Olive oil is still the healthiest oil for your heart. The trick is to educate yourself and not be swindled by producers trying to increase profits by selling fake oils. Read more to find out how to distinguish the authentic from the fakes and enjoy one of the few delectable foodie treats that actually benefits your health!
Research continues to confirm that those who follow a Mediterranean diet live longer and enjoy a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. At the very heart of Mediterranean cuisine sits olive oil…perched on its golden throne. Most of us have heard that Extra Virgin Olive Oil, (we like to use the acronym EVOO at Cucina Amorosa because it’s shorter and fun to say) is good for your heart, but what exactly makes it so good for you? Most of the health claims focus on its ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease – which also happens to be the number one cause of death in the United States!
Scientists have discovered many beneficial compounds naturally found in EVOO but it all depends on the brand and grade you select. When it comes to purchasing olive oil it is Caveat Emptor or “let the buyer beware”. Olive oil, being the king of oils, is also the most expensive oil to produce. Since it is the most expensive, many producers and distributors dilute their oil with cheaper oils to make more profit at the expense of our health. In fact, a huge percentage of oils labeled EVOO are not what you think and some are completely counterfeit.
To be sure, the best tasting, unprocessed Extra Virgin Olive Oil provides the most health benefits. It’s all about the monounsaturated fat and polyphenols. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat which actually protects against heart disease by helping to control the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while simultaneously increasing the “good” cholesterol (HDL) in the body. In fact, my doctor just prescribed more olive oil because of my high LDL levels. Approximately 2 tablespoons of a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil each day contains high amounts of antioxidants (vitamin E and phenols in particular), which help to lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase anti-oxidants in the blood. Polyphenols are compounds that naturally occur in EVOO and fight oxidation, combat disease, and basically set olive oil apart from other oils. But it all depends on the oil you choose! Here are some basics for how to buy the most delicious, heart-healthy oils on the market.
How to buy the best EVOO
1. Educate yourself and know your olive oil grades. Olive oil is labeled as Extra Virgin, Virgin, or just plain Olive Oil (sometimes they throw in "Classic" "Pure" or "Light-Tasting" to confuse consumers). All authentic olive oils have the same number of calories and all have heart-healthy benefits. EVOO olive oils are special and offer additional health benefits because they retain an abundance of vitamins and polyphenols that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
2. Note the country of origin. Some countries make it easier to recognize high quality oil. Want to really taste the difference between an authentic Italian EVOO and its imitators? Then keep an eye out for the red and yellow DOP label, which ALWAYS includes a serial number, on the back of the bottle. When eating out, examine the menu: Some restaurants will write DOP next to the relevant ingredients. Some regions of Italy even have multiple DOP oils from different areas! (Check out our upcoming post on the regions of Italy for more about what sets these areas apart!).
3. Look for a best-by date. The best-by date should be as far out as possible, though with proper storage in a cool, dark place, olive oil can keep in a sealed container for about two years.
4. Purchase bottles sizes that you will use within a few months of opening. Oils from wholesale clubs often go rancid before you can finish them. Basically, EVOO degrades when exposed to heat, oxygen and light. The volatile flavor compounds in extra virgin olive oil will disappear if stored improperly or for too long.
Last but not least...what about coconut oil? Coconut oil is enjoying its moment of fame. Blog posts on the internet tout it as a magical cure-all. We love coconut oil here at Cucina Amorosa and use it for many things but is coconut oil heart healthy? The answer is yes BUT olive oil is still the king!
The Cleveland Clinic offers this excellent graphic comparing olive oil and coconut oil. Here's the link: