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Olive Oil: The Healthiest Oil or Giant Hoax?

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Olive oil is touted as the world's healthiest oil, but while true olive oil is beneficial to your health, what you find in your grocery store is more likely to lead to weight gain and health complications than to provide benefit to your diet. Find out why below.

Olive oil has long been touted as a healthy alternative to animal fats because it does not contain the “dangerous” saturated fats that animal fat does. It is even suggested that olive oil can promote weight loss due to the easier absorption of the oil.

However, is olive oil really healthy? And is the oil you buy at the store actually real olive oil? Find out below.

Olive Oil and Weight Loss

Olive oil is said to be healthy for weight loss because it promotes a fuller feeling longer, and some studies have suggested that the smell of olive oil can suppress the appetite. In a 2013 study conducted in Munich, study participants who ate olive oil-infused yogurt and smelled the oil daily ate about 200 fewer calories per day.

Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Olive oil is a healthy oil because it contains mainly monounsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fat provides a variety of benefits, including a reduced risk of heart diseases, lowering total cholesterol, lowering LDL cholesterol, normalize blood clotting, offering antioxidant protection in the body, and regulating insulin and blood sugar levels.

Monounsaturated fat is also an easy fat for your body to use, and does not oxidize in your body as quickly as other forms of fat (particularly polyunsaturated fats). Olive oil can also improve the mood by raising the levels of serotonin in the brain. All of these benefits of olive oil have helped it on its way to being called the “world’s healthiest oil.”

However, the olive oil you purchase at your grocery store does not have all of these health benefits.

Why? Today’s olive oil is not manufactured by squeezing the olives to remove the oil using an Italian’s feet or something equally quaint. Just like most other processes, the production of olive oil has become industrialized- to the oil’s detriment.

The main trouble with olive oils sold today arises from the manufacturing process and the fact that much olive oil sold today actually isn’t olive oil at all.

The Dangers of Refined Oil Olive

Olive oil can be refined in two different ways. The traditional method of extracting olive oil is the cold press method. This uses no heat and simply squeezes the oil from the olives. This is the healthiest way to obtain olive oil.

Unfortunately, most olive oil manufacturing plants use heat pressing and chemical extraction to remove the oil from the olives. Heat refining removes strange flavors, unwanted odors, and unwanted colors from the oil. This is mainly done to retain standardization.

Olive Oil Heat Refining Process

Step 1: The oil is cleaned to remove wax, phosphates, and impurities. Salt, water, and acids are used to clean the oil.

Step 2: Oil is mixed with soap and heated to 180F. A separator removes soap from oil.

Step 3: The oil goes through vacuum steam distillation to remove odor impurities.

Step 4: The oil is cooled and crystallized fats are removed.

Step 5: The oil is bleached by heating it to 130F and mixed with clay. The oil is then removed from the clay.

Step 6: If the oil is hydrogenated, hydrogen is added to the oil along with nickel. This also requires high heat of around 400F.

What is the matter with oil heat processed this way?

This form of oil processed manages to remove nearly all of the natural benefits from the oil. The vitamins are removed, the natural structure of the fat is removed, the oleic acid content is increased, and the oil is likely to become oxidized, which leads us to the next danger of olive oil.

In fact, after refining, olive oil actually becomes another form of fatty acid which creates a small amount of trans fats and converts the usable fat into an unusable “plastic fat” which the body cannot absorb properly, which contributes to chronic inflammation in the body.

The Dangers of Oxidized Olive Oil

Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. This means it has a single double bond in the structure. Olive oil contains a high amount of oleic acid, which can create an imbalance in the oil’s structure when heated beyond its smoke point or after it oxidizes due to aging.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Foodservice found that the consumption of high quantities of oxidized oils (usually made by frying the oil), and even being near the oils, causes a variety of health problems. The researchers found that the consumption of oxidized oils leads to an increased risk for the development of heart disease, birth defects, inflammatory joint disease, arthritis, digestive disorders, and an increased risk for developing cancer.

Olive oil can oxidize in two separate ways. The first way is through heat refining. The second way is simply through age. According to an article published in The Guardian in 2012, the average shelf life of olive oil is about one year. Sadly, much of the olive oil sold today is bottled several months (and possibly even years) after it is expressed from the oil. This means that your olive oil is probably already oxidized before it even arrives in your pantry.

