It’s safe to say that olive oil is the one oil that everyone can agree on. Whether someone is paleo, keto, vegetarian, or something in between, chances are they’ve sung the praises of extra-virgin olive oil. And for a good reason! Humans have been using this healthy fat for thousands of years, with no signs of slowing down. Today, let’s talk about the numerous benefits of extra-virgin olive oil, how to find a high-quality source, and how you can incorporate it into your daily life.
Is Olive Oil Healthy?
The answer is a resounding YES, but quality matters. (See the next section for more info on how to find a brand that you can trust). While people often use the terms ‘olive oil’ and ‘extra virgin olive oil’ interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. Olive oil is lighter in color and cheaper than extra-virgin olive oil (often abbreviated EVOO). Olive oil is usually a blend of cold-pressed olive oil and more processed olive oil that has been treated with either chemicals or heat. In contrast, extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed, minimally processed, and hasn’t been treated with chemicals or heat in the processing. The result is a high-quality oil that’s darker in color and more flavorful than regular olive oil.
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a whole host of benefits, from its anti-inflammatory properties to its ability to improve blood sugar control. EVOO is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which are known to decrease inflammation and have other beneficial effects.
EVOO also contains vitamins E and K and other potent antioxidants. Antioxidants are crucial in preventing free radical damage in the body, and they may help decrease your risk for chronic diseases and help your body fight inflammation. Inflammation is associated with a whole host of chronic diseases and conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, metabolic dysfunction, cancer, joint pain, and obesity.
One of the essential antioxidants in EVOO is oleocanthal, which has such powerful anti-inflammatory properties that it’s been shown to work similarly to ibuprofen. Given its fatty acid profile, EVOO has also been shown to lower blood pressure, protect LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, and even improve the function of blood vessels.
How Can I Find High-Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?
Unfortunately, many lower quality suppliers mix olive oil (even the extra-virgin variety) with grapeseed or soybean oil, negating all the health benefits of the product. When you’re buying olive oil, always look for the extra-virgin form since it’s less processed than plain old olive oil and contains more of the beneficial antioxidants and nutrients discussed in the last section.
I love this older list from an olive oil expert on finding high-quality, unadulterated EVOO at your local store.
There are a few other strategies, too, including:
- Look for brands that list the harvest date (note: not the expiration date) on the bottle. This tells you when the olives were picked; the more recent, the better!
- Choose oils in dark glass bottles rather than clear bottles or plastic
- Opt for domestic US producers or domestic companies that can share specific details about their international sourcing
- You can also taste the oil for quality – it should have a rich, peppery taste, and might even sting the back of your throat a bit.
And as for storing your EVOO, opt for a cool and dark place, like the drawer or pantry, rather than out on the counter.
Best Ways to Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil
EVOO is extremely versatile. In fact, The Paleo Mom even has a recipe for olive oil ice cream. Say what? Though a common refrain has been that you can’t cook with EVOO, it turns out that you can! EVOO is made up of primarily unsaturated fat, which tends to be more easily oxidized and less stable when exposed to heat. But research has shown that high-quality EVOO resists oxidation better than many other vegetable oils and retains most of its beneficial nutrients.
It is said that a quality EVOO may have a smoke point as high as 410 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to note that your olive oil must be extra-virgin to have these protective properties. More processed olive oils begin degrading under heat faster and tend to have a lower smoke point with more potential for oxidation. EVOO is rich in at least 30 compounds with antioxidant activity, which help preserve the oil’s nutrient-density even when it’s heated.
In addition to using it for cooking or ice cream (!), you can also use your EVOO for a wide variety of cold uses. Drizzle it on roasted veggies before serving, use it as the base for a homemade salad dressing, or even use it topically on your skin. The possibilities are endless!
At Snap, we love using healthy fats like EVOO and ghee in our meals. See all that we have to offer here.