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Taking a Closer Look at Olive Oil

We have all been taught that olive oil is an incredibly nutritious oil.   You probably cook with it and drizzle it on your salads thinking that you are doing something beneficial for your body.  Read on to hear a new perspective on olive oil and decide for yourself whether or not you believe it is a healthy addition to your diet.  First I will demystify the labeling of olive oil and then I will take a look at the question of how nutritious oils truly are. 

Olive oil comes in varying grades.   Extra-virgin is the top quality version and this means that the oil was not extracted with the use of any chemicals.  In addition, the acidity level must be below 0.8%.  Virgin olive oil is the second best type and like the extra-virgin oil, it must be pressed mechanically and not with any chemicals.  It is required to contain less than 2% acidity.  Any other olive oils that do not contain the word "virgin" in the title indicate that they are refined through the use of chemical treatments which neutralize strong tastes and acidity.  These are lower quality oils and should be avoided. 

Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy.  While it is true that our bodies need healthy fats, there is no nutritional requirement that these fats have to come from oils.  In fact, it is better to get your fats from whole food sources.  Oils are not a whole food; they are extracted from foods such as olives, nuts, or seeds.  Oils are one-hundred percent fat.  The fiber along with all the accompanying vitamins and minerals are processed out.  What you get in a tablespoon of oil is 120 calories, 14 grams of fat and very little else.  

Let's compare one tablespoon of olive oil to three quarters of an ounce of sunflower seeds which have approximately the same number of calories.  The olive oil, which is all fat, gives you only about 10% of the RDA for vitamin E.  All other nutrients show up as zeroes.  The sunflower seeds give you 36% of the RDA for vitamin E along with 2.2 grams of fiber, 4.8 grams of protein, and various amounts of nutrients such as calcium, thiamin, niacin, B6, phosphorus, selenium, iron, riboflavin, manganese, copper, magnesium and zinc.  Do you see how much more valuable it is to consume your fats in their whole food state? 

Stop sautéing your meals in oil and try using broth or even a little bit of plain old water.  Instead of olive oil, try making a dressing for your veggies with blended nuts or seeds as the base.  Check out this luscious creamy recipe for a start:  Blend or stir together 3 tablespoons of tahini, 2 tablespoons of white miso, and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice while adding water a couple of tablespoons at a time until you achieve the desired consistency.  Top it over a raw salad or some steamed greens.  Get creative... the tasty possibilities are endless. 

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