The olive oil aisle can be daunting. There are so many different types of oils and each label claims to be healthier than the next. So, how do you choose? Before we get started, let’s get some important definitions down:
Monounsaturated fat vs. polyunsaturated fat vs. saturated fat?There are all different types of fat and they differ in how many carbon-carbon double bonds are in their chemical make-up. These double bonds play a role in how the fats affect your body. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond, poly have several, and saturated have none. (For all those science people out there, saturated fats are “saturated with hydrogen molecules”).
- Bad fats: saturated fat, trans fat
- Good fats: monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat
What the heck is a trans fat? This is a type of unsaturated fat (has double bonds) that doesn’t occur in nature much, but is used in the food industry to make butter, snacks, packaged baked goods, and frying fast food.
Why do they make trans fat? Trans-fats are used helps with storage of food. The food industries change the chemical make-up of foods, allowing for the food to have more desirable physical properties (e.g. they will melt at certain temperatures and can be stored more easily) (Source)
Extra Virgin vs. Virgin Olive Oil? Extra virgin olive oil is the result of the first press of the olive — meaning it’s the most flavorful. Virgin olive oil is after an olive has gone through 2-3 presses, so there is less flavor. (Source)
What is refined vs. unrefined olive oil? Refined olive oil is treated to remove flaws from the oil and ultimately have little to no olive flavor or smell. Unrefined olive oil is pure and untreated.
Oils have a “Smoke Point”, why is this important? Each type of oil has its own “smoke point”, which is the temperature at which the oil begins to produce smoke and can produce toxic fumes and chemicals. Smoke point is important in choosing the type of oil you want to use and when. (Click Here for more Info about what oils to use and when)
- High smoke points (Searing, baking, stir fry): Avocado oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil
- Medium smoke points (low-heat baking, sauces) : sesame oil, coconut oil*
- No/Low smoke point (dressings, marinades): extra virgin olive oil, Flaxseed oil
- *Coconut oil is controversial. The American Heart Association does not recommend using coconut oil as it can raise good and bad cholesterol (More Info Here). Basically, only use it on your hair and skin.
How do you know which olive oil to get? Up to this point, I’ve just gone with the idea that extra virgin olive oil was the best oil to use, and basically used it for everything – which is NOT the right thing to do. Turns out, there is a lot of information out there and I wanted to come up with a REALLY simplistic way of choosing the kind of olive oil that I want.
General rules for good olive oil:
- Dark, glass bottle.Olive oil breaks down with sunlight. It should be stored in a dark, cool area (such as in a pantry or cabinet in your kitchen). Avoid getting olive oil stored in clear, plastic bottles. (Source)
- All oils have some mixture of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats. Oils are named by which one is predominant. So don’t assume that if it says “monounsaturated fat” that it’s all monounsaturated.
- Be aware of the smoke point of your oils. If you are lining a baking sheet, try to use something like grape seed oil that won’t burn easily. If you are making dressing for your salad, use extra virgin olive oil. The Cleveland Clinic made a great guide for which oils to use for what activities, including information about fat content here.
- Finally, be cautious about how much olive oil you use. Use everything in moderation. Olive oil has approximately 120 cal/tablespoon. So every tablespoon you use adds to those calories at the end of the day.
- How do you cut down?
- When cooking, heat the pan and the oil will actually expand and can be used longer.
- Make your salad sparkle, don’t soak it in dressings and oil.
- Do NOT deep fry. There’s always another way to make the food taste good.
For some of those science nerds out there (myself included), here’s an article I thought was interesting: Challenges of Utilizing Healthy Fats in Foods
Photo: I took this photo going grocery shopping this week.