Olive Oil: 101

Extra cheese, extra crispy, extra spicy, the word extra just makes things sound better, doesn’t it? To me, nothing beats grilled vegetables brushed with a full-flavored olive oil.

Olive oil is made from the pressing or milling of olives, a fruit that grows on trees in temperate to tropical climates. EVOO, a.k.a. extra virgin olive oil, gets its title not because there is more oil in the bottle, rather, EVOO is in the least processed form and is the least acidic of the olive oils. If you just purchased a large bottle of virgin olive oil, don’t worry!

Virgin olive oil is the second least processed oil (it’s pressed or milled twice) and is still good for you. Both plant-based oils contain monounsaturated fat, which may actually lower LDL, or bad cholesterol. Of all the olive oils, they also contain the highest levels of polyphenols—powerful antioxidants that can promote heart health. Olive oil made from unripe green olives has more polyphenols than oil from ripe olives.

How to use

Extra virgin olive oil is supposed to be supreme in taste because it contains the lowest acidity. Flavors are determined by several factors including type of olives, ripeness of olives, growing conditions, and oil storage. Strong flavored EVOOs are best for cooking fish, meat, and marinades. Milder flavored EVOO is good for bread dipping and drizzling over cheeses. Use higher quality EVOO for things like salad dressing, or drizzled on top of grilled vegetables to get the fullest flavor. Virgin olive oil is good for sautéing and frying (which is not recommended daily).

How to store

Proper storage of olive oil is important to prevent rancidity. All olive oil must be stored in a cool, dry place. Light and heat are the number one enemies of oil. Make sure to close the cap tightly after using, because oxygen can also cause olive oil to go rancid.

Olive is a heart healthy fat, but that doesn’t mean we can just open and pour. But, in practice, I remind my patients that one tablespoon contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. Two simple words: portion control.

Fun fact

Olives and olive oil are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and have been for quite some time. According to Greek mythology, Athena planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill that we know today as the Acropolis. It is believed that the olive tree that grows there today comes from the roots of the original tree. Pretty cool!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.