Not all olive oils are created equally, and they certainly are not nutritionally equal. In fact, common olive oils found in the grocery store are not pure olive oil, but a mix with other vegetable oils, like sunflower.
Studies have proven time and time again that the health benefits from olive oil come from its high phenolic content and antioxidant properties, and its high proportion of monounsaturated fats. However, not all olive oils have the same high content of these beneficial compounds.
Phenols and monounsaturated fats are delicate compounds that could degrade easily without the ideal production and storage conditions of the olive oil. It is surprising that most olive oils found on the market are actually not stored for proper preservation of the oil's antioxidant properties. For example, if olive oil is stored in a clear glass or plastic bottle, light can get through and destroy its delicate phenolic compounds.
Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant that helps fight against oxidative stress, inflammation, and chronic diseases. Many health benefits have been associated with a high intake of olive polyphenols, including:
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure
- Reduced risk of high cholesterol
- Reduced depressive symptoms
- Improved longevity
So what should you look for to ensure you are choosing the healthiest olive oil?
1. Choose Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest quality olive oil you can buy. It is unrefined, made from pure, cold-pressed olives. EVOO contains more nutrients than other olive oils, providing more health benefits.
Cold-pressed means that the olives never exceed a certain temperature during the pressing process, ensuring that the olive quality remains at maximum. Heating could destroy the beneficial properties of olive oil. If an oil is not cold-pressed, it cannot be qualified as Extra Virgin according to International Olive Council standards.
2. Pick a Dark or Tin Bottle
The antioxidant properties of olive oil can be destroyed by light. Be sure to pick an oil that is stored in a dark bottle or a tin container to ensure that it is protected. Make sure to also store the bottle in a cool, dry place away from heat and light.
3. Check Country of Origin
It is important to know where your olive oil is coming from. A label might say "packaged in" or "imported from" but that does not guarantee that the olives were grown from the same country. Some olive oils will claim their country of origin on the bottle.
4. Look at the Best Buy date
Make sure the olive oil is fresh to benefit from all of its health benefits. Because it is a fat, olive oil has an expiration date.
5. Taste it!
Polyphenols are responsible for the bitter, peppery flavor of olive oil. If it tastes pungent and leaves a light burning sensation in your mouth, that means it is high in antioxidants!