Fat is a funny thing. Some fats are good for you, others are bad, but they all have the same amount of calories. My sister Candee called the other day to ask if it mattered what kind of olive oil she bought. I realized that I needed to do a blog post on this, because it DOES matter what kind you buy. Here is the low-down on Olive Oil.
Olive oil has the most monounsaturated fat out of all the different types of fat. Monounsaturated fat helps increase good cholesterol and decreased the bad (LDL) cholesterol. The FDA approved a statement about olive oils health benefits stating : "Eating 2 TBSP of olive oil a day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day."
This quote probably comes from the study that found that when people with high cholesterol levels removed the saturated fat from their diets and replaced it with olive oil, their total cholesterol levels dropped an average of 13.4%, and their LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 18%.
Olive oil also has oleic acid which has antioxidants such as vitamin E. It is these properties that are thought to contribute to the health benefits of olive oil. Olive oil also has been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic (prevents blood clots), antihypertensive (decreases blood pressure) as well as vasodilator (makes your blood vessels open up) effects. helps prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol). Only oxidized LDL stick to the arterial wall causing build up.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is best. As Rachel Ray says, E.V.O.O. The reason it is best is because of the way it is processed. EVOO is oil that is pressed out of the olive. Extra-Virgin has to have a certain acidity, color, and taste in order to be defined as EVOO. If olive oil is just pure olive oil or just olive oil, it has oil in it that has been refined. Refined means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralize strong tastes (because it is considered defective) and neutralize the acid content. Extra Virgin olive oil and Virgin Olive Oil cannot have any refined oil in them.
You want the Extra Virgin because it is the most pure and least process; therefore, Extra Virgin Olive oil contains more polyphenols, leading to a healthier heart and lower "bad" cholesterol.
In doing my research, I found out that the US doesn't label its olive oil by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), like most European nations, but from what I read, our labeling is accurate enough that you will want to only buy the EVOO since it has the most good stuff in it and it is not processed with chemicals.
One last note before ending. Olive oil isn't the best oil for cooking things at high temperatures. Heating olive oil at a high temperature, some say as low as 300 degrees, starts to break down some of the polyphenols in the olive oil reducing the health benefits. So when enjoying your olive oil, it is best to enjoy it in a salad dressing, as a bread dip, or drizzle some in an already cooked food like over your cooked veggies.
You can buy good olive oil at Costco for a great price.
To sum it up, you want to buy extra-virgin olive oil because it has the most ployphenols and antioxidants, and therefore has the most health benefit for your body. Extra-virgin olive oil is also a pure oil that has NOT been refined (chemically processed). It isn't just the mono--unsaturated fat that makes olive oil so good for you, it is the other stuff in it too!