You picked up some olive oil because you heard it was a healthy cooking oil, right? Right! But the thing is, they are not all created equal so you’re left standing in front of a sea of oils, vexed, doing you’re best to make the right decision. Ah, the grocery store. Could it be more confusing? I mean seriously. Lucky for you, I spend a ton of time in the grocery store so I am going to break it down for you. Olive Oil is nourishing and when you know what to look for, you’ll feel confident that you picked a healthy option.
We eat a ton of extra virgin olive oil in my house. It’s my go-to oil for cooking and drizzling. I use it liberally. I even glug a bit over my plate of food before I eat my meal. Yes, I’m a fan. I am also a fan of quality and by now you know that all foods are NOT created equal and this is truly the case with olive oil.
Recent studies have shown that 60- 70% of the olive oils on the market are fraudulently labeled “Extra Virgin” and even more bothersome is the fact that some brands may not be 100% olive oil at all. They could be diluted with other, more inflammatory oils (more to come on this next week: I am talking to your vegetable oils like soybean, safflower, sunflowers and canola) that most of us aim to avoid.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil–It’s a highly protective fat containing nearly 75% monounsaturated fats (the good stuff). It aids in overall digestion as well as the absorption of nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is also known to reduce inflammation in the body due to its phytonutrients and antioxidant properties. Additionally, a diet rich in Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been shown to prevent diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and more.
All this being said, it’s understandable why I am such a fan of this anti-inflammatory oil (plus, I’m 100% Italian). It’s also easy to understand why QUALITY is so important. A good quality oil means more nutrient density and more flavor!
How to choose a good olive oil:
- Choose an olive oil that is labeled 100% “Extra Virgin Olive Oil “as a starting point.
- Avoid labels such as “pure”, “light” or “olive oil” as they have been refined through heat and chemical processes which strips away many of the health benefits as well as the flavor.
- Always choose cold-pressed oil. Heat can be used to extract the oil from the olive but that means the oil has been heated as well. When a fat is heated it becomes less stable. It also loses some nutritional value and can go rancid more quickly.
- In the past, olive oils have primarily been sourced from Mediterranean regions but don’t let marketing fool you. “Bottled in Italy” doesn’t mean “grown and produced in Italy”. In general, try to avoid oils whose precise mill locations are not specified on the label. California olive oils are newer on the market but many rank high from a quality standpoint and I love them. That’s says a lot considering my loyalty to Italy (wink, wink).
- Choose single origin olive oils and avoid olive oils that are blends like, “Mediterranean Blend” as there may be less expensive oils mixed in.
- Always be sure to check the best by date, or better yet, the “harvest date”. Bottles will generally be dated for two years from the time the oil was bottled, so try and find oil that is furthest from that date. Or, try to buy oils from this year’s harvest. The older the oil, the less health benefits and the more quickly it will go rancid.
- Only buy olive oils packaged in a dark bottle. This is a great way to weed out refined oil. A clear glass bottle is a no-no. Olive oil is sensitive to heat and light and exposure to these elements will degrade the oil. Be sure to buy dark glass bottles and store in cool dry places (even your fridge) in order to prolong its shelf life. Tip: while we all tend to store our oils next to the stove this is another no-no! The heat can affect the stability of the oil.
- Use olive oils within a few months of opening. While you can cook with olive oil at medium heat, the most health benefits will be available when it is consumed uncooked.
- Look for seals and designations as helpful indications of quality. Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP) in Italy, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in France and Denomination of Origin (DOP) throughout the European Union (EU) identify products produced, processed and prepared in regions known for expertise in that particular product. The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and International Olive Council (IOC) certify and give their mark to quality extra-virgin olives oils, from California and the EU respectively, based on taste and quality.
Simplify the Message with these Take-Home Tips:
Buy Single Origin Extra Virgin Olive Oil that is packaged in dark bottle and look for the words, “first cold pressed”.
- Store in a cool, dark area away from heat (aka: the stove)
- keep the lid on tight
- buy smaller quantities
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