It seems to be everyone’s favorite oil. Rich in flavor, olive oil has taken over as the alternative oil for cooking with one’s health in mind. Not only is it dynamic in its application, but it is also being found as a healthy food source, especially when replacing other types of oils.
There are a number of pieces to this puzzle. First off, organic olive oil comes with great benefits to the environment and consumer regarding chemicals (no synthetic pesticide use, sustainable farming practices, etc). What’s more, because many oils are blended with GMO variety cottonseed or canola, consumers are put at risk without their knowing – making the labeling crucial. Organic avoids GMOs altogether.
The most important element of an oil, though, is arguably its fat make up.
Unsaturated vs Saturated Fats
Many people wonder why olive oil is considered a “healthy” food. After all, it is oil (meaning “fat”) food source – right?
Yes. Essentially, the argument that olive oil is high in fat is true. When eating olive oil, remember that because it is high in fat, it is higher in calories (fat has a higher caloric value than protein or carbohydrates). That means one shouldn’t get carried away and thnk of olive oil as nothing but good! The core defining element of olive oil is that its fat is largely unsaturated.
Specifically speaking, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). As stated by Donald Hensrud, MD, at Mayo Clinic, “MUFAs may lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. MUFAs may also help normalize blood clotting. And some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.”
With better regulated cholesterol and reduced blood clotting, it is clear that the one area olive oil can benefit most is cardiovascular health. Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, olive oil is essentially “a natural candidate for lowering our risk of heart problems, because it contains the exactly right combination of nutrients to lower our risk of oxidative stress and chronic, unwanted inflammation,” so says WHFoods. This is largely due to its make up of “essential” fatty acids – omega 3, 6, and (mostly) omega 9.
All in all, there is good reason to make olive oil a big part of your diet!
Tips for Proper Olive Oil Use
Many people cite the fact that the best form of olive oil is extra virgin olive oil. This is the least processed, and therefore retains the most about of nutrients and antioxidants. In fact, research has suggested that only extra virgin is able to produce lowered inflammatory markers; in other words, standard virgin olive oil is not nearly as healthy. That being so, be sure to pick this kind up at the store!
Besides the choice between olive oil processing (which is at the core of what makes it virgin), be sure to take care of your olive oil. It is best stored in cool, dark areas. With exposure to light, the healthy side of oil will slowly degrade over time. Similar effects are seen when being in an opened container for long periods of time, so use your olive oil often! Usually you’ll want to avoid the same bottle of olive oil if it is past 6 months to a year in age from being opened.
Finally, get creative! Olive oil and lemon juice stirred together is a great way to add a little zing to a salad. It is also great for frying taco shells! What are some of your favorite applications?