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Olive oil options can be dizzying

Which one is best for you?

Von Casey Seidenberg, The Washington Post

Olive oil options can be dizzying
Olive oil options can be dizzying

My kids enjoyed a good laugh at my expense while at the supermarket the other day. Apparently I was taking way too long in the olive oil aisle. I was in an unfamiliar store surrounded by unfamiliar brands, so I couldn't just grab my favorite on the fly. My kids couldn't understand how it could take me so long to choose a brand. How different could they really be? Although many oils come in similar dark green bottles with similar light green labels, what's in those bottles is not the same.

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We're not stingy with olive oil in our kitchen, so I don't want to mess with what I buy. Olive oil may be one of the healthiest fats in our diet, but only if you buy the real stuff.

Health Benefits

Olive oil is rich in antioxidants that reduce inflammation and protect cells from oxidation. It has also been shown to help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The healthy fats in olive oil are a sustainable source of energy, contribute to brain health, mood stabilization and proper hormone development, all while keeping us fuller for longer.

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But not all olive oils are created equal.

In a 2015 press release announcing the National Consumer League's review of olive oil products, Brown University researcher Mary Flynn explained how olive oil's health benefits can diminish over time. "Extra virgin olive oil contains compounds called polyphenols, which are responsible for many of their purported health benefits. In general, the fresher the olive oil, the higher the polyphenol content. As the oil ages or is exposed to heat, light, or oxygen, the Polyphenol levels decrease. A number of studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil with higher polyphenol levels is associated with greater health benefits."

Freshly pressed olive oil is magical. I know because I make it every year.

shopping guide

● Buy extra virgin or extra virgin olive oil. Adding heat to the olives allows producers to extract more oil from each olive, but the heat can damage antioxidants and thus reduce health benefits.

● Buy extra virgin olive oil, sometimes known as EVOO.

● A dark glass container protects the oil from oxygen and light.

● Avoid the top shelf bottles as they may be older or damaged from the light and heat overhead.

● Look for a harvest date and buy within 15 months of that date to ensure no oxidation has taken place.

● The USDA organic label does not necessarily guarantee high quality, but it does mean that the olives have been grown under standard organic practices, meaning no pesticide residues.

● A label "Product of Italy" or "Product of Spain" does not necessarily imply a major health benefit. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that olive oil from any particular country is healthier.

cooking instructions

● Cook at low temperatures, as cooking at high heat will cause olive oil to smoke, causing it to change its structure. The polyphenols and vitamin E are destroyed in high heat and free radicals that can damage our body are released. If you need an oil for cooking over high heat, grapeseed oil is a good alternative.

● Eat salads, pasta, vegetables and other dishes at room temperature.

● Store in a cupboard to avoid light and heat from a nearby stove or oven.

A note to my kids who teased me at the grocery store: Just as they spend hours deciding which new Nike shoe they want for Christmas, I have good reason to spend time picking out my olive oils. Your shoe choice is a style statement that matters to you as a teenager, while my olive oil choices have an impact on our health that matters to all of us at any age.

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