During the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college, I had the most amazing opportunity to study the Mediterranean Diet and participate in Italian cooking courses in Italy. I learned so much about their food, culture, lifestyle, and health. This type of diet focuses on fresh produce, plants – including, beans, nuts, whole grains, and seeds, cheese and yogurt, moderate amounts of poultry, fish, and eggs, small amounts of red meat and wine, and plenty of fat. In fact, up to 40% of their caloric intake comes from fat and one of the primary sources of fat comes from Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). And guess what? We fried artichokes in it… Science shows that this way of eating is good for our heart and longevity.
We have known the health benefits of EVOO for years. It is high in monounsaturated fat, high in antioxidants, and is anti-inflammatory. It truly is one of the most heart-healthy foods and also does wonders for your brain, hair, skin, nails, and every cell in your body!
I'm in no way calling this a superfood or putting it on a pedestal. With so many “new” oils available today, it makes me sad that we are neglecting this wonderful fat. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that more options are readily available – all I am saying is to vary it up! Just like every vegetable has something to offer, every type of fat does too.
There is a fear that EVOO is not safe to cook with. This is untrue. You can still cook with EVOO. If you ever watch the Food Network you’ll notice chefs like Giada De Laurentiis cook often with this oil. Olive oil’s antioxidant properties such as polyphenols and tocopherol help to protect it against oxidation. Additionally, it is a monounsaturated fat – meaning it has one double bond (other vegetable oils are polyunsaturated – meaning they have multiple double bonds and are more susceptible to breakdown or oxidation when applied to heat).
Oxidized fats are hazardous to our health. When fats are oxidized they release free radicals which are potentially carcinogenic. They DO NOT turn to trans fat. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added, allowing a liquid fat to become a solid fat. This increases the shelf life of fat and is known as partially or fully hydrogenated oil. Trans fat is vilified in our culture today, but again all foods can fit. If your grandma makes the best pie crust with crisco - don't pass it up if its something you love.
EVOO’s smoke point (the temperature at which it starts smoke and then breaks down or is oxidized and is unsafe to consume) is about 375 degrees – which is pretty hot. As long as you stay at this temperature of heat or below, you can cook. Some of the foods I cook with EVOO are eggs (medium heat on the skillet) and slow roasted veggies (350 degrees in the oven). EVOO is obviously great as salad dressing.
Avocado oil, which is super popular lately – is great for cooking at a higher temperature. Its smoke point is about 485 degrees. I like to sauté, stir fry, and roast veggies (425 degrees) using avocado oil. Another popular oil these days is coconut oil, which has a lower smoke point than EVOO of 350 degrees. Although it’s high in saturated fat, the type is lauric acid and has been shown to elevate good levels (HDL) of cholesterol. I love to bake with coconut oil.
Butter. Let's not forget butter. It's great for just about everything!
It is important to purchase all oils in dark or cloudy glass. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place so that they aren’t exposed to light. Always tightly place the lid back on and use them within a reasonable amount of time.
Resources that I loved: