Boost Your Health with Olive Oil

Start with olive oil for great taste and a boost to health.
Joy E. Zacharia, R.D.

Want to serve a scrumptious dish? Start with olive oil. Keep two types on hand: light-colored or Gentile olive oil for sautéing or for use with delicate flavors, and extra-virgin for rich taste and full body. This versatile oil is good for you too.

Olive Oil Recipes:

 Grades of Olive Oil

  • Extra-virgin olive oil--the best grade of olive oil. It's unprocessed (produced without the use of heat), and its acidity level doesn't exceed 1%. It will have the most intense flavor and is usually the most expensive. Reserve this for dipping, drizzling, or salad dressings.
  • Virgin olive oil--also unprocessed, with an acidity level no higher than 2%. This type of oil is still quite flavorful and can be used for dipping and salad dressing.
  • Pure olive oil--a blend of refined and virgin olive oils. Its acidity is no higher than 1.5%, and it adds flavor and color. It's milder than virgin olive oil and great for cooking and sautéing.

About Olive Oil

  • Olive oil, whether light or deep hued, contains 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. What makes olive oil different from other oils is that it's rich in monounsaturated fat.
  • Monounsaturated fat, when substituted for saturated fat (fats that are solid at room temperature such as butter, stick margarine, and bacon grease), helps reduce the level of LDL or "bad" cholesterol while maintaining the "good" HDL cholesterol. This helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies also show that women whose diets are higher in monounsaturated fats are less likely to develop breast cancer. Extra-virgin olive oil contains polyphenols, antioxidants that prevent damage to blood vessels and reduce high blood pressure.
  • Substitute olive oil for most saturated fats for cooking. We still prefer butter and shortening for baking.
  • Olive oil, like other fats, takes longer for your body to digest and use for energy, which means you'll stay satisfied longer. Low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets often leave folks feeling hungry, which can lead to excessive snacking.
  • Virgin and extra-virgin refers to the acid content. Extra-virgin olive oil has low acid and a fruitier flavor than virgin or pure olive oil. The lower the acid, the better the oil. However, you can't taste its acidity like you can with lemons or vinegar.
  • Stored in a dark, cool place, olive oil can be kept up to 6 months. Refrigerating or freezing olive oil will increase its shelf life. Olive oil becomes solid when chilled or frozen. To liquefy, bring to room temperature, and use as directed.
  • Gentile olive oil has a delicate flavor, yet is green like the extra-virgin. Its smooth, mellow flavor is great with white meat, fish, and shellfish because it doesn't overpower their mild quality.