I love everything about extra virgin olive oil –  the dark rich green color, the smell, and of course the taste. Lately, it’s hard to tell whether or not the olive oil you’re buying is extra virgin. In 2011, Tom Mueller documented this in his book, “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandelous World of Olive Oil”. So when I found out about a new local gourmet olive oil boutique, Olive That and More, I was ecstatic! I was compelled to offer my services as a nutritionist to help spread the word on the wonderful health benefits of olive oil. I can’t wait – this Sunday, May 3rd @ 1 PM, I’m going to present the healthy benefits of olive oil with a food demo! It’s going to be so much fun.

Branch with olives and a bottle of olive oil isolated on whiteWhat makes olive oil different? Well, it’s not like when you eat a piece of fruit, which is good for you because it contains fiber, vitamins and phytonutrients. Olive oil isn’t eaten alone like an apple or a banana. Instead, olive oil is used to enhance the flavor of different foods. And this is what makes it “doubly” good. On top of having its own health benefits, olive oil is usually prepared and served with other foods that are healthy. This is probably why the Mediterranean Diet is ranked amongst the top three diets in the USA year after year.

Olive oil is high in a type of fat known as a monounsaturated fat (MUFA). MUFA’s are a healthy fat that offer many benefits. Not only are they found in olives and olive oil, but they’re found in nuts and nut butters, canola oil, avocados, and some seeds. Just because MUFA’s are healthy fats, doesn’t mean you can go overboard. MUFA’s are still fat, and fat is high in calories: 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram found in carbohydrates or proteins. It’s a good thing a little goes a long way – especially if you buy really good extra virgin olive oil.

Here are five wonderful health benefits of olive oil you might not know:

  1. Olive oil contains many different fatty acids. OMG, she’s talking dietitian. Don’t panic: You’re smarter than you think. Ever hear of omega-3 or omega-6? Those are fatty acids. Well, olive oil contains Omega-3, and Omega-6, but it’s particularly high in Omega-9, otherwise known as oleic acid.
  2. Omega-9 makes olive oil more resistant to oxidation. This means it will last longer on your shelf than the polyunsaturated oils, like corn, canola, or soy. In fact, if stored correctly (in a cool, dark location, and in a dark bottle), olive oil could last a year on your pantry shelf.
  3. Olive oil is full of vitamin E, and vitamin K. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which means it helps protect your cells from damage. Vitamin E also helps keep heart cells healthy, assists in the formation of blood, and has a positive protective effect on your immune system, skin, and eyes.  Vitamin K is most known for helping blood clot – but did you know that vitamin K is essential to building strong bones, and preventing heart disease too?
  4.  Olive oil is also full of polyphenols. Say What? Relax – polyphenols are simply antioxidants. As mentioned above, antioxidants help protect your cells. Certain antioxidants though, like the polyphenols in olive oil, do much more than just protect our cells. The polyphenols in olive oil have anti-inflammatory properties and offer protection against the development of cancers, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and high blood pressure), diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes, ulcerative colitis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Inflammation is often how many chronic diseases begin. A healthy diet has been proven to attenuate inflammation. I guess Hippocrates had it right all along: ‘Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food’.
  5. The polyphenols in olive oil also help to lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol, while leaving your HDL “good” cholesterol untouched. Choosing extra virgin olive oil is a great way to make sure you are maximizing your cholesterol-lowering effects since EVOO contains more heart-healthy antioxidants than the virgin or “light” olive oil varieties.

There is one more benefit to using olive oil as your “Go-To” cooking oil, and that is its smoke point. One important point when cooking with oil is to never heat an oil over its smoke point. The smoke point refers to the temperature when the oil or fat starts to break down. You’ve probably seen this if you’ve fried something in butter and the pan got too hot – the butter smoked, turned that ugly brown color, and most likely ruined the color and taste of your food. But olive oil is different, especially high quality EVOO. If you’ve ever splurged, bought yourself some really fine olive oil and used it for frying, you know exactly what I am talking about. Olive oil is one of the most stable of all fats because its smoke point is about 405-410°F (207-210°C) – which is well above the ideal temperature for frying (356°F or 180°C ). And the antioxidants which prevent oxidation when high heat is applied make frying with olive oil superior to frying with other oils.

So if you are around on Sunday, May 3rd @1 PM, come on out to Olive That and More. I’ll be mixing up a simple dressing that can be use for salad, or as a marinade for chicken or fish. I’ll also be serving up some great homemade hummus made with their finest EVOO.

Yummy and Healthy: EVOO!