Heart-healthy Olive Oil

As many of you may know, we here at Origins love including plenty of healthy fats in our diets (for more information on the topic, see our previous post “Sugar Industry Shocker!”).  We’re frequently asked about the best types of oils to use, and one of our most popular choices is the classic standard, olive oil.

Olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree.  It’s an ancient oil that has been used since biblical times, and it’s a staple of the famously heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet.  Olive oil is mainly composed of monounsaturated fats, the most predominant of these being oleic acid.  Oleic acid is extremely heart-healthy, and is a potent destroyer of free-radicals.  Olive oil also contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a plant-based omega 3 fatty acid that can also be converted by the body into the EPA and DHA fatty acids found in fish oils.

While we love (and strongly recommend) olive oil, there are a few caveats to be aware of when purchasing and using olive oil.  The first relates to smoke points.  When any oil begins to smoke, that means it’s oxidizing.  Oxidized oils have free radicals, which are the very things we’re fighting against when we try to eat an antioxidant-rich diet and avoid the systemic long-term diseases that have been plaguing our country. Given this, it’s unfortunate to learn that olive oil has a low smoking point.  That means it’s best used in low heat cooking only, or to drizzle onto food after they’ve been cooked.  It also works wonderfully in salad dressings and other cold food items.  We love to drizzle olive oil liberally onto cooked quinoa, toss with sea salt, chia seeds, and pine nuts, and place over a bed of leafy greens for a quick (and easy!) snack or meal.

It’s vitally important to make sure you’re buying the right type of olive oil if you want to get all of the health benefits from this amazing oil.  Unfortunately, many olive oil producers combine their olive oil products with other types of oils, like low-quality vegetable oils.  This is often done to save money, and there is no indication on the bottle that other oils are blended in.  You would never be able to tell from reading the information on your bottle! Many producers also use oil that was harvested several years ago, which can include oil that has gone rancid or has lost any of its health benefits.  Some producers will knowingly combine fresh olive oils with older, rancid oils in order to reuse product and save money.  There have been so many problems with reputable production of olive oil that there are now entire websites devoted to the selection of “real” olive oils.  One such website, Truth In Olive Oil, has a list of supermarket oils that can be referenced when purchasing oils in the store: Olive oils .  For truly fresh olive oil, there is a fresh-pressed olive oil club that can send the highest quality oils right to you: fresh pressed olive oil.

When trying to locate the best olive oil options on your supermarket shelf, two good indicators of high-quality olive oils include a harvested date on the bottle and/or a seal from the International Olive Oil Council, or IOC, who certify the type of oil used.  When taking an olive oil home, you can also conduct the refrigerator test: a pure olive oil will get cloudy and solidify in the fridge, whereas one cut with other oils will not.

Olive oil can be categorized as “extra virgin”, “virgin”, or “light”.  Extra virgin olive oil should be cold-pressed, which means the oil is extracted from the olive fruit via a mechanical press that doesn’t use excessive heat (which oxidizes the oil) or chemicals to extract the oil from the fruit.  This is the type of olive oil you ideally want to purchase.  Virgin olive oil is taken from the second pressing of the olive fruit, after the extra virgin oil is created, or from overly ripe olives.  This oil is less desirable than extra virgin.  Light olive oil should be avoided altogether.  It’s often made from a blend of oils, using low-quality vegetable oils and highly-refined olive oils.  Light olive oils are usually extracted using chemical processing, and are often rancid, oxidized, or laced with chemicals.

This may seem like a lot of information, but once you know how to properly purchase, store, and use olive oil, including this oil as a regular part of your diet is a truly fantastic choice for your long-term health.

A note on the storage of olive oil:

Olive oil should be stored away from heat and light, both of which will cause it to oxidize.  When purchasing olive oil, you should only buy bottles that are dark colored, as this is done to avoid the exposure to light that causes oxidation and generates free radicals.  Avoid purchasing oils that are stored in plastic containers or other light-colored bottles.  It’s also better to purchase oils in small containers, so they are used more quickly after opening and therefore retain more freshness and health benefits.