I was recently invited to participate in a Spa Fair focusing on wellness, mind and body through holistic living. Happy to take part in this event, I began to put together information about olive oil and its health benefits. This made me wonder if it is a well-known fact that olive oil is truly a health food. There is a lot of research available on olive oil and it has recently been gaining momentum in the media, but I believe there is a lot of confusion for consumers as well. So, for my first blog post, with the Spa Fair less than a week away, this is the perfect time to set some things straight about olive oil!
First, you need to know that I only sell olive oil products that are certified Extra Virgin. Second, you need to know why. Extra Virgin is the highest grade of olive oil and the way the oil is extracted from the olives is done using very specific methods. The resulting products are held up to very high standards and must pass chemical analysis and expert taste evaluations to be truly certified Extra Virgin. Always purchase olive oil from a trusted source or look for a seal from one of the regulatory agencies that actually perform these tests and certify olive oil (International Olive Oil Council, North American Olive Oil Council or California Olive Oil Council). Without these tests, there is no way to be sure you are buying true Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which brings us to an entirely different topic of fraud in the industry which can be summarized in this cartoon from the New York Times: Extra Virgin Suicide. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is oil from the first press of the olives creating the healthiest and most flavorful oil. It must have an acidity level of less than .8%, and no heat or chemicals can be used during the extraction process. This means you are getting fresh and unadulterated juice of the olive. Those looking for the most health benefit from olive oil should look for a producer that harvests and presses the olives on the same day. To enjoy the full flavor and health benefits of olive oil, it should be used within 18 months of the bottling date.
Not all Extra Virgin Olive Oils are created equal, each will have its own characteristics based on a number of factors. They should all have a fruity aroma and taste, with varying notes of fruitiness or bitterness. Phenolic compounds and antioxidant levels have a significant effect on olive oil flavor. There is a good correlation between aroma and flavor of olive oil and its polyphenol content. Many of these flavor compounds decompose if temperatures during milling are too high (source: theoliveoilsource.com). Other factors such as the variety of olive, climate, properties of the soil and time of harvest can affect the flavor and antioxidant levels as well. For example, olives harvested early during the winter, October – December, are much stronger than olives harvested late, the end of winter/early spring, which become more delicate and buttery in flavor. While there are many varieties of olives, they all have great health benefits as long as they are treated correctly when their oil is extracted.
There are a variety of ways that Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) can improve and maintain our health. EVOO contains high-density lipoproteins (HDLs aka good cholesterol) which help cleanse the body of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs aka bad choleserol). This results in an overall reduction in cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. There are many ways in which EVOO has shown to fight or help prevent cancer as well. Vitamin K can reduce the risk of and help treat skin tumors. Research done by the Universitat Autonoma in Barcelona showed that molecules in the monounsaturated fat can actually fight tumors, slow their growth and in some cases even causing them to implode. Although olive oil consists mainly of fat, monounsaturated fats are healthy and may help normalize blood clotting. Some research shows that monounsaturated fatty acids may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes. EVOO is also full of Vitamins E and A, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium which are important to maintain healthy skin, nails, hair, bones and boosts immune systems.
All of this shows there is definitely something to all the hype about olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet (read more about that here). We all may not be able to get EVOO as fresh as those living in areas where it is grown and milled, but we should do our best to buy the freshest olive oil we can from reliable sources.
I have a lot more to say on this topic, so look forward to more information on cooking with olive oil and hundreds of great uses for olive oil in my upcoming posts!