Recently, I have read several articles on the benefits of eating
a Mediterranean Diet (MD). One of the main tenants of the MD, according to the health officials promoting it, is that the MD is low in saturated fat. Although true habitants of the Mediterranean do not eat a lot of saturated fat, the diet is by no means low in total fat. One of the main foods in that diet is olive oil, specifically extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
When I think olive oil, I think Italy, but, according to Tom Mueller in his book Extra Virginity, the Greeks use more olive oil than anyone else. The Greeks, on average, consume 21 liters per year versus the Italians at 13 liters. We Americans barely consume 1 liter per year! Drilling down further, the inhabitants of Crete, a Greek island, consume even more – about a glass per day. Crete olive trees are said to outnumber Cretan people 500 to one! This is telling because Cretans are some of the longest living people in the world1.
The Health Benefits of Olive Oil are Far-Reaching
A recent study in Europe showed that women with excess body fat who consumed EVOO not only had improved diastolic blood pressure, but also reduced body fat compared to the control group.
Other benefits of olive oil include:
Provides vitamins E and K
Source of omega-3 fatty acids
Heart Protective– increases HDL and reduces LDL cholesterol
May improve cognitive function
May help improve insulin secretion and regulate blood sugar
Reduces inflammation – helpful for arthritis and other chronic diseases
Lessens the risk of clotting in the arteries
May help prevent colon cancer
Makes food taste good!!!!
Buying and Storing
Many olive oils are not pure olive oil. What?! That’s right. Companies cut the oil with other oils in order to pad their bottom line while labeling the oil as extra virgin. This New York Times infographic explains the practice well.
In 2010, the University of California studied 124 imported brands of extra virgin olive oil for purity and found that roughly 70% of the of the samples failed. Medianit.com recently published a list of which ones to avoid and which ones to buy based on the study. Lately I have been buying oils from either California or Australia. The better ones carry an official government seal of approval such as “Australian Extra Virgin Certified” and “California Olive Oil Council Certified Extra Virgin.”
So what else do you need to know about buying a good EVOO?
When buying EVOO from the grocery store, consider these tips:
Look for extra virgin olive oil, which is the highest quality olive oil produced entirely by mechanical means, without the use of any solvents, and cold-pressed under temperatures that will not degrade the olive oil.
The olive oil should come in a dark-colored glass bottle to protect it from damaging light and toxins in plastics.
Do not buy olive oil that says “Refined” on the label and do not confuse cold-pressed with “cold processed”.
If you are lucky enough to have a specialty olive oil store nearby, you can sample each oil before you buy to ensure quality. It should have a slightly bitter taste depending on the region the olives where harvested, but
buy what tastes best to you.
Most olive oils have a shelf life of one year so if you are not going to use it quickly, buy the smallest size bottle you will use quickly because you do not know how long it was on the store’s shelf. Store your olive oil out of the light and away from heat (including the stove). I keep mine in an easy to reach cabinet.
Many olive oils come flavored ~ rosemary, garlic, truffles (yum!). Have fun cooking and experimenting with these olive oils and make sure to use them liberally...for your health’s sake.
Have a favorite recipe for olive oil? Share it below in the comments!
1. Mueller T. Extra virginity: the sublime and scandalous world of olive oil. New York: W.W. Norton; 2013.
Olive in Heart: Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_ifong'>ifong / 123RF Stock Photo
Poured Olive Oil: Copyright:https://www.123rf.com/profile_premat123'>premat123 / 123RF Stock Photo