Here’s How to Get the Most Health Perks Possible from Olive Oil

When you think about olive oil, one adjective probably comes to mind: healthy. And you’re not wrong, there are plenty of studies supporting that thought. Research suggests that specifically extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. But in the midst of all the positive press, there are also some controversies and concerns surrounding olive oil. Here’s my take on three buzzy topics, plus some advice for reaping the benefits of EVOO while avoiding the risks.

RELATED: 13 Healthy High-Fat Foods You Should Eat More

Olive oil fraud is common

You may have seen a recent 60 Minutes report that exposed rampant fraud in the olive oil industry, due to Mafia corruption. Investigators concluded that as much as 80% of the olive oil sold as EVOO in the U.S. is not truly extra-virgin. Instead, some are mixed or lower-quality olive oils. Others may not be olive oil at all, but rather another type (like sunflower, canola, or soybean) with added coloring and flavoring so it mimics the real thing. Buying fake EVOO is like purchasing a fancy bottle of wine that turns out to be “Two-Buck Chuck,” or just grape juice!

What do to: This doesn’t mean you should give up on EVOO completely, just do a little sleuthing before you buy. For starters: high-quality EVOO isn’t cheap. So if a bottle is a bargain, you should probably be suspicious. Next look at where the oil was produced. One UC Davis report randomly tested bottles from retail stores and found nearly 70% of imported EVOO didn’t pass their purity test, while only 10% of California-produced oil failed. (Keep an eye out for the California Olive Oil Council seal, which requires olive oil to meet stricter standards than those set by the USDA.) If you’re interested, check out the full report, which includes a list of popular brands the university tested.

RELATED: 3 Alternatives to Olive Oil

How you cook with EVOO can impact your health

A brand new study published in the journal Food Chemistry revealed that cooking veggies in olive oil improves their nutritional value. Researchers found that the effect is two-fold: EVOO contains its own antioxidants and thereby increases overall antioxidant levels; and cooking with the oil increases your body’s ability to absorb antioxidants from the veggies. 

However, there’s debate among health professionals about whether EVOO should be heated at all. Many believe EVOO can’t be used in cooking because it has a low smoke point—the temperature at which heated oil begins to smoke continuously, triggering the production of harmful by-products. But since EVOO’s smoke point is close to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it can safely be used in sautéing and even oven roasting without smoking.

But even if it is safe, some research shows that heating olive oil below the smoke point, especially for longer lengths of time, may diminish some of its natural anti-inflammatory powers. But the effect may be minimal. One study found that when EVOO samples were heated at 180 degrees for 36 hours (yup 36, not 3-6), they still retained most of their nutritional benefits.

What to do: I advise my clients to eat lots of raw veggies, dressed with unheated EVOO-based vinaigrettes, or combined with other healthy plant-based fats like avocado and almonds. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to refrain from using EVOO in cooking completely, as long as it’s used at lower temperatures and for a short durations of time, in order to best preserve its beneficial properties.

RELATED: 6 Ways You’re Using Olive Oil Wrong

The age and treatment of EVOO affect its benefits

Recently, while looking through a client’s pantry, I asked her how long she’d had a bottle of EVOO. She replied: “Mmmm, I don’t know, maybe six months?” She had no idea at the time, but that’s too long to keep an opened bottle. When it comes to EVOO, freshness matters, a lot. EVOO can start to break down due to air, light, or heat exposure (including sitting on the countertop near a range). When this occurs, it produces unhealthy substances that can trigger artery hardening and cell damage in your body. This kind of breakdown also lowers the smoke point of the oil, which means it’s more likely to produce harmful substances.

What to do: First, look for the date of the harvest (any quality brand will include this on the label), and buy the freshest bottle possible (within one year, ideally less). Also, be sure to buy an EVOO bottled with tinted glass, since light can trigger oxidation. Then, whenever you use your oil, pour a little out and give it a sniff. A quality oil should smell fruity, while one that’s going bad may smell stale, or have an aroma of crayons or glue. Finally, be sure to store your EVOO in a cool, dark space; use it up within six weeks; and never reuse it after it’s been heated. These rules may seem overly-cautious, but trust me, they’re well worth the effort to maximize the health perks of your oil.

