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5 Things to Know Before Using Olive Oil

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The good news about olive oil – a cornerstone of the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet and one of my most-recommended superfoods – just keeps coming. Even the FDA now recognizes that:

“Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

Between its rich monounsaturated fatty acid content to its antioxidant and vitamin polyphenol potential, olive oil offers quality fuel for your body and heart. Some olive oils, however, are simply better than others. By following these 5 guidelines, you can make sure your olive oil is of premium quality and the healthiest it can be:

bowl of olives and extra virgin olive oil1. Don’t Settle for Less Than Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin

This is the gold standard for olive oil, in both taste and health benefits.

To be labeled “extra virgin,” olive oil must meet purity specifications that only the freshest and healthiest fruit can deliver. “Cold pressed” means the oil was extracted by mechanically pressing the olives, without the help of solvents or excessive heat, which can degrade the oil. Together, these requirements not only help capture the oil’s full, distinctive favor, but they allow the oil to retain a higher percentage of the antioxidant polyphenols that give cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil its many health benefits.

If you like olive oil for its health-enhancing properties, this is significant. Lesser grades of olive oil – “light,” “pure,” and other varieties—aren’t held to the same standards. They can be processed in more industrial ways that can lead to oxidation. Always choose cold-pressed extra virgin, which will have the highest polyphenol content among all the grades of olive oil.

2. Choose California Oil

This state may be best known for its sun, surf, and vineyards, but it’s also my go-to source for the best-quality olive oil—outperforming Europe and other more traditional olive-growing regions.

A few years back, several stories were published exposing the fact that many extra virgin olive oils were actually a mixture of olive oil and other less expensive oils, such as soybean and canola. The problem affected a whopping 69 percent of imported oils, according to the 2010 University of California–Davis study that broke the news.

California olive oil producers, whose products performed significantly better on the UC–Davis tests, responded to the bombshell by forming the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), a trade association that now certifies the purity and quality of extra virgin olive oil. To earn the seal, each harvest must meet chemical analysis requirements and satisfy the palates of a blind tasting panel. The end goal being, as their website states, “to provide consumers and retailers with assurance that the oil they purchase is in fact extra virgin grade.”

This is a long way of saying that when shopping for olive oil, it’s best to buy American. Californian, specifically. Given the failures of European quality control, along with the time European oils spend aboard ships making their way to our ports, it just makes sense. Plus, buying COOC-certified olive oil again helps ensure that the product on your dining room table will have the fewest impurities and deliver the health benefits you expect.

vervana crushed flavored olive oil with spices

3. Use a Bottle within a Few Months

Although olive oil shelf life can vary depending on the harvest date and how the bottle is stored, I try to use up an open bottle within three months. This is because, after opening, the oil will start to oxidize. You don’t want to use olive oil that’s been sitting opened on your shelf for a year. I’ve found that writing the date on each bottle when it’s opened helps me keep track of this (and is also a useful strategy for knowing how long opened jars, such as pasta sauce or salsa, have been in your fridge). Pro tip: buy smaller size bottles.

4. Keep It in the Dark to Maximize Olive Oil Shelf Life

For best taste and maximum shelf life, store olive oil in a dark bottle, and keep it away from windows and hot cooking surfaces. When you’re shopping, opt for a green or other dark colored glass bottle over a clear bottle. You can also transfer the oil to a ceramic container – anything that keeps light out – but this will start the clock on oxidation, so my preference is to keep it in the original bottle.

Generally, there’s no need to refrigerate olive oil; room temperature storage is adequate. However, if you find yourself in the middle of a heat wave without air conditioning, pop your stash in the fridge to keep it from going rancid.

5. Drizzle, But Don’t Sizzle at High Temps

The most beneficial way to consume olive oil is straight out of the bottle. Toss it with veggies or salads, or mix it with my favorite spice blend and eat it with bread or steamed veggies. You can cook with olive oil, but I’d avoid doing so at high temperatures (for example, sautéing veggies and meats is okay, but frying chicken is a no-no). As far as high-heat frying goes, I’m not a big fan of that with any oil – high heat can cause the oils to oxidize.  Plus, vegetables retain far more of their nutritional value when minimally cooked or raw.

Delicious Salad Recipes Featuring Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bon appétit!

From my heart to yours,

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

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