Let’s Get Real…about Olive Oil
The Health Benefits – and Problems – with Olive Oil
Happy Spring! While this may not go down as our sunniest spring here in the northeastern US, I feel the need to be careful what I say because next week it could be ninety degrees. This is New England after all!
The spring birds have been arriving, including several families of grosbeaks. The good news is that the cooler weather seems to be keeping the black fly population down. It’s a good thing because Karl and I still have a lot of garden cleanup to finish.
But we got the peas planted along with Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, carrots, mesclun lettuce, potatoes, and beets. And we hope to have radishes pretty soon.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. I hope you take the day to practice supreme self care!
Be sure to check out the healthy & delicious recipes below.
Let’s Get Real…about Olive Oil
If you pay attention to the conversation about what defines a healthy fat, you know there is plenty of controversy. But there is one thing everyone agrees on. Olive oil is good for you, especially if it is extra-virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin means the oil it has been produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil. Handling the olive oil in this way yields a beneficial oil, full of critical antioxidants and void of free radicals.
The Health Benefits of Real Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in the healthy monounsaturated fat, oleic acid. Oleic acid helps to reduce inflammation and may have a beneficial effect on genes that are linked to cancer. Olive oil also contains large amounts of anti-oxidants that fight inflammation.
Real olive oil is powerful. For example, a key antioxidant known as oleocanthol has been shown to work similarly to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug.
Olive oils also provide protection against heart disease. And may also help to prevent stroke as well as many other diseases associated with inflammation such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
But here is the rub. There is a lot of fraud in the olive oil market. Many oils with “extra virgin” on the label have been diluted with other oils such as cheap seed oils – soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, and canola oil. These oils are inflammatory.
Other fake producers use coloring compounds like chlorophyll and beta carotene added to cheaper oils like sunflower and corn oil which creates an even more inflammatory oil.
Some experts estimate that up to 75 to 80% of the extra virgin olive oils that come out of Italy are not really extra virgin at all. In a study done by UC Davis, two thirds of oils sold in grocery stores in California were not what they claim to be.
Some oils that you might want to avoid
Here are a few brands which rated poorly in the UC Davis study:
- Star Pompeian
- Newman’s Own
- Whole Foods
Many of these brands are likely familiar to you. Unfortunately, they are the ones most available at the grocery store and have good price points, but they didn’t meet the standards of true extra virgin olive oil.
Try these instead
Here are a few brands which rated well in the same study:
- Olea Estates
- Cobram Estate
- California Olive Ranch
- McEvoy Ranch
- Whole Foods California 365
What you can do to make sure you are using a healthy real olive oil
1. Avoid “light” and “pure” olive oil. They are not extra virgin.
2. When extra virgin costs less than $10 per quart it may not be real.
3. Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC).
4. Look for a harvest date on the label.
5. Purchase your oil in dark bottles or tin containers. Heat and light are the enemies of freshness.
6. Olive oil can go rancid. Even in perfect storage conditions, the oil will degrade over time, so it’s important to enjoy it within its two-year shelf life.
7. Do a taste test. Real olive oil will have a fruity taste in the front of your mouth and a peppery taste in the back of your mouth. Although this may not be the most reliable test, because it is subjective.
8. Consider buying from a single-family farm or small co-op of growers. It is usually the middle man that buys the oil from the farmer who dilutes it and then sells it to corporate buyers. Extra-virgin is not easy to produce. Fresh olives in good condition must be used and every step of the process needs to be monitored with great care. Your best bet is to know your farmer.
RECIPES OF THE MONTH
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the key to these great recipes.
Moroccan Carrot & Chickpea Salad
This is an amazingly delicious way to get lots of vegetables in.
Simple Easy Salad Dressing
Doesn’t get much easier than this. Just change up the seasonings and the vinegar/lemon and you’ll have a dressing that covers a lot of bases.
Carrot Salad with Balsamic Vinegar
This is a great way to get your carotinoids, a powerful antioxidant.
Good Seasons® Italian Dressing Knockoff
This is a great way to avoid using the soybean oil in commercial salad dressings and use your own extra virgin olive oil.