Now, before we discuss what that mouthful of adjectives means, we must dispense with the idea that fats make you fat. Essential fatty acids are called that because, well, they’re essential. Our bodies require specific types of fats for proper cellular function; and, simply put, without proper cell function we do not have optimum health. Just remember, although we need fat in our diets, not all fats are created equal. With everything that is out there on trans-saturated fats and other “bad” fats, I won’t belabor the equality point. Suffice it to say, a good rule of thumb is -with exception to coconut oil- strictly limit (or eliminate) fats that are a solid at room temperature.
Let’s move on to the crux of why olive oil should be a part of our DAILY diets and what to look for when choosing our oil. Olives and olive oil have had their place as a healthy supplement as far back as 400 B.C. when Socrates prescribed the oil as a cure for gallbladder dysfunction, ulcers, muscle aches and many other conditions. Skipping ahead to more recent times, according to a study reported by JAMA, (Journal of the American Medical Association) olive oil -a monounsaturated fat- is associated with good coronary health and may also aid in lowering the bad LDL cholesterol while simultaneously raising the good HDL levels. It’s also been linked to lowering blood glucose and systolic blood pressure. Olive oil is rich in oleic acid (a member of the omega-9 family) and is beneficial in aiding the absorption of other essential fatty acids. A Harvard School of Public Health study suggests there is a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer in women who ingest olive oil more than once a day. In fact, study after study could be listed that definitively shows the huge benefits of olive oil; but, since the benefits are endless and we’ve at least mentioned some of them, let’s instead move on to how to choose your oil.
Time to examine those adjectives referenced earlier as to the type of oil we should seek. Cold pressed oils are those which are derived from a thousands of years old process in which they are extracted by method of being pressed between large millstones. Since no heat is involved, there is no risk of damaging or losing any of the essential nutrients and polyphenols contained in the olives. (Olive oil can only be called “virgin” if it is extracted by means of pressure by millstones.) You also want the first cold press. “First” indicates the rating as olives are pressed more than once to produce numerous batches. The first pressing is the least acidic, yields the best flavor, has the highest antioxidant strength and highest levels of polyphenols and fatty acids. You’ll find that the second, third and fourth pressings will cost you less at the checkout; but, this is -most definitely- one of those cases where you get what you pay for, so it’s worth budgeting elsewhere to get the highest possible concentration of antioxidants.
So how do you know what you are buying? Well, the label, typically on the front of a container, will tell you if it is cold pressed olive oil. You may have to look a little harder to find from which press it came – it is likely on the back label – and will have two numbers such as 1/4, 2/4, 3/4 etc. This indicates that it is the first, second or third press of four total presses and so on.
Finally, you should know that hydroxytyrosol is one of the most powerful antioxidants found in olive oil and, for reasons unclear, is in higher concentrations in olives grown in the Mediterranean region, particularly Spain. This powerful polyphenol has a number of benefits, including preventing the oxidation of keratin which in turn makes hair soft and shiny and prevents nails from tearing and breaking. In fact, olive oil was commonly used topically in ancient Rome; some feel this was a direct link to Romans becoming known for their beautiful skin. If you decide to try it topically, you might consider a product with olive oil in it that is noncomedogenic or use it gradually to determine if it will clog your pores.
As far as internally is concerned, there are many ways to use this super-antioxidant. Whether you drizzle it onto salads with some balsamic vinegar, use it to sauté virtually anything or work it in as a main ingredient to recipes, there is enough proof out there to demonstrate that we benefit tremendously from having olive oil as a part of our daily intake. So, bake up some fresh bread and dredge it in some olive oil sprinkled with garlic and herbs. You’ll not only love it, but your body will thank you for it!