Next time you reach for the olive oil at the stove, use a lighter touch. It may not be as healthy as you think. For years, olive oil has been hailed as a part of a healthful diet, and nutrition conscious cooks have used it freely. Therein lies the problem: People might be cautious about how much butter they use, but olive oil seems to have been given a pass in the moderation department.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat to Live” and a specialist in nutrition treatments for obesity agrees that people might consume more olive oil than they otherwise should because they’ve read or been told that it’s healthy. “People don’t realize how fattening it is, and then they eat olive oil instead of whole food fats such as nuts and seeds,” Fuhrman said. Nuts and seeds tend to be much less fattening because they contain unsaturated fats. Fuhrman says that olive oil might have gained its “healthy” tag because substitutes such as butter and margarine were labeled unhealthy making it popular only because it’s “safer” – not actually safe.
Alisha Chasey, a nutritionist in Gilbert, explains why olive oil is better suited for raw consumption, as in a salad dressing than for cooking. “Because of olive oil’s relatively low melting point, the properties of the oil get changed while cooking, removing its health benefits,” Chasey said.
Also, olive oil available in the market might not be pure. Said Scottsdale-based dietitian Karen Graham in an email: “True, pure olive oil has an abundance of very healthy ingredients including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. The problem is that most olive oil brands we find in our grocery stores are not pure or the quality of the olive oil is very poor.”
“The best advice I can offer is to cut out the middleman and buy olive oil straight from a mill or close to a mill,” Graham said. “Olive oil deteriorates with age. We are lucky that Arizona has an olive mill that allows you to taste the oil before you buy it. It is called Queen Creek Olive Mill (http://www.queencreekolivemill.com). They now have a location in Kierland Commons, which is a boutique store with a tasting bar. All their bottles list the press date so you know how fresh the product is.”
According to statistics from the International Olive Council, the worldwide consumption of olive oil are 80 to 100 percent from 2006 to 21012. One reason olive oil is considered healthy is because it has long been associated with traditionally healthy Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean people of the past years ate lots of olive oil, but they also worked hard int he fields, walking about 9 miles a day often guiding a heavy plow,” Fuhrman wrote in a paper called “The Mediterranean Diet.”
When reading about the Mediterranean diet, most Americans don’t take home the message to eat loads of vegetables, beans, and fruits and do tons of exercise; they just accept the myth that olive oil is a health food.” Also, terms used for olive oil such as “extra light” are often misleading.
“People may be under the impression that this means fewer calories. All it really means is the product is highly refined, which is not a good thing,” Graham said.
Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, an olive oil consultant in California said, “Olive oil is safe as long as people remember that it needs to be treated as a substitute and not as an addition to the diet. Olive oil has been associated with health benefits, but that doesn’t mean you go and add olive oil to an already fat-rich diet.”