Olive Oil Boasts a Wealth of Health Benefits for Delawareans

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We’ve all heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but what about a spoonful of olive oil?

In addition to its rich flavor and versatility when it comes to cooking, olive oil has numerous health benefits.

“Olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, which are very beneficial to your health,” says April Callahan, R.D., a registered dietician in the Nutrition Services Department at ChristianaCare in Newark. “Olive oil contains polyphenols, a category of plant compounds found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, which can help reduce inflammation and lower your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, [high] cholesterol and high blood pressure.”

Research has shown the benefits of olive oil for reducing cardiovascular risks, particularly for conditions like arteriosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) in particular has been shown to improve cholesterol levels by lowering low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), or bad cholesterol, which can damage blood vessel walls, and increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), also known as good cholesterol, which provides protection against the onset of heart disease.

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In addition, the antioxidants found in EVOO can help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Olive oil can also be applied directly to your skin to help slow the signs of aging and wrinkles, in addition to having antibacterial properties that can help fight acne. It’s also found in many soaps and lotions.

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The heart-healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamins, in particular vitamins E and K, found in olive oil give it added nutritional value.

“Whenever possible, stick with extra-virgin olive oil to get the most health benefits,” Callahan says. “It’s a great choice for cooking because it has a fairly high smoke point—the measure of its resistance to heat—and can be used in pan-frying, sautéing and stir-frying. It can also be used in things like salad dressings and marinades or drizzled on food as a finishing oil before serving a dish or as a garnish to provide more flavor, texture and complexity to a dish.”

While most people choose to cook with olive oil to access its health benefits, consuming half a tablespoon of olive oil a day has been linked to a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. To make it more palatable, consume it in a glass with a few sips of water and a twist of lemon.

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When choosing an olive oil, it’s important to look for those that have been certified for quality and purity by the International Olive Oil Council or the California Olive Oil Council. The three main grades of olive oil include EVOO, virgin olive oil and refined olive oil.

Extra virgin is the least processed variety, is cold pressed, has no chemical solvents and has the highest level of beneficial compounds, which provides its health benefits. It has a stronger taste and smell and a shorter shelf life than the more refined olive oils.

Virgin olive oil uses both mechanical and chemical methods of extraction, has a milder flavor and a longer shelf life but loses more of those beneficial compounds in the process. Refined olive oil, also referred to as light olive oil, may also be blended with other oils, has the mildest flavor and is often used in baking.

“No matter which olive oil you choose,” says Callahan, “it’s definitely worth the investment in your health.”

Related: Try This Roasted Winter Squash With Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf Recipe

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