The good oil

Adding a drizzle of olive oil to your meals is a smart move when it comes to looking after your health.

Words: Kimberly Gillan

While ‘low fat’ might have been the catchcry of the 1990s, these days the world of nutrition focuses more on good fats and the health benefits they offer, especially for the heart.

A recent Spanish study of more than 7,000 people found that those who ate a Mediterranean-style diet – with at least four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus three or more servings of fish each week – had a 30 percent reduced risk of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease than people who followed a low-fat diet1.

Olive oil helps our hearts by decreasing bad cholesterol and fat in the blood, as well as reducing inflammation in our arteries.

With all these health benefits, it might sound tempting to guzzle it by the bottle, but Accredited Practising Dietitian Julie Gilbert warns that more is not necessarily better. “The important message is that you still have to look at the serving size or you will consume too many calories,” explains Gilbert, who is a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

“In Australia, we recommend the total fat intake each day should be 30 to 45 grams. About 20 millilitres of that should be good fats, such as olive oil, nuts or avocado.”

And, given extra-virgin olive oil’s fruity flavour, it’s ideal for drizzling on salads, stirring through pasta or serving with bread. “A teaspoon, or five millilitres, is a good serve for dipping a slice of bread in,” adds Gilbert.

Storage

Olive oil is best stored in a cool, dark place2 and should be consumed within a few months of opening3.

Olive oil options

Peruse the olive-oil section at the supermarket and it's easy to get confused by all the options. Here's a simple breakdown4:

Extra virgin: This is the purest form of olive oil – extracted from premium-grade olives using traditional cold-pressing techniques, without heat or chemicals, in order to preserve its taste. The less olive oil is handled, the better the taste, which is why extra virgin is great on salads and bread.

Virgin: Made from second-grade olives or from the second pressing after extra-virgin oil, without heat or chemicals. Its flavour is not as strong, so it's better for frying.

Pure: After virgin oil has been extracted from low-grade olives, the remnants are processed using heat, chemicals and high-pressure techniques to make this commercial-grade oil. It's then mixed with some virgin olive oil to give it colour and flavour.

Light or extra light: This variety is made from the final pressing of olives, making it the lowest quality. ‘Light’ refers to the flavour and colour.

Olive-oil blends: Olive oil is mixed with canola, vegetable or sunflower oils to be used in products such as margarine and canned tuna. Read the nutrition panel on such products, because it may be mixed with oil that contains saturated fat.

References:

  1. Alice Park of Time.com, ‘Mediterranean diet lowers risk of heart attack, stroke’, 25 February 2013 edition.cnn.com/2013/02/25/health/time-mediterranean-diet/index.html
  2. ScienceDaily, ‘Olive Oil: Which Type Is Best?’, 14 August 2007 sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070811224755.htm
  3. Olive Oil Times, ‘How long can I keep a bottle of olive oil?’, oliveoiltimes.com/faq/how-long-can-i-keep-a-bottle-of-olive-oil
  4. betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcpdf.nsf/ByPDF/Olive_oil/$File/Olive_oil.pdf
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.