If you’re even remotely familiar with the Mediterranean diet, you know that olive oil is king. And that's not just because olive oil can add even more flavor to oven-baked foods or because it’s essential for crafting delicious salad dressings. Olive oil is also fantastic for your health! Keep reading to learn more about “olive the benefits” of this superfood and start incorporating it into your diet this 2021 year... making it a resolution gift to yourself!
Olive Oil Benefits
While there are many controversial opinions surrounding the health effects of dietary fat, including debates about seed oils, animal fats, and everything in between, most experts agree that olive oil -- particularly extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) -- is great for you and incredibly healthy.
In fact, studies show that the antioxidants and fatty acids in olive oil offer several powerful health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease… and many other reasons why you should consider adding olive oil to your diet include:
- Olive oil is a powerful antioxidant.
- It can help reduce inflammation due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties.
- It may reduce the risk of other chronic diseases caused by chronic inflammation, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and even obesity.
- It can help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidation.
- It has several cardio-protective effects, making it very heart-helpful.
- It is high in vitamins E and K.
- It can be a source of monounsaturated fat which is known to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Several large studies have found that those who consume olive oil have a lower risk of suffering a stroke.
- Extra-virgin olive oil has numerous heart-healthy benefits, including the ability to lower blood pressure, protect “bad” LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, and improve the function of blood vessels.
- It puts less strain on the liver and kidneys than other saturated fatty oils like coconut oil.
- Consuming olive oil won’t increase your risk of gaining weight, and moderate consumption may even improve your weight loss efforts.
- It can help reduce joint pain and swelling from rheumatoid arthritis, and the benefits are greatly increased when combined with fish oil.
- Known to contain a number of antibacterial properties, olive oil may also have the ability to shield the body from Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacterium that can cause stomach cancer and stomach ulcers.
- It can be great for all types of cooking and is resistant to high heat, but it has more health benefits when not exposed to high heat.
Olive Oil Shopping Tips
Now that we’ve covered many reasons why you should think about adding olive oil into your daily diet, let’s talk about how to make that happen! When shopping for the first time, look for cold-pressed (like EVOO) or cold-extracted olive oil in a dark or covered glass bottle. Consider how you will consume the oil since oils other than EVOO are better as cooking oils, while EVOO is best for drizzling on foods or salads. Olive oils that are certified by the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) are tested to meet standards set by the International Olive Council, indicating that the product has been tested for both authenticity and quality.
Once you have decided on a product, check the bottle for the harvest date and purchase within 15 months of that date. After opening, olive oil is best-used within 30 days; use cooking oils within three months. Since olive oil does not get better with age, look on the label for the stated shelf life date, which should be no more than two years from bottling. Also, consider buying smaller bottles of olive oil at a time. That way, you can taste different products and perhaps find a favorite -- plus, you’ll be able to consume them within the recommended time period and keep them from losing their health benefits by sitting too long. Make sure you keep the olive oil away from heat and seal tightly, storing it in a cool, dry place.
Keep in mind that EVOO is unrefined and chemical-free, making it the best (and healthiest!) type of oil you can buy. Additionally, the fresher the olive oil, the more polyphenol content and, therefore, the more health benefits. Like wine, expensive olive oil isn’t always the best for taste. If nothing else, trust your taste buds rather than the price tag.
How to Become Your Own Master Olive Oil Taster
Believe it or not, but olive oil experts, like sommeliers, do exist! They’re called “master tasters,” and they know everything there is to know about all things olive oil. You, too, can earn this distinction -- and it’s all going to come down to your own taste buds and personal taste preferences.
Begin by tasting a plain, non-EVOO olive oil so you can see the difference in taste. The olive oil should taste more oily and without a lot of scent or taste. On the other hand, EVOO should hold a nuttier taste with peppery undertones and aromas -- almost like you can taste the tree the olive came from! Keep in mind that the undertones and aromas will also vary depending on many factors such as the brand, location, and price of the product.
For instance, you might find distinct differences in olive oil tastes that use the same olives but that are harvested at different times. Other variations in taste can come from the degree of ripeness and pressing methods. Some more expensive olive oils are priced higher because of the extra care and attention made to these types of variables.
If you have the option to try different EVOOs, do so with only a teaspoon amount and consume them straight. No bread. No veggies. Just the olive oil on its own. If you wish, you can clear your palate with a little bread afterwards before the next taste. Don’t forget to sniff the olive oil for the aroma before tasting!
Finally, certification on bottles of olive oil indicates that these products have been thoroughly tested, so make note of that as you taste each product. Some of our favorites here in the SportPort family come from Croatia, Greece, and mostly other Mediterranean areas like Italy and Spain. But overall, we just love any good olive oil!
How to Cook With Olive Oil
Olive oil satisfies the appetite, provides a generally pleasing texture in the mouth, and helps to carry the flavor of spices and foods. And, as we’ve seen, using it liberally will also enhance both sweet and savory dishes without feeling guilty, thanks to its incredible health-boosting properties. Virgin and extra-virgin olive oils are best used either uncooked or cooked at low to medium temperatures below 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the higher heat breaks down and destroys the compounds in the oil that offer health benefits. Olive oil grade oils and refined oils are the better choices for high-heat uses like frying.
Although virgin and extra-virgin olive oils can take a little bit of heat, they also lose their flavor in the process, so it’s best to use them for uncooked dishes. Use them to add body and depth, to build and enhance flavors, and to harmonize the spices in a dish. Olive oil can also balance the acidity in certain foods like lemon juice, wine, vinegar, and tomatoes. Overall, treat your oils as you do your wines -- carefully pairing the taste of each oil with the flavors in the other dishes you are preparing. Here are some ideas for cooking with olive oil to get your creative juices flowing:
- Drizzle over vegetables or cooked pasta.
- Add right before the end of cooking for a quick burst of flavor.
- Mix it into salad dressing or drizzle it over salad.
- Use instead of margarine or butter for a heart-healthy dip for bread. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar for an extra oomph and visual appeal.
- Use in sauces or marinades for vegetables, poultry, fish, and meat.
- Make a healthy, tasty dip by mixing olive oil, garlic, and cooked white beans in a food processor. Add your favorite herbs and season to taste.
- Use in place of butter on baked potatoes or in mashed potatoes. Whip together olive oil, roasted garlic, and cooked potatoes for the ultimate mashed side dish.
- Prepare a delicious appetizer within minutes by toasting baguette slices, rubbing them with a little fresh garlic, and adding a drizzle of your favorite olive oil.
- Replace other ingredients in your sauces with olive oil -- whisk to help blend, or emulsify, the watery ingredients with the oil.
Keep in mind that the most versatile version, virgin olive oil, is the ideal choice when you’re looking for quality and flavor without a strong olive taste. Sprinkle it on brown rice, drizzle over toast, or add to eggs. Brush it on meats before broiling or grilling to seal in the juices and meat flavor and create a crispy outside texture.
As you can see, olive oil has the potential to enhance the flavor of almost any dish. And due to its many health benefits, including powerful antioxidants that help your joints, brain, heart, and more, this superfood may just be the healthiest fat in the world.
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