What you have heard about olive oil could also be fallacious

When you buy cooking oil, reaching for olive oil is a breeze. Loaded with fat that is simply monounsaturated for you, it’s a cornerstone of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. But when you know which olive oil to pick – and how to use it when you’re at home – it gets a little murky. It turns out that there is a lot of misinformation out there about olive oil. Time to clear it up!

You’ve heard: “Pure” olive oil is the best quality.

The term “pure” sounds promising. However, it just means that the product does not contain any other ingredients or oils. Pure olive oil is actually of lower quality than extra virgin oil and is considered the healthiest because it contains the highest concentration of polyphenols, a natural plant compound found in olives that acts like an antioxidant in the body. “Pure” olive oil contains fewer polyphenols, but still has potential health benefits. It also has a more neutral taste.

You’ve heard: “Light” olive oil has fewer fat and fewer calories.

“Light” on food packaging can mean that the product contains less fat and calories. But in the case of olive oil, the word only refers to its taste. All olive oils have the same number of calories and grams of fat per tablespoon. One advantage of light olive oil: it tends to be cheaper than other types.

You heard: you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil.

Some people say that extra virgin olive oil is too delicate to cook – that it’s best used in dressings and sauces. It is true that it has a lower smoke point than some edible oils like canola, but it is stable enough for everyday home cooking. Keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil tends to have more flavor than other types of olive oils. So if you’re looking for a neutral flavor, choose light or pure olive oil (or use a different oil like canola). If you have an expensive, flavorful olive oil, save it for dressings, dips, and drizzles on finished dishes.

You heard: Cooking destroys the benefits of olive oil.

You won’t negate the health benefits of olive oil if heated. It may lose some of its flavor, but you are still getting the polyphenols that are naturally found in the oil.

You heard: most olive oil is wrong.

Rumor has it that a lot of olive oil on the shelves isn’t real olive oil at all, but has been mixed with other, cheaper oils – and that you have to pounce on the expensive stuff to get the right deal. However, according to an analysis of extra virgin olive oil by the FDA, only three of the 88 oils tested did not meet purity standards. If the label doesn’t say it’s mixed with another oil, know you are getting the original and buy the type of olive oil you can afford that has the taste you like. (Here is a list of olive oils, including some inexpensive varieties, that have the North American Olive Oil Association’s “About Olive Oil Quality” seal of approval, meaning they are certified for purity and quality.)

Also, if you can, choose a darker bottle as this will protect the oil from light, which can break down it. Once you’ve brought your olive oil home, store it in a cool, dark place (like a closet) and use it within 1-3 months.

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