Meet Cynthia Sass at the Health Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch April 22-24! For details, go to Health.com/TotalWellness.

Do you have a question about EVOO? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.
Source: Nutrition

Eat This for Dinner to Sleep Better Tonight

You probably know from experience that getting a poor night’s sleep can cause you to crave more sugary foods (hello, chocolate croissant). But did you know that what you eat before bed can have a direct impact on the quality of your Zs?

A good deal of recent research has shown that eating patterns can either foster or interfere with healthy slumber. A handful of specific foods have been linked to better sleep, and a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that participants with a higher fiber intake (think fruitsveggieswhole grainspulsesnuts, and seeds) actually spent more time in restorative slow-wave sleep at night. On the other hand, people who ate too little fiber, too much sugar, and excess saturated fat (the kind found in fatty red meat and dairy products) experienced more disturbed sleep.

RELATED: Best and Worst Foods for Sleep 

Given the findings to date, you can’t go wrong with the dinners below: Each meal is high in fiber, low in saturated fat and sugar, and contains at least one food thought to bring on a good night’s rest, such as lentils, leafy greens, salmon, kiwi, sunflower seeds, brown rice, and quinoa.

Getting better sleep—starting tonight—could do your body a world of good. Aside from appetite and weight regulation, sleep is also tied to emotional wellbeing, increased productivity, improved mental and physical performance, and decreased inflammation (a trigger of premature aging and disease).

These four recipes, from my book Slim Down Now ($10, amazon.com), serve one, though you can easily double or triple them. Bon appétit, and sweet dreams.

Moroccan Lentil Soup

In a medium saucepan over low heat, sauté ¼ cup minced yellow onion in 1 tbsp. coconut oil and 1 tbsp. organic low-sodium vegetable broth until translucent. Add 6 tbsp. of additional broth, ½ cup cauliflower, cut into small florets, 1 tsp. each minced garlic, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Italian herb seasoning, and 1/16 tsp. each ground cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and coriander. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes. Add a ½ cup water, ½ cup fresh baby spinach leaves, and one diced Roma tomato. Bring to a very brief boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 1o minutes. Add ½ cup of lentils and stir to heat through.

Salmon Avocado “Tacos”

In a medium bowl, combine ½ cup of quartered grape tomatoes (about 16), with a ¼ cup each minced yellow bell pepper and white onion, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1/16 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro, and 2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice. Toss together and marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes. Fill three outer romaine leaves each with one ounce of cooked salmon, top with the vegetable mixture, and garnish with a quarter of a sliced avocado. (See photo above.) Have two kiwis for dessert.

RELATED: 30 Sleep Hacks for Your Most Restful Night Ever

Savory Turkey Stuffed Zucchini

Trim stems from one whole, large zucchini. Slice lengthwise, scoop out filling, finely chop, and set aside. Pan brown 3 oz. of extra lean ground turkey and set aside. In a medium pan over low heat, sauté ¼ cup minced red onion in ¼ cup organic low sodium vegetable broth until translucent. Add 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. Italian herb seasoning, 1/8 tsp. ground cumin, and the chopped zucchini, and sauté 2 to 3 additional minutes. Add ground turkey and 2 tbsp. of sunflower seeds, and stir to heat through. Spoon mixture into zucchini shell, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Serve baked zucchini over ½ cup cooked brown rice.

Pesto Egg Salad Lettuce Wraps

Dice four hard boiled eggs, keeping only one of the yolks. In a small bowl toss the eggs with ¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper, 2 tbsp. minced red onion, and 1 tbsp. of jarred basil pesto to coat thoroughly. Spoon 1 tbsp. cooked, chilled quinoa into four outer romaine leaves, and top with the egg mixture.

Do you have a favorite food that helps you sleep? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.
Source: Nutrition