What You Should Know About Olive Oil

It’s a science-y Wednesday again! Ready to get your learn on?

I’m not quite going to go Bill Nye on you. But get ready to get scientific in hurr.  

Olive Oil is often considered a staple of a healthy diet, the gold standard for “healthy” fats in a diet. Olive oil, primarily made up of monounsaturated fats, is certainly a healthy type of fat, although I wont even get into the debate about whether saturated fat is really as evil as it is made out to be. I’ve already done that here, after all.

Why is olive oil so healthy though? It is not just the monounsaturated fats, it’s that in combination with a whole slew of antioxidants. The health effects of olive oil are numerous, which is the reason why it is touted by many health professionals as a perfect substitution for other saturated fats such as butter and lard. And I’m not here to argue that fact. Olive oil is, in fact, extremely healthy. The positive health effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Protection against heart disease (monounsaturated fats help to raise HDL levels without raising LDL levels).
  • Regulation of insulin and blood sugar levels
  • Protection against gallstone formation
  • Protection against colon cancer
  • Encourages gastric and GI health
  • Reduced inflammation in the body- possibly helping with asthma and arthritis

That being said, not all olive oils are created equal. The type of processing can severely effect the health benefits offered by this super food, and processing is unfortunately not regulated the way it should be.

First of all, there are several different grades of olive oil, as defined here by the USDA, the highest of which is Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), and the lowest of which is Lampante Virgin Olive Oil (which is not fit for human consumption). What primarily separates the grades is the acidity, or oleic acid content, which can range from <1% in EVOO, to 3.3% in LVOO.

Why does it matter, you ask? Is there really a reason to consume EVOO over regular virgin olive oil? The answer is that most of us are consuming olive oil for a reason: it’s good for us.   Unfortunately, all of the processing that goes into types of olive oil that are less than EVOO remove many of the antioxidants, thus removing many of the important health benefits of this super food.

So you should just buy EVOO, right? And all will be right with the world?

Wrong.

Sorry. 

Unfortunately, there have been recent studies and reports which have suggested that many products sold and marketed as extra virgin olive oil do not meet the standards of the IOC (international olive council). So what, you ask? Well, I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying a little bit more money for the good stuff, I want to know that I’m actually getting the good stuff, right? You wouldn’t want to pay for a Mercedes, only to drive a Kia off the lot, would you?

Not unless you’re a giant, dancing hamster, I’d guess. 

The thing is, as I mentioned above, one of the main criterion that differentiate between EVOO and it’s lesser counterparts is the acidity. This unfortunately means that olive oils with a higher acidity can be refined down to lower it’s acidity, thus being able to carry the label of “Extra Virgin”. However, now that it’s been refined, it’s actually anything but that, considering that real extra virgin olive oil is the most pure, unrefined, unprocessed form of olive oil.

Still, so what? You might be asking. And it’s a valid question. Will consuming a lesser quality of olive oil hurt you? No, probably not. But you’re also not getting the health benefits that are the very reason why most of us consume olive oil in the first place. Essentially, you may as well just be eating Canola Oil (also made up of MUFAs, but without all of the incredible antioxidant benefits). So if that’s ok with you, and you’re just looking for some oily goodness without actually benefitting your health, than you might as well save yourself a few bucks and go with a generic vegetable oil instead of buying EVOO that’s not really EVOO at all.

So if you do want the good stuff, how do you know where to find it? Unfortunately, it seems as though many of the bigger brands in the supermarkets may not be providing us with high quality olive oil, so sometimes you may need to look a little harder than your chain supermarket. What you should look for is a company who’s olive oil is cold pressed and unfiltered. It should be a a little bit cloudy (hence the unfiltered), and should be stored in a dark glass bottle to prolong shelf life.

We recently made the switch to this brand, which we found at our favorite local market.  I wish I could tell you more about the company, but the entire website is in Italian (which I can pretend I speak, but I’d be lying). Let me tell you though, it is delicious, and worth the extra couple of dollars!

Yes, it is a little more pricey to go this route, but not only does it garner more health  benefits, it tastes better too! Win, Win, if you ask me!

Are you an olive oil user? Do you use extra virgin olive oil? Do you care if what’s labeled as EVOO may not be?

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6 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Olive Oil

  1. Man this was great, I love learning about info like this! Yet again I’m disappointed in the food industry though– why do they feel the everpresent urge to mislabel stuff?!
    Ooh that brand of evoo sounds really neat! I use evoo sometimes, but lately I’ve been goin bananas for walnut oil! It gives such a nutty, yummy flavor!

  2. Hi Stephanie, I’m a former Tar Heel who knows your other half and I’m really enjoying reading your blog!! 🙂 Another thing to be careful of with EVOO is the smoke point. A lot of people heat oil too high in temperature, which causes the EVOO to deteriorate chemically. High quality (and therefore, more expensive) olive oils have a higher smoke point, so another reason to spend a few extra $$ on EVOO!

    • Thanks for the comment, and Thanks for adding in such a good point!! Although sometimes it hurts the wallet a little bit, buying the good stuff (and making sure it actually is the good stuff) is definitely worth it in my book!

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