Demystifying Olive Oil

Due to possible health benefits like lower cholesterol and better regulated blood sugar, olive oil has been a hot topic in recent years. And as its popularity has grown, so have the myths and rumors surrounding it.

One myth is that you should always use extra-virgin olive oil. EVOO is great as a salad dressing, as a topping for a nice warm crust of bread, or for baking. But with recipes that involve frying, grilling, roasting, or sautéing with olive oil, don’t go with extra-virgin. The temperature at which it starts smoking is much lower than a more refined olive oil, which can not only defeat its healthy qualities but also cause smoke to release carcinogens into your food. For high-temp cooking techniques, use a more refined olive oil, which smokes at a much higher temperature. Save the EVOO for a garnish.

If your bottle of olive oil is labeled “light” or “extra-light,” this doesn’t refer to calories. It means that the overall flavor and smell of the oil are less noticeable. Almost any cooking oil has about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.

The difference in names can also be confusing. Extra-virgin olive oil is essentially the “purest” form of olive oil, with the highest amounts of all of the healthy phenols and antioxidants. Refined olive oil has been more highly processed and loses many of the health benefits that are specific to olive oil, making it comparable to most other cooking oils. “Pure” olive oil, also known as “light,” “extra light,” or just plain “olive oil” has some EVOO added back in, restoring some nutritional value but also allowing you to use the oil for higher temperature cooking.

The bottom line? It’s worth it to get extra-virgin olive oil for its health and nutritional benefits, but it’s not a bad idea to keep another type of olive oil handy for higher temperature cooking.

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