Going to the grocery store and getting overloaded with different brand options have been familiar situations since long. And, with olive oil, there are even different types to consider – virgin, extra virgin, regular.
What does that all even mean? Is one healthier? Is the extra cost for virgin olive oil worth it? These questions have answers with important implications for your health.
In this article, we will get into the science behind olive oil and how each of those types affects the body.
Virgin or Extra Virgin?
First, what exactly does virgin mean when it comes to olive oils? The major difference between the olive oils is how they were manufactured.
All olive oil begins with grinding olives into a paste. This is usually done with a steel drum and takes about 40 minutes in total. This paste is then pressed, and the liquid mixture (usually a combination of water and oils) is collected.
Through a series of centrifugation steps, the oil is separated from the water. If the oil has only been generated via grinding and collecting, it’s considered to be virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of oil, with slightly riper olives and lower acidity levels. This is the most flavorful and fragrant type.
If the oil is chemically treated, bleached, deodorized, etc., it’s usually because it’s a lower quality oil. The treatment process also further reduces the quality of the oil and strips away nutrients. Not only is the oil one gets after the processing less healthful, but it also began as less than optimal. That oil gets sold as regular olive oil.
It is also possible, however, for manufacturers to add nutrients to an unprocessed olive oil for a more healthful experience. C60 infused olive oil, for example, increases the antioxidant power of the oil by adding C60, which functions by removing harmful superoxides.
The Benefits of Virgin Olive Oil
Based on this information, it’s easy to see that virgin olive oil has many benefits. The more virgin it is, the higher quality it began as and the less processing it’s gone through.
Processing refers to chemically and thermally treating the oil to prolong the shelf life. However, when this the oil is processed, nutrients and flavor are lost. So, the two enormous benefits of extra virgin olive oil are:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Healthier
Extra virgin olive oil contains many nutrients that get stripped away in the refining process of regular olive oil, including compounds such as polyphenols (a beneficial antioxidant), vitamins (specifically vitamins E and K), healthy unsaturated fatty acids, and more.
It Tastes Better
People commonly describe extra virgin and virgin olive oil as being tastier than regular olive oil. Fresh, extra virgin olive oil is known to be slightly peppery, fruity, and more pungent.
The olive flavor is retained as much as possible. If the oil is metallic or bland, it’s likely because it was over-processed and not of exceptional quality to begin with. This is because, besides increasing shelf life, processing helps to hide undesirable flavors or smells by reducing or removing them.
If you’ve ever wondered why your regular olive oil doesn’t taste at all like olives, this is the reason.
The Science Behind the Health: Polyphenols
As stated above, extra virgin olive oil is high in polyphenols and fatty acids, but what exactly does that mean? Polyphenols are plant compounds that have antioxidant properties.
Research shows that consuming polyphenols can help with digestion and brain function and protect against cancer. It also helps reduce blood pressure, which increases heart health by preventing blood clotting and heart-related diseases. Any antioxidant is beneficial for health and longevity, as antioxidants help to decrease oxidative stress, reducing cellular damage and aging.
The Science Behind the Health: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Good Fat
The media has portrayed fats as unhealthy, but we need them to survive. The truth is that not all fats are created equal. There are many types of fat, including unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. You might have heard of the last couple of terms, especially as being terrible for you. There are even campaigns against trans fat. But, what’s the big deal?
Types of Fat
All fats are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms. If fat is saturated, it means that all the carbon atoms are linked to as many hydrogen atoms as possible. It’s saturated with hydrogen. Because they’re so full, they’re stiffer and less flexible, and therefore usually solid at room temperature. Examples of saturated fat include butter and animal fats. These increase the amount of LDL, or the protein that carries cholesterol, and so raise cholesterol levels.
Trans fats are known as partially hydrogenated. They’re created by taking unsaturated fats and forcing them to undergo a hydrogenation process, adding hydrogen atoms. The “cis” configuration of the atoms on either side of the double bond found in fatty acids (cis means the same side) turns into a trans configuration (trans means opposite sides). This is the unhealthiest fat, as not only does it increase LDL, it also decreases HDL, which is the “good” type of cholesterol. Scientists have found that trans and saturated fats both cause heart problems, strokes, and obesity.
As you can probably guess from the name, unsaturated fats have fewer hydrogens. This makes the carbon chains more flexible, and therefore liquid at room temperature.
These are the fats found in nuts, seeds, healthy fish, and olive oil. People who eat more unsaturated fats reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases by as much as 30%. This is in stark contrast to the other two types of fat.
With all of this information in mind, the next time you see extra virgin olive oil at the store, you’ll know why it’s there. You’ll be able to explain why it’s different from the regular oil.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to make an educated and healthy decision for yourself and your family. Good luck and happy shopping!