Is Your Olive Oil As Healthy As You Think It Is?

Olive oil

For several decades, we’ve known about the benefits of olive oil. People living in the southern regions of Europe and the Middle East, who traditionally consume a Mediterranean diet, including much more olive oil than us in North America, have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.

One of the key aspects of the Mediterranean diet is the regular consumption of fresh extra virgin olive oil. The oil was locally produced, processed, bottled, and stored using a very specific formula which was based upon quality, taste, and tradition. Of course, today, you hope to be getting that same quality—but do the benefits of olive oil exist in the commercially produced bottles we buy today?

Researchers attribute the benefits of olive oil to the special phenolic chemicals found in the skins and seeds of fruits, vegetables, and remain intact inside the oil after the olives are pressed. These compounds, typically found in green tea and in grape skins and seeds, have been shown to lower blood pressure, inflammation, and blood clotting, and to raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) blood levels.

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Why Today’s Olive Oil Doesn’t Add Up?

However, unfortunately, these compounds may not be high enough in some commercially produced oils. Commercially produced olive oils that are exposed to any heat, light, or oxygen during processing will lose most of its health benefits.

Olives that are harvested and then left in the sun, picked when they are too ripe, or are grown on less-mature trees, will also lose some of the precious phenolic compounds. As far as processing is concerned, the less, the better. The best olive oils are cold pressed and have not been exposed to any heat, light or oxygen. These are considered extra virgin grades of olive oil.

Tips to Reap the Benefits of Olive Oil

The most important issue here is how the product is bottled and stored. To get all the benefits of olive oil, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Extra virgin olive oil should be bottled in dark glass or steel containers and stored in a dark, cool place. After use, replace the cap quickly and place it back into storage.
  • The shelf life of extra virgin olive oil is less than two years so it needs to be used up quickly.
  • When purchasing olive oil, look for a harvest date on the label. Since olives are harvested and pressed annually, this is an important indicator of freshness and taste. The best before date may not be a very reliable indicator of freshness because the expiration could be two years passed the processing date.

I recommend that you purchase your extra virgin olive oil from specialty shops that know their supplier and can allow you to sample the product you are purchasing. Fresh olive oil smells fruity, earthy, and should resemble the taste and fragrance of fresh olives—light, peppery, with a hint of grass.

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To reap the maximum health benefits of olive oil, I recommend that you do not heat the oil or use it for cooking.

Olive oil can be very healthy—you just need to make sure what you buy is of the best quality, so you can get the most benefits.


Sources:
Tallmadge, K., “Is Your Olive Oil As Healthy As You Think?” Yahoo! News web site, July 8, 2013; http://ca.news.yahoo.com/olive-oil-healthy-think-op-ed-210032774.html, last accessed July 9, 2013.
Frankel, E., et al., “Literature Review on Production Process To Obtain Extra Virgin Olive Oil Enriched in Bioactive Compounds. Potential Use of Byproducts as Alternative Sources of Polyphenols,” J Agric Food Chem. May 20, 2013.
Martín-Peláez, S., et al., “Health effects of olive oil polyphenols: recent advances and possibilities for the use of health claims,” Mol Nutr Food Res. May 2013; 57(5): 760-71.