When it comes to buzzwords and superfoods, you’re likely to find extra virgin olive oil at the top of the list. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most common cooking ingredients that people use to implement a healthy life. In fact, the Mediterranean diet, which is often credited as being the healthiest diet in the world, has it as its staple.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can be traced all the way back to ancient times, and its amazing benefits have it still is a staple in many households.
Different shades of olive oil
When you’re looking to purchase olive oil, you’re likely to come across a shelf filled with products ranging from EVOO to olive oil, to light olive oil. That said, it’s important to know the difference between the products so that you can make the best choice. Believe it or not, different olive oils not only differ in name but also in taste, color, quality, and purpose.
Despite its name, olive oil isn’t as natural or pure as one might think.
This form of olive oil may either be pure or light olive oil. Either way, both strains have been heavily chemically processed, and they are often mixed with other vegetable oils. Moreover, as it is extracted at extreme temperatures and pressures, regular olive oil loses a great deal of its nutritional value, which then makes it less nutritious (1).
Its appearance is lighter and, thanks to the way it’s extracted, regular olive oil doesn’t possess a strong olive aroma or taste. Additionally, the form of extraction means that it has a high smoke point and it is also less expensive, thus these two factors make it the go-to cooking oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
While it may be more expensive, EVOO should always be the oil of choice.
EVOO is produced by mechanical cold-pressing. So, unlike regular olive oil, it does not undergo any chemical processing or high- heat extraction. As a result, it helps to maintain all the healthy nutrients associated with olive oil.
Virgin olive oil is the term used to describe an olive oil that has been mechanically cold-pressed, yet it contains some defects. That said, it is just as healthy and nutrient-rich as extra virgin olive oil, albeit a little cheaper.
What makes EVOO so special?
As mentioned, the way in which EVOO is processed allows for its nutritional value to remain intact.
EVOO is rich in vitamins E and K, omega fatty acids, monounsaturated fat, and most notably, antioxidants (2). According to various bodies of research, the root cause of diseases and bodily ailments is chronic inflammation. That said, combating this inflammation will help to improve overall health and well-being. a study published in Critical Reviews in the Food, Science & Nutrition journal found an association between diets high in extra virgin olive oil and a lower incidence of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
EVOO not only contains the antioxidant oleocanthal, which has been shown to contain powerful anti-inflammatory effects, but it also contains monounsaturated fatty acid and oleic acid. This, too, has been shown to possess strong anti-inflammatory properties. With the aforementioned facts in mind, it’s pretty clear as to why extra virgin olive oil has been linked to numerous health benefits.
8 Benefits of Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1. You’ll better manage your weight
Yes, excess amounts of fat can lead to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity. However, EVOO is rich in monounsaturated fat and according to studies, the excess consumption of EVOO has not been associated with increased weight gain (3).
In fact, the consumption of healthy fats is not only more satiating, but it also helps to regulate insulin levels which then makes weight maintenance and loss much more manageable (4).
2. You’ll boost your brain health
Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease in the world, with over 50 million people worldwide battling the condition.
A build-up of beta-amyloid plaques inside certain brain neurons has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. An animal study done in mice found that the compound in EVOO, oleocanthal, helped to remove these plaques (5).
Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry found a link between a diet rich in olive oil and improved brain function.
3. You’ll have a stronger heart
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart disease, and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide. However, research soon found that heart disease is less common in Mediterranean countries. As we know, EVOO is a common staple in the Mediterranean diet.
For one, EVOO helps to reduce inflammation. As we know, inflammation is at the core of numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease. EVOO also helps to manage cholesterol levels by lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides all while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol (6). Furthermore, EVOO also helps to prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure.
4. You’ll lower your cancer risk
As mentioned, EVOO is extremely rich in antioxidants. This then helps to fight off free radicals, which essentially lowers the risk of cancer. It should also be noted that inhabitants of Mediterranean countries have been shown to have a lower risk of some cancers (7).
A study published in the Pharmacology Research journal found that the antioxidant oleocanthal helped to cause the deaths of some cancer cells. That said, most of the studies looking into EVOO’s effect on cancer growth and cells have been test-tube studies, thus more human-controlled trials are needed.
5. You’ll manage your rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis refers to chronic inflammation of the joints, which then causes the immune system to attack the joints. It is characterized by pain, stiffness as well as deformed joints.
According to studies, the use of olive oil supplements has helped to manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by improving inflammation, joint pain, and even handgrip strength (8).
6. You’ll protect your mental health
An estimated 264 million of the global population is suffering from anxiety and over 300 million people worldwide are battling depression.
