A staple in the popular Mediterranean diet, olive oil is praised for its rich nutritional value. Consumers do not think twice as they grab a bottle from the grocery store shelf and proceed home to work their culinary magic in the kitchen. It is often wise to research into subjects that interest us. What we consume is no exception. As with many things in life, some things are not always what they seem.
Olive oil is an excellent source of polyphenols, a special type of antioxidant that protects the body’s internal cells from damage. It is also high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), one of the good fats. Research has shown these fats may lower the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels, aid in blood clotting, and help to control insulin levels. Some experts suggest consuming at least four tablespoons a day to reap the benefits of olive oil.
Now comes the bad news. In 2011, author Tom Mueller published his book titled "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil." His research discovered that American consumers were being deceived about the quality of the extra virgin olive oil they were purchasing. Most of it, he claimed, was processed with old oil, artificial colors, and basically tainted somehow, which robbed it of its valuable health benefits.
‘Virgin’ in this case refers to the process used to make olive oil. Olives are crushed, known as cold pressing, and it is the oil that comes from this first pressing of the olives that is the freshest and most nutritious. This oil is where extra virgin olive oil comes from.
How can food companies get away with misleading the consumer about the quality of extra virgin olive oil? Because the United States government does not regulate the labeling on extra virgin olive oil containers.
There are some things to consider to help ensure the extra virgin olive oil you purchase and consume is of the highest quality:
* The fresher the olive oil is, the greater the nutritional content it will contain
* The tingling sensation felt in the back of the throat is a good sign when tasting olive oil because it indicates the antioxidant content
* Choose extra virgin olive oil in a dark container, which protects its nutrients from light degradation
* Look for the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) label on the bottle. This group works in conjunction with the International Olive Council (IOC) to enforce quality standards for olive oil processing
A bottle of extra virgin olive oil will be good for 1-2 years in your cupboard at home. And never drown your food with it. It contains healthy MUFAs but is still high in calories.
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