All About Olive Oil
Tips for using this healthy, flavorful oil
This oil's got history going for it, that's for sure. One of the oldest
known cultivated trees in the world, the olive tree is native to Asia Minor. It
is thought to have spread to the Mediterranean region -- now well-known for its
use of olive oil -- about 6,000 years ago.
You can buy domestic olive oil (using mostly Californian grown olives) or
imported oils from France, Greece, Spain, and Italy.
This uniquely green and flavorful oil can be less green and less flavorful,
depending on the type you buy. If you want to use it at high temperatures or in
baking, try one of the "light" olive oils. This type goes through a
fine filtration process, producing lighter-colored oil that lacks the classic
What if you want a fragrant and flavorful oil, for salad dressings or
for adding to a dish after cooking? Olive oil that's extra-virgin and
cold-pressed (a chemical-free process that involves only pressure, producing an
oil with low acidity) is considered the fruitiest and finest type, according to
The Food Network's online encyclopedia.
More and more people are cooking with olive oil, perhaps because
Mediterranean cuisine is in vogue, or because of the oil's distinctive flavor,
or its potential health benefits. How about all of the above?
A Smart Fat
Nutrition experts consider omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated
fat found in fish and some plant foods, to be a "smart fat." The other
"smart fat" is monounsaturated fat -- the type olive oil is rich
Environmental Nutrition (The Newsletter of Food, Nutrition &
Health) recommends that monounsaturated fats make up most of your fat
intake, with polyunsaturated fats comprising the rest, according to Luanne
Hughes, MS, RD.
Unsaturated fatty acids, whether monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, can
lower your levels of "bad" cholesterol (which decreases your risk of
heart disease) if you eat them instead of saturated fatty acids, Hughes
says. Saturated fat -- found mostly in animal products and in palm and coconut
oils -- is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol, according to the
American Heart Association.
Here's a breakdown of the fat makeup of some different types of vegetable
|Type of oil|
% Monounsaturated fat
% Polyunsaturated fat
% Saturated fat
And the oil that's readily available, usable in a variety of dishes,
relatively reasonably priced (unless you buy a gourmet variety) AND has the
highest amount of monounsaturated fat is none other than … drum roll, please …
In fact, the FDA now allows olive oil labels to carry the claim that its
monounsaturated fat can reduce heart disease risks -- with a few strings
attached. The claim says that "limited and not conclusive scientific
evidence" suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons of olive oil daily may
reduce the risk of heart disease. To give this possible benefit, it adds, the
olive oil must replace a similar amount of saturated fat in your diet -- and
must not increase the total calories you eat in a day.