All Olive Oils are Not Created Equal

By SeAnne Safaii-Waite, PhD, RDN, LD

One of the key ingredients to a long and healthy life is olive oil.  For years’ dietitians have been promoting the use of olive oil as a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Because of its rich source of tocopherols, carotenoids and polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties olive oil has been shown to provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer effects.  Italy, Spain and Greece are the major producers of olive oil and it is the principal source of dietary fat in these countries.  But, not all olives or olive oils are created equally.

Consumers need to be careful.  Due to a high demand for olive oil many products have been adulterated by using inferior seed and nut oils, adding chemicals and misleading the consumer about the country the olives originated from. So, how can you be sure that you are getting high quality olive oil?

7 Tips for Choosing the Right Olive Oil

Tip #1:  Select Extra Virgin Oil
This title is given by the above certifiers to only the purest and best of olive oils. Extra virgin, guarantees that the oil is “cold pressed,” which means that it has been extracted mechanically from the olives.  Heat or chemical processing damages the fragile polyphenols. Extra virgin is the closest in flavor, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other heart-healthy components to the whole olive fruit itself.

Tip #2:  Look for the Certification Seal:
Look for a product that has been certified by one of these entities as trustworthy, authentic olive oil.

  • International Olive Council (IOC)
  • North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA)
  • California Olive Oil Council (COOC)
  • Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP)
  • Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

Tip #3: Look For a Single country of origin.
An olive oil label may say that it is produced in a particular country when, in fact, it was only bottled there. For example, “Product of Italy” does not necessarily indicate that the olives are grown or pressed in Italy—only that it was bottled there. Look for the phrase “Produced and Bottled,” which means that the oil is actually produced and bottled in the place of origin listed on the label.

Tip #4:  Choose Your Olive Wisely
Choose olive oil with the very highest levels of polyphenols by selecting these olive varieties: Coratina and Moraiolo from Italy…Cornicabra and Picual from Spain…and Koroneiki from Greece.  

Tip #5: Use it or Lose it
While olive oil is a wonderful source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, it does not age well.  In a recent study published in the Journal of Food Science and conducted by the agricultural department at the University of Foggia in Puglia, Italy, discovered that antioxidant levels in olive oil decreased by 40% after six months of storage. So when you purchase olive oil look for brands that specify production dates on their containers. The expiration or “best-by” date should be no more than 18 months from the date of purchase. If the harvest date is given, it should be less than one year ago. Remember, the more recent the production, the higher the amount, and bioavailability, of healthy compounds.

Tip #6: Buy your oil in a dark bottle or in a can
Since olive oil’s antioxidants are fragile and damaged by exposure to light, heat, and air, it is best to buy olive oil in tin or dark colored containers, store it at cool temperatures.  Many people store it above the stove top or near the stove top and this is not ideal because it is usually the warmest spot in the kitchen.  As soon as you use olive oil seal it to prevent oxidation.

Tip #7: Price Point
High quality olive oils are not cheap because they are carefully cultivated and processed to preserve the well-known taste and health benefits of the olive.  Think of them as an 18 month investment for your heart.  A high quality, 17 ounce bottle can range from $35.00-$100.00 and can usually be found in high-end specialty food stores or on-line.

Lastly, if you can’t afford high end olive oil, try adding whole olives to your diet.  Make a tapenade by blending pitted olives, olive oil, garlic and your favorite seasonings together for a dip, sandwich spread or pasta dish.  You can also add olives to your favorite summer salads.

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