I’ve always loved olive oil—the way it smells and tastes, and the way it adds texture and depth to just about any dish. It’s also incredibly heart-healthy, helping to prevent heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation. Yet, that’s only if the olive oil you buy is real olive oil!
What makes olive oil such a powerful heart supporter is its unique combination of healthy monounsaturated fats and powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols. It’s these polyphenols that help to block the oxidation of harmful LDL cholesterol and prevent atherosclerosis (“hardening” of the arteries).
Another plus for using olive oil is that it reduces blood pressure. This was confirmed in one Spanish study after systolic and diastolic pressures fell by approximately 8 mm/Hg on an olive oil diet, compared to control group counterparts using sunflower oil who showed no reductions of blood pressure. In animals, olive oil led to enhanced relaxation of the aorta and was successful in treating rats with high blood pressure.
Yet, with olive oil its “buyer beware” since some imported olive oils are imitations of the real thing. True Italian extra-virgin olive oil is made from pressed olives and is expensive to make. So some oils that are labeled “extra-virgin olive oil” are actually mixed with cheaper oils, such as vegetable oil.
In fact, a few months ago Olive Oil Times reported that two Andalusian businessmen were sentenced for distributing olive oil in Spain that was just 20-30% olive oil, mixed with 70-80% sunflower oil. Plus, a study led by researchers at the University of California found that as much as 69% of imported olive oil from Europe wasn’t pure olive oil.
So, how do you know if you’re getting true olive oil?
- You can’t go by the color. Some pure olive oils are golden, while others are green. The color of an olive oil depends on the olives that were used to make it.
- Look for olive oil that was made in Califoria, which has strict quality standards. It should carry the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal.
- Avoid olive oils that are labeled “light” or “pure” since that means it was chemically refined. One thing to note is that “light” refers to the flavor of the oil, not the number of calories it contains.
- “Extra virgin” doesn’t mean you’re getting pure olive oil—since up to 90% of extra virgin oil can be “light” or “pure” olive oil.
- Select an olive oil that's in a dark bottle, since olive oil is sensitive to light. Also, check the expiration date since olive oil loses its potency over time.
Once you buy your oil, keep in mind that at 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, the calories can certainly mount if used too liberally. So don't drench your salad with olive oil, and certainly don't dunk bread into it since this combo is too calorie-dense. That said, olive oil can boost the flavor and heart-healthy quality of all kinds of entrée and vegetable recipes.
Now it’s your turn: What’s your favorite way to use olive oil?