Saturday, May 4, 2013

Is Olive Oil Healthy?

OliveFor years we've all heard about how great olive oil is, but is it really a healthy choice for cooking with?

Olive oil is extremely common in Mediterranean food, which happens to be a people group with generally low heart disease rates.  It's also some super awesome tasting food.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

Olive oil is made from taking green olives and pressing them until oil comes out of them.  The first oil out of the olives is called extra virgin olive oil.  It has more flavor and is better for your health.

The acidity of the oil also determines whether it's extra virgin, virgin, or plain olive oil.  Extra virgin olive oil has 0.8%, virgin olive oil at 2%, neither of which are refined.  Plain olive oil is at bit different as it's a blend of virgin and chemically refined olive oil giving it no greater than 1% acidity.  The lower the acidity, the greater the amount of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants.

Extra virgin olive oil is said to have great taste, and virgin olive oil to have good taste.  The taste and color are largely determined by the type of olives used as well as where they are grown (much like grapes for wine).

Decoding the label is easy with the knowledge of a few key words.  The words "light" and "extra light" are referring only to color, and not to a lower amount of calories or fat.  The words "cold pressed" mean that as little heat was used as possible in the pressing of the oil.

What makes olive oil so healthy is that it's 70-80% of a monosaturated fat called oleic acid, which is much higher than all other vegetable oils.  Oleic acid may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.  That's right eating healthy fats can keep you skinny (just don't go too crazy with it).  :)

As I researched I found some debate over what's a safe cooking temperature.  From what I've found it seems that much of the nutrients in the oil are preserved up until the point at which the oil starts smoking.  At the smoking point nutrients are being destroyed.  So moral of the story is don't burn your oil.

The general temperature I found to be recommended is topping out at only 200-250 degrees, but you can play with that a bit and see how it works for what you are cooking.  I definitely wouldn't deep fry anything in it.

To get the healthiest olive oil look for cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil.

You can try tasting different brands to find a flavor that suits you.  Look for dark bottles, as they help to preserve the olive oil for longer.  It should keep for about 2 years, if it develops a buttery taste it's time to chuck it.

If you are wondering what some great tasting olive oils are then check out these consumer rated bests.

The Mediterraneans commonly eat the olive oil uncooked by dipping bread into it or by pouring it over salad.

I use olive oil to lightly grease my skillet, and in salad dressings.  For deep frying try cholesterol free, and super healthy fat filled, coconut oil.  It's also amazing in all baked goods!  Butter from a grass fed cow is another great option for cooking or baking, as it has important vitamins and lots of tasty nutrients in it!

This recipe for Creamy Italian Salad dressing, is one that I made for my family a few days ago and we all chowed down.  Don't go too heavy on the garlic if you've got little ones though.  My two year old loved the taste so much she kept stuffing down her salad even as she declared it "spicy".

Others like olive oil straight over salad with some balsamic vinaigrette, or mixed with some herbs and used as dip for a loaf of crusty bread.  Doesn't that just make you picture Italy?  Just me?  Okay.  :)


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