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All About Olive Oil

Tips for using this healthy, flavorful oil
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A Smart Fat continued...

Here's a breakdown of the fat makeup of some different types of vegetable oils:

Type of oil
% Monounsaturated fat
% Polyunsaturated fat
% Saturated fat
Hazelnut oil
82
11
7
Olive oil
78
8
14
Almond oil
73
9
8
Canola oil
62
31
7
Peanut oil
48
34
18

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 … olive oil!

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.

The potential health benefits of olive oil don't stop at heart disease.

Recent studies have suggested that, of all the fats we can choose -- aside from the omega-3s found in fish -- monounsaturated oils are the least likely to promote cancer.

And monounsaturated fat isn't the only thing olive oil has going for it nutritionally. Some olive oils come with phytonutrients that may offer their own disease protection benefits (still, it's not clear whether most of us can take in enough of these phytonutrients without going overboard on olive oil, says Joyce Nettleton, DSc, RD, researcher and editor of the PUFA Newsletter).

And, of course, olive oil is a key component of the well-studied Mediterranean diet, the others being a bounty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Several studies have shown that this type of diet may have many health benefits, from adding years to the lives of healthy older adults, to lowering the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Nettleton prefers to use both olive and canola oil for cooking, depending on what she's making.

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