It’s often easy to think that any type of oil or fat must be bad for us, but recent research has revealed that olive oil contains more health properties than we may realise. Olive oil is perhaps the most favoured ingredient in Mediterranean recipes. Not only has it been associated with increased life expectancy, but it has also been linked to lowered risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. We spoke to Dr Sally Norton to find out why this ingredient should be a staple in any kitchen cupboard.
Olive Oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fats – considered a healthy dietary fat, as opposed to saturated and trans fats – which can help insulin levels and blood sugar control and thus can help you to lose weight if eaten in moderation. Mono-unsaturated fats have also been found to help increase our good cholesterol, lower our bad cholesterol, and may help normalise blood clotting – making olive oil great for helping keep our hearts healthy. Olive Oil is also a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal brain and body development. Not only this, but deficiencies in omega 3 have been linked to depression.
Olive oil is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, which derive from its polyphenols – anti-inflammatory compounds which has been found to decrease production of certain molecules known for increasing inflammation.
While olive oil has a high number of health benefits, that doesn’t mean to say we should be adding tons of the stuff our food. Despite its healthy properties, it is actually quite high in calories. While including it in your diet is definitely recommended, pouring it too generously over every salad or pasta dish you make is not going to do any favours for your waistline. Like everything, use it in moderation – just a drizzle will do. It is still a fat after all.
Which is best?
So olive oil is good for us, but which one do we buy? While we know some are better than others, trying to understand the difference between each type is easier said than done. Virgin olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, refined olive oil and pure olive oil are all named according to how they are made. But what difference does it make?
Virgin olive oil
The process involved in producing virgin olive oil means it should contain the highest levels of nutrients and goodness out of all of the variants of olive oil, with extra virgin olive oil considered the healthiest variant.
Extra virgin olive oil
Is a variant of virgin olive oil and is considered the healthiest, and tastiest form of olive oil. This type of olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, and has 0.8% or less free acidity. Extra virgin olive oil has been found to have stronger anti-inflammatory properties than other types of olive oil, thanks to its greater concentration of health-protective antioxidants.
Refined olive oil
You might be mistaken for thinking that refined olive oil is really high quality. However, refined olive oil means that it is made from virgin olive oil in refineries where the techniques and temperatures used may mean it is stripped of much of its goodness.
Pure olive oil
Is simply labelled as olive oil. This type is created using a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil, and will have an acidity of no more than 1%. It’s lower-quality oil than extra-virgin or virgin olive oil, with a lighter colour, more neutral flavour. This type of olive oil is best as a multi-purpose cooking oil.
How best to use it?
The benefits of olive oil could lead you to believe that you should be using it as an all-purpose oil. But in fact, this is not the case.
If you ever need to use a very high heat when cooking, olive oil if probably not the best choice. The low smoking temperature (185 – 217 °C) means that it will smoke over a high heat and when this happens, research shows that its beneficial compounds start to reduce.
Instead, olive oil should be kept for use as a salad dressing, or when cooking over a lower heat – such as sautéeing vegetables. Using olive oil in this way also means you make the most of its distinctive flavour, and keeps all of the beneficial nutrients locked in.
If you’re looking for healthier oils that are suited to high heat cooking, then try oils such as coconut, or rapeseed which keep all of their nutrients when heated to a high temperature.