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What You Need to Know About Olive Oil

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  April 3, 2013 11:49 AM

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Source: NAOOA
Attention all olive oil lovers: A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which followed over 7,000 adults for about 5 years, showed that adherence to a Mediterranean diet, especially one with extra virgin olive oil, reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent.  Olive oil is not only rich in oleic acid, a heart-healthy unsaturated fat but also polyphenols, which have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in the body. 

These antioxidant-rich polyphenols help protect the LDL “bad” cholesterol from being oxidized in the body.  Oxidized LDL is thought to be damaging to the walls of your arteries, paving the way to atherosclerosis. A study in Clinical Nutrition of 200 individuals showed that the olive oil with the highest amount of polyphenols did a better job of protecting the LDL cholesterol against oxidation than the olive oils with lower amounts of these antioxidants.

But unfortunately, not all olive oils are created equal as polyphenols are lost in the refining process.  The highest quality olive oil with the most polyphenols is extra virgin olive oil as it is “cold pressed,” which means it is not heated during the process, according to the Oldways’website.  Oldways is a nonprofit organization best known for introducing Americans to the Mediterranean Diet and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.  Although heating can destroy polyphenols, take comfort in knowing that you can cook with extra virgin oil.  According to Eryn Balch of the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), sautéing with extra virgin oil is fine as the heat in the frying pan is well below the temperature whereby the polyphenols are destroyed. 

In addition to heat, exposure to light and air will age the oil more rapidly, both destroying the polyphenols and increasing rancidity.   To protect against this, Balch recommends that you buy extra virgin olive oil that is sold in dark glass bottles or a can and store it in a cool dark place in your pantry rather than near the stove.  

When purchasing extra virgin olive oil, look for the “Best Used Buy” date on the label and buy a bottle with a date that is as far in the future as possible.  Keep in mind, once you open the bottle, air will get trapped in the bottle increasing the aging process of the oil, claims Balch. 

For more information and recipes using olive oil visit Oldways and the NAOOA websites.

                                           Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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