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A Smart Fat continued...

"I think that much more has been claimed for olive oil than the [scientific] data permit," she explains. "And having some plant omega-3s in the diet (which canola oil helps provide) is probably desirable, in part because it displaces the relatively large amount of omega-6s we now consume."

Ideally, our intake of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids would be balanced. But Americans tend to eat too much omega-6, which is found in corn oil and some other vegetable oils. Too much omega-6 can raise blood pressure, lead to blood clots, and cause other health problems.

Moderation Is Key

It's important to remember that any oil -- even a "healthy" oil -- contains plenty of calories.

The popular Italian-restaurant practice of dipping bread in olive oil is an easy way to enjoy some olive oil, but don't get too dip-happy. Armed with enough bread, you can easily consume 3 tablespoons of olive oil. That's a total of 360 calories, not including the bread!

Calories from fat add up to fat on your body, according to dietitians from the Environmental Nutrition newsletter. The easiest way to limit foods that are high in total fat as well as in "bad fats" is to eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they say.

Storing and Using Olive Oil

How long you can store olive oil depends on how you store it.

In the worst-case scenario -- unfiltered, late-harvest olive oil bottled in clear glass and sold from a supermarket shelf above hot deli foods -- you can store it for about three months. In the best-case scenario (early-harvest, filtered oil in a sealed tin or dark bottle and stored in a cool, dark place - it will stay good for about two years.

Still, it's probably a good idea to use it sooner than that. Research published in the May issue of Food Chemistry found that levels of antioxidants in olive oil fell sharply after 12 months in storage -- even under the best of storage conditions.

Here are four ways to keep the antioxidant levels in your olive oil high:

  • Buy olive oil in amounts you will use within 6 months.
  • Buy it from busy stores that are likely to sell a lot of olive oil (to ensure that it hasn't been sitting on the shelf for very long).
  • Store it in opaque, airtight bottles or metal tins, away from light and heat.
  • If you keep it in the refrigerator, it is less likely to go rancid). Refrigerated oil will become cloudy and thick -- but don't worry. It will still have the same quality and taste, and will become liquid and clear again when brought back to room temperature.

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