OLIVE OIL FOR HEALTH – WHY TO EAT IT + WHICH TO CHOOSE
Today, I was at my parents house and my mum asked me to help her refill the olive oil bottle. We have always bought large 5 litre cans and decant it into smaller bottles – that’s how much my family loves olive oil. My dad is part owner of a olive grove in Syria and recalls stories of harvesting and processing olives for hours over the summer. It got me thinking about this humble oil that I use in such excess that I started to dig around a bit… why is this oil so special?
Like the headstand in yoga, some have coined olive oil the queen of the vegetable oils. I know I certainly agree. It has such a beautiful flavour and has the ability to transform the blandest meal!
Olives themselves have been traded amongst civilisations for centuries. So, it’s no surprise that the humble olive tree landed on Australian shores. Sometime in the early 1800, the first olive grove was planted in Sydney – near parramatta. Olive trees were arriving from France, Siciliy and Rio de Jainero – exotic locales bringing what would soon be the nation’s most loved vegetable oil. Just like Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other European countries, olive oil rapidly became a staple in the Australian diet.
Olive oil :
- rich in Vitamin E and polyphenols (antioxidants) which prevent heart disease and cancer.
- lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation
- 70% monounsaturated oleic acid which lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol!)
- Contains 10% Linoleic Acid – the essential Omega-6 fat (we don’t need too much extra of this as the modern diet contains enough omega-6, however, if cooking with soy, corn or safflower oil ditch them for olive oil!)
So, olive oil is a good’un, but there are a few things to be mindful of – mainly the way it’s processed and how to cook with it. Olive oil is mostly a monounsaturated fat. Which means it doesn’t tend to oxidise as easily as polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn + soy) which become highly toxic in our systems when over heated/processed. BUT, olive oil is still delicate and affected by excessive heat and shouldn’t be used in high temperature cooking/baking.
Olive oil actually requires little processing and to maintain its flavour and nutritional qualities, the less processing (less heat!) the better. But, of course, some brands do process olives to excess, which offers us around three different grades; plain, virgin and extra-virgin.
The lowest grade – plain:
- Usually labelled olive oil, pure or 100 % pure olive oil.
- Olives are picked by machine, bruising and damaging the fruit leading to oxidation, raising acidity and producing a poor quality oil
- Olives are pressed multiple times with heat
- Chemical extraction creates a milder flavour, yet also affecting the nutritional quality
- What is left is too rancid for consumption so the oil is ‘refined’ to make it edible – by refining I mean acid washing, bleaching and deodorising
- Finally, it’s blended with virgin oil to make it taste better!
- What’s left? Less Vitamin E, antioxidants and polyphenols
Seems like alot of work to get back to it’s original delicious state!
Second + third grades – virgin and extra virgin:
- Hand-picked and cold pressed on the same day!
- Bottled in dark glass to shield it from oxidizing light
- Look for organic extra virgin, cold pressed (35°- 55° C, ice pressing is rarer but much better!) to reap health benefits and enjoy great flavour (fruity, grassy falvours indicate high quality!) This makes it really expensive, so at the very least extra virgin and cold pressed is much better
- Less oxidation in processing which means less rancidity and toxicity for the consumer
So, what does oxidizing actually mean? I mentioned earlier that olive oil is a monounsaturated oil. Despite being a little more stable than polys, it still tends to go rancid at really high temperatures. And when I say rancid I don’t just mean ‘off’… I mean carcinogenic and detrimental to health.
What causes oxidation?:
Avoid using olive oil when baking vegetables or a roast – it’s not the best choice as the temperatures are too high, resulting in an unstable oil. Coconut oil is a fantastic alternative.
Sauteing with olive is perfectly fine, in fact, adding in a little butter (real, unsalted, whole milk butter!) is even better as it creates a more heat stable environment due to the butter’s saturated fats
I love to drizzle olive oil on my leafy green or veggie quinoa salads, I drizzle it on poached eggs or even butter bread with it – it makes me feel grounded and nourished. Being a vata (Ayurveda!) I tend to need warming, grounding foods + oils – basically good quality fats – to keep me centered and healthy. Olive oil does just that for me.
Olives and their oil are such a cornerstone of the Australian diet these days. It’s a special oil and one, when used correctly, can benefit your health, boost your energy, stabilise your sugars and nourish your body.
Signing off with an exhale.
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