Using extra virgin olive oil in cooking is a celebrated practice all around the world, both for its versatility and its many different health benefits.
What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest-quality olive oil that you can buy on the market, primarily because it is prepared completely through mechanical means, without any additional solvents or chemicals. Furthermore, unlike many other cooking oils, the oil is kept at a certain temperature throughout the entire process so none of the natural components and nutrients in the oil are compromised. Due to the intensive processing methods, this is also the most expensive type of olive oil. The taste and aroma should be that of fresh olives, with a pungent, spicy, and slightly bitter taste on the tongue that is quite pleasant.
You can drink extra virgin olive oil in small amounts for its health benefits, and you can also cook with this oil, although high temperatures will compromise many of the fats and antioxidants in the oil. The smoke point of this particular oil is only 375 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the olive oil variety with the lowest smoke point. Other types of olive oil that are quite similar to the extra virgin variety include pure virgin olive oil and light olive oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Nutrition
In terms of nutrition, extra virgin olive oil provides high levels of vitamin E and vitamin K, as well as phenols, flavonols, lignans, flavones, and a wide range of volatile acids, many of which are antioxidant in nature. These active compounds and ingredients are what provide so many of the health benefits of this oil. There are 120 calories in a single tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), 100% of which comes from fats. Olive oil is composed of about 73% monounsaturated fat, and approximately 13% saturated fat, as well as 10% of omega-6, and 1% omega-3.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Benefits
The most well-known benefits of extra virgin olive oil include its ability to improve skin health, protect cardiovascular health, stimulate cognition, may reduce the risk of certain cancers, regulate diabetes symptoms, and strengthen the immune system.
Extra virgin olive oil is packed with antioxidants, such as caffeic acid, polyphenolic compounds, flavones, and flavonols, as well as high levels of vitamin E, all of which can help to reduce oxidative stress and seek out free radicals in the body. By preventing their chronic inflammation, you can prevent a wide range of chronic diseases.
There are a lot of fats in this oil, but many of them are monounsaturated fats, which are considered “good” fats for the heart. They can help to reduce overall cholesterol levels, suppress blood pressure and lower your risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
A great deal of research has gone into the effects of extra virgin olive oil on cancerous growth in the body. As mentioned above, the high antioxidant content in this oil can seek out free radicals before they can cause cellular mutation, which is often the first step in the development of cancer (European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2004). Oleocanthal is a compound in this oil that is known to rapidly cause cancer cell apoptosis.
Despite being high in fat, this oil is also linked to improving cholesterol balance, which is one of the major factors behind metabolic syndrome. Obesity often goes hand in hand with poor heart health and high blood pressure, so regular use of this oil can also help you slim down, far more than other cooking oils that are packed with saturated fats.
Vitamin E is found in measurable levels within olive oil, and this antioxidant compound can do wonders for the immune system. In addition to the other antioxidants, this vitamin can help to lower the strain on your immune system and fight off pathogens and toxins as they accumulate in the body.
Research has found that olive oil has the power to help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, making it a preferred cooking oil for those with diabetes.
The many volatile acids and antioxidant compounds in this oil may have a powerful impact on our cognitive health, particularly in the prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Again, this is related to eliminating free radicals before they can damage the neural pathways.
Difference Between Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Olive Oil
As mentioned earlier, there are some clear differences between EVOO and regular olive oil, primarily in how they are processed.
- Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives in mechanical and natural ways, without the help of any other additives or extraction methods.
- The extra virgin variety is commonly used in salad dressings and other non-heated applications, so its entire nutrient density is available.
- Regular olive oil, or refined varieties, will lose a great deal of their flavor and nutritional value when they undergo extreme temperatures or pressures during their extraction.
- Regular olive oil is less expensive and has a higher smoke point than the extra virgin variety, so it is often preferred as cooking oil.