There exist remedies that one can adopt to better improve their mood and EVOO is one of them. It appears that the monounsaturated fats found in the oil help to regulate the happy hormones. In fact, studies have found an association between a diet low in healthy fats and higher rates of depression (9).
7. You’ll reduce your risk of diabetes
As mentioned, EVOO helps to regulate insulin levels. This can help to prevent diabetes as well as improve the health of diabetics. In fact, a study published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes found that a Mediterranean diet rich in EVOO helped to significantly reduce the risk of type II diabetes.
What’s more, adding EVOO to a meal that’s rich in sugar or carbs will even help to slow down the elevation of your blood sugar. This can then help regulate insulin levels.
8. You’ll slow down the aging process
The aging process is inevitable and it cannot be stopped. However, it is important to stop premature aging as this can increase the risk of chronic diseases. The best way to do this would be to protect the cells from free radicals.
Rich in the antioxidant secoiridoids, EVOO helps to prevent the premature and rapid aging of skin cells, and as a result, it helps to protect against the formation of chronic diseases such as cancer (10).
However, one should remember that EVOO is not to be cooked at high heat as doing so may release by-products that can accelerate the aging process within the cells.
Buying Real Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A 2011 report from the Olive Center at the University of California at Davis found that 73% of the five best-selling imported brands in the United States were fraudulently labeled extra-virgin. It appears that the brands have failed to meet the standards of taste and smell established for that grade of olive oil set by European regulators. What’s more, a 2012 taste test from Consumer Reports revealed that only 9 out of 23 extra virgin olive oils tested met the tasting panel’s standards. Furthermore, a television report revealed that up to 70% of the EVOO sold worldwide is watered down with other oils and enhancers in order to make the product appear like the real thing.
With the aforementioned in mind, it could be possible that the EVOO in your pantry isn’t real EVOO at all. Do you want to ensure that you’re getting value for your money when it comes to buying EVOO? If yes, make a note of the tips below.
1. Always read the label
- Check for where the oil was produced and make sure that you don’t find more than one country, region, or even city listed. If you do, put the oil back as you don’t want an EVOO that contains olives blended from different countries.
- Look out for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC).
- Make sure the label indicates that the oil is EVOO and that it’s either been cold-pressed or expeller-pressed.
- Check for which olives were used to make the oil (the olive cultivar). It’s best to opt for an EVOO monovarietal as these are made from a single type of olive. Our top choices would definitely be Koroneiki Greek EVOO and Abbae de Queiles.
- Check for the harvest date and choose the freshest bottle you can find. EVOO is the best in its first two years. However, an older bottle won’t hurt you – just don’t expect it to taste as rich.
2. The darker, the better
After reading the label, make sure that you select an EVOO that’s been placed in a dark glass bottle. This serves to protect it from light – oxidation can damage fatty acids in the oil as well as turn it rancid.
Be sure to store the oil away in a cool, dark place once you get home. Furthermore, if you do place it in the fridge, it should solidify. If it remains liquid, as opposed to cloudy and thickened when refrigerated, then your EVOO is anything but pure.
3. Give it a good sniff
If you’re able to, never pass up the opportunity to taste or smell the olive oil at the store. The oil needs to smell fresh, like grass or fruits. You can then give it a taste test by swirling the oil around your mouth. Pure EVOO should provide a vegetable flavor as you swirl it around your mouth and a peppery or bitter taste at the back of your throat when you swallow it. If you find yourself coughing after swallowing then that’s a good sign.
What’s the best way to use my EVOO?
Extra virgin olive oil is best used, uncooked, for toppings, drizzling as well as dips.
Exposing EVOO to high heat will damage some of its antioxidants. Also, exposure may lead to the formation of free radicals. Therefore, it’s best to opt for healthier oils such as avocado oil or ghee oil when cooking.
What about drinking EVOO?
There appears to be the idea that drinking EVOO every morning will help to improve one’s overall health. Drinking EVOO has also been linked to improved digestive and bone health as well as effective pain relief.
However, there is not enough research to support the idea that drinking a large amount of EVOO will help to provide benefits. Thus, it’s best to avoid doing so.
The bottom line
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. This already proves that it’s the key to a healthy life and improved well-being. It may also prove to be the key to longevity. How so? Well, Blue Zones are five areas around the world that have low rates of disease, and residents reaching the age of 100 is not unexpected, least of all, uncommon. What’s more, these residents adopt plant-based diets and EVOO is often at the center of these diets. Click here for more on the Blue Zones as well as how you can create your own.