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Healthy Balance

Should You Splurge on Virgin? Get the Skinny on Olive Oils

olive oilYou’ve likely gotten the message loud and clear: olive oil is the go-to pick in the kitchen over animal fats like butter. But with so many to choose from, how do you know which olive oil is best? We asked registered dietitian Katherine Basbaum to give us the lowdown.

Why is olive oil considered a healthy pick?

Plant-based oils like olive oil are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are cardio protective and can help lower LDL or bad cholesterol. In contrast, the saturated fats found in butter (and other animal fats) may raise cholesterol levels and contribute to atherosclerosis or narrowing of the arteries.

Should I splurge on extra virgin?

Aside from the rich flavor, extra virgin olive oil is also more nutrient rich than light olive oil. The heat- and chemical-free extraction methods used for extra virgin olive oil help preserve the vitamins and antioxidants in the oil, which are protective against inflammation and chronic disease states.

When is light olive oil the best pick?

If you’re using olive oil for cooking, there’s no need to splurge on extra virgin. It has a low smoke point, so high temperatures can actually eliminate nutrients and ruin its flavor. Light olive oil, on the other hand, can withstand the heat and the neutral flavor won’t overpower recipes. Save the extra virgin for drizzling and dipping.

How can you determine whether an olive oil is high quality?

Look for the seal. The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) offers a certified quality seal for those oils that meet industry standards for excellence. For more tips on how to purchase olive oils, visit the NAOOA website.

Looking for Personalized Nutrition Advice?

Visit the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center.

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