freshest-tasting oil possible. If you open a bottle at home and find that it tastes rancid or “bad,” return it to the store for a refund.
How Do I Store It?
Here are three tips for storage: *Keep your olive oil in a cool, dark place; dark is key because light will definitely oxidize the fats in olive oil. *Purchase smaller bottles rather than larger sizes to ensure freshness. *Immediately replace the cap after you use it.
How Do I Use Olive Oil?
Olive oil is an ideal oil when it’s used cold, such as in a salad or on top of homemade dips or hummus. While there is some controversy about using olive oil for cooking, I would error on the side of caution and only use it for a light saute, not for deep frying where you would coconut oil. I use olive oil in salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauteing, and baking (such as breads, cakes and muffins.)
How Much Fat is in Olive Oil?
While olive oil is a good fat, it’s still fat. It contains 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, so I would suggest no more than two tablespoons per day. Join us next time as we look at other good fats.