Olive oil has an extremely long history of use, particularly in the Mediterranean where olive trees are plentiful. Olive oil is abundant in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are generally touted as healthy for the cardiovascular and immune systems. A few other sources of healthy MUFAs include macadamia nuts, avocado, and olives themselves. Extra virgin olive oil (referred to as EVOO from here forward) is also a great source of phenols (plant compounds that can be beneficial to our health, such as antioxidants), other phytonutrients, and the difficult-to-obtain vitamin E. As you likely know, EVOO remains liquid at room temperature and at cooler temperatures, may thicken, but doesn’t solidify the same way saturated fats do. EVOO can be a wonderfully healthy addition to one’s diet and is a delicious and convenient addition to homemade salad dressings especially!
When buying and using EVOO there are several important things to consider – some that you may not have known about previously or been overly concerned about. It’s time to change that!
Let’s first simply discuss a few significant reasons that dietary fats are essential for a healthy body, and even more importantly why HEALTHY dietary fats are crucial. Our BRAINS are comprised of about 60% fat. Fatty acids are critical to our brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Furthermore, EACH OF OUR CELLS has a bilipid layer (2 lipid layers) which is made up of fatty acids. Fatty acids are the building blocks for our HORMONES, actually IMPROVE our CHOLESTEROL (contrary to what we’ve been told for far too long), and are CARRIERS for fat-soluble vitamins and ASSIST in their ABSORPTION within the body! Need I say more? Healthy fats are vital to our overall health!
I emphasize the term HEALTHY fats because we wouldn’t want to offer our brains, hormones, and cells rancid or damaged fats to use as building blocks, would we? Just as we would discard a misshaped Lego when building a masterpiece (yes- I have two boys of Lego-building age), we want to avoid damaged oils when offering our body some it’s most important building blocks. Some of the most common inflammatory oils I’d strongly recommend avoiding are industrially processed “vegetable” oils such as soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, grapeseed, margarine, shortening, and peanut oils. These are often processed in a way that leaves them damaged and rancid before even hitting the store shelves.
Things to consider about EVOO:
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1) EVOO does NOT get better with age! In the first 1-3 months, EVOO maintains much of its phenol and phytonutrient content. Between months 3-6 some of those compounds start to degrade. That’s why it’s important to look for an EVOO that has the HARVEST date! The best by date doesn’t tell you how long ago it was processed. Often olive oils found in stores have already been sitting in a warehouse or on the store shelves for months or longer before their purchase. Olive oil is at it’s best right after pressing!
2) Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are a bit more stable than polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), but less stable than saturated fats. What does this mean? We want to be careful with their exposure to heat, light, and oxygen. We want to look for cold pressed olive oil (no heat applied in the extraction processing). We want to buy oils that are sold in dark bottles that help to protect them from light. We can provide further protection by storing them in a cool, dark cupboard rather than keeping them on the shelf. We may not want to keep our EVOO in a cupboard close to the stove or above a lamp where it will be frequently exposed to even low level heat. To protect from oxygen exposure, we can keep our EVOO bottles tightly capped between uses. Even better would be to pour some oil into a smaller container for daily use, keeping the larger bottle or can from more frequent oxygen exposure during everyday consumption. And back to heat for a moment—olive oil can tolerate mild heating and is great for room temp or cool food applications. If you’re looking for higher temp cooking fats, saturated fats are your best option (and, yes, even those are cholesterol-friendly).
3) Now here’s the shocker– ONLY about 30% of EVOO sold on the market is actually PURE! A whopping 69% has been shown to be rancid (related to the use of old olives, aged oil, or poor processing standards) and/or cut with cheaper UNHEALTHY fats like soybean oil or other vegetable oils. YES, most (if not all) of the olive oils found in grocery stores, even health food stores, are NOT PURE and HEALTHY! And worse, the label will not indicate whether they’ve been cut with other vegetable oils. Often they won’t tell you the harvest date either, so you have no idea how fresh it is (not likely to be only 1-3 months old). I tell you this not to scare you, but to educate you! #knowbetterdobetter Check out this multipage infographic on the topic by Nicholas Blechman on The New York Times Opinion Pages.
So, now I know you’re wondering, “How can I be sure I’m getting legit EVOO?”
Start by looking at the labels and the bottles or cans of olive oil more closely. Examine them for some of the characteristics above.
Let me tell you, though, about my favorite and trusted source of EVOO! It comes from a small family business- Kasandrinos. I share them with you on my Things I Love page, too. Kasandrinos is a brother-sister team who sells FRESH EVOO from the Greek village in which their dad grew up. They sell their oil in dark bottles or cans and always include the harvest date! They do not sell their oil if it’s more than 1 year past the harvest date. Like fresh oil should, it’ll sting the back of your throat a little bit if you taste it plain, due to the high content of beneficial compounds. And it’s got a lovely green hue, not from added color or chlorophyll, but straight from the olives! Its flavor most definitely adds to a dish!
In my home, we all love using KEVOO (Kasandrinos EVOO) on top of our salads! It’s great for making homemade dressings and marinades. And since it’s summer, my most recent obsession is making various types of pesto with it! I make a fairly traditional dairy-free pesto (simply fresh basil, pine nuts, chives, sea salt, and KEVOO). But I also enjoy making some with added parsley, a cilantro-parsley variety, or carrot top-cilantro pesto. Fresh herbs are abundant in nutrients! Combine them with KEVOO and your body can transport and utilize those nutrients even better and obtain the added numerous benefits of the phenols, phytonutrients, and rare vitamin E from the olive oil!