Over the past few years, olive oil has become a staple item in most kitchens, with many of us favouring it for its perceived health properties that make it preferable to other long-standing favourites. But what benefits does it really have? And is it as good for us as we think?
Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean Diet which is felt to be one of the healthiest. Not only has it been associated with increased life expectancy, but it has also been linked to lowered risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. So surely as an integral part of this diet, olive oil must have some pretty hefty benefits when compared to other oils?

Let’s see…
Healthy fats
Olive Oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fats – considered a healthy dietary fat, as opposed to saturated and trans fats – which can help to benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control (which is especially helpful if you have type-2 diabetes). Mono-unsaturated fats have also been found to help increase our good cholesterol, lower our bad cholesterol, and may help normalise blood clotting– making olive oil great for helping keep our hearts healthy.

Omega 3
Olive Oil is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal brain and body development. Not only this, but deficiencies in omega 3 have been linked to depression.

The different types of olive oil

The popularity of olive oil in recent years has meant that there are now loads of different brands and types of olive oil, all competing for your attention. Taking a stroll through the oils aisle in the supermarket could leave any of us feeling confused over which oils we should be buying.

Virgin olive oil

The production method of virgin olive oil means it is exposed to very low temperatures – a process known as cold pressing, which helps to minimise deterioration in the oil. The process should not involve anything other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.

The variants of virgin olive oil are classified as follows:

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) – considered the healthiest, and tastiest form of olive oil, EVOO comes from the first pressing of the olives, and has 0.8% or less free acidity, expressed as oleic acid concentration. There are other various laboratory tests required to be classified as Extra Virgin, which include tests on peroxide and wax levels in the oil, and testing for defects in taste, aroma and texture, known as organoleptics. EVOO has been found to have stronger anti-inflammatory properties than other types of olive oil, thanks to its greater concentration of polyphenols.

Virgin olive oil – free acidity of not more than 2% and organoleptic defects of less than 2.5

Curante virgin olive oil – between 2-3.3% acidity.

The benefits of olive oil could lead you to believe that you should be using it as an all-purpose oil. But in fact, this is not the case.

If you’re using a very high heat when cooking, then the recommendation is generally not to use olive oil. The low smoking temperature (it smokes at between 365 – 420 degrees F) means that it will smoke over a high heat. At this point, some research has suggested that its beneficial compounds start to degrade – potentially releasing harmful compounds.

Instead, olive oil should be kept for use as a salad dressing, or when cooking over a lower heat – such as sautéeing vegetables. Using olive oil in this way also means you make the most of its distinctive flavour, and keeps all of the beneficial nutrients contained in olive oil.

If you’re looking for healthier oils that are suited to high heat cooking, then try oils such as coconut, or rapeseed that maintain all of their nutrients when heated to a high temperature.

While it’s not recommended to drown your meals in olive oil, or to use it at high temperatures, the overall benefits of olive oil make it a great addition to many meals, and could actually help to improve the health of your heart and perhaps increase your omega 3 levels. In moderation, it could even help you to lose weight by improving control of your blood sugar levels.
With thanks to Dr Sally Norton, UK health expert & NHS weight loss consultant – www.vavistalife.com