In fact, research on Italian olive oil sold in the United States found that nearly 70 percent of the oil on grocery store shelves did not meet the requirements for healthy tasting and smelling olive oil.

The Importance of Smoke Points

Any oil will eventually smoke when placed under heat. Smoke means the oil is starting to burn and the oil and fat start to break down. This will make the oil taste bad and also removes the nutritional value from the oil. Some studies have suggested that oil consumed at the smoke point may increase cancer risk, due to oxidation of the oil. The smoke point of olive oil is about medium for most oils sold today.

Vegetable oils have a relatively high smoke point, which is why they are often used for frying (that and because they are inexpensive). Olive oil has a smoke point of about 375 to 405F, which is below most frying temperatures. Increasing the temperature of olive oil beyond 400 degrees will release toxic chemicals such as peroxides, ketones, hydroperoxides, and aldehydes.

However, heating olive oil beyond 350F will start to remove the nutrients from the oil, including the valuable antioxidants.

Is Your Olive Oil Really From Olives?

Another serious problem with today’s olive oil market is that the oil you buy at the store probably doesn’t contain much olive oil at all. Manufacturers around the world are allowed to adulterate their olive oil with cheaper oils like corn, soy, and rapeseed (Canola) oil.

In other cases, cold-pressed oil is mixed with heat pressed oil, or extra virgin olive oil is mixed with olive oil refined several additional times. There are a few tests you can conduct on your olive oil that will help you determine how real the oil is. These tests are subjective, and may not always work. Some perfectly good olive oil fails these tests, while other adulterated forms pass. However, if your oil fails all the tests, it is likely fake.

Test 1: Refrigerator Test

Monounsaturated fat starts to solidify when placed in the refrigerator. The oil should become cloudy and thicker when placed in the refrigerator. If it does not, it is fake olive oil. You can usually tell how much olive oil is in the mixture by seeing how much of the oil clumps in the refrigerator. You may be surprised at how little olive oil your “olive oil” actually contains!

Test 2: Flame Test

Extra-virgin olive oil is flammable and can keep an oil lamp burning. If your oil cannot keep a oil wick burning, then it is made from dangerous and unhealthy refined oils.

The Only Way to Receive Pure Olive Oil

Since fake olive oil can pass these tests, the only way to know if you have fresh oil is to know your producer. This is rather difficult to find in today’s modern world, as not that many people have olive oil production faculties. If you know an olive oil manufacturer, and have toured their facilities, then you can trust that their oil is pure and healthy.

However, any time heat processing is used on olive oil, some of the health benefits are removed, even if the manufacturer does not use chemical processing. If you can’t find a local olive oil producer, use the following methods to ensure your oil is as healthy as it can be:

Ensure You Buy Healthy Olive Oil

  • Purchase your oil from a manufacturer that allows you to taste the oil before purchasing. These sources usually use a higher amount of real olive oil.
  • Always buy cold-pressed olive oil.
  • Look for seller that store their oil in temperature-controlled stainless steel containers with inert gas to prevent oxidation.
  • Look for bottles using dark colors to protect against light oxidation.
  • Buy your oils in smaller quantities so you can use them up in a few months.
  • Only buy bottles that have been harvested in the past year. If it does not have a harvest stamp, don’t buy it.
  • Avoid cheap olive oils. Typically, higher-priced olive oils contain a higher concentration of real olive oil.

Keep Olive Oil Safe and Healthy

Olive oil can provide numerous health benefits if from a healthy source and prepared the right way. Olive oil should be served at 350F or below, and never used for frying or high-heat cooking. Olive oil is also not healthy when used in baking.

Olive oil is good for use in lower-heat cooking (such as in traditional Italian cooking) and in cold preparations like salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Olive Oil and Healthy Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight safely using olive oil, follow the rules outlined above for ensuring your olive oil is not causing your weight loss efforts to backfire. Refined, processed, and oxidized oil contribute to health problems including weight gain and chronic inflammation. It is difficult to lose weight if you do not feel good and are constantly eating foods that interfere with effective weight loss strategies. If you really want to improve your health and lose weight by changing the fats you consume, make sure you are actually consuming real olive oil rather than cheap imitators.





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