Is Olive Oil the Answer to a Healthy Diet?

Things which are good for you in their natural state lose most of their benefits when heated or used in cooking.

A prime example is olive oil which has more antioxidants than ordinary oil and contains bioactive components called phenolic compounds that can help to ward off cancer and other diseases.

So it is pointless from an economic point of view buying expensive extra virgin olive oil for healthy cooking as you will be wasting your money because most of the benefits are lost when the oil is heated.

It might still be a more wholesome option than sunflower or vegetable oils when drizzled on salads or added to pasta, but is less so when poured into a hot pan, according to a study.

However, the higher grading of olive oil, the higher the content of phenolic compounds. But when heated, these degrade in quality, according to the researchers from Portugal’s University of Porto. Their experiments, reported in Food Research International, showed that cooking over a stove, in the oven or in microwaves reduced the beneficial power of the oil.

The study said: ‘Virgin olive oil consumption is increasing worldwide mainly due to its recognised nutritional benefits. However, different cooking practices, from common frying to boiling and including microwave cooking, along with operating conditions such as time, temperature and food amounts, undoubtedly modify the olive oil’s chemical profile. Even after being cooked, olive oil will still be at least as healthy as vegetable oil, so it is not worth replacing one with the other.’

But it could be ‘economically advantageous’ to use standard olive oil rather than pay more for an extra virgin variety.

One way to get the most of olive oil, it is said, is to keep adding a splash during the cooking process so it does not get so hot it loses its healthy properties entirely.

As a small boy, I can confidently say that I was weaned on olive oil as far back as I can remember and the habit remains with me to this day. My nutrition is not complete without a daily dose of the oil which starts at breakfast and ends at the last meal of the evening.

I scour the shops for the most luxurious brand of the extra virgin variety and justify to myself the price premium I have to pay. It is like collecting wine; you get hooked on its quality irrespective of the cost involved and can no longer accept a run-of-the-mill drinkable sort that quenches your habitual daily intake.

Although wine in moderation has its health benefits, olive oil is likely to keep you healthy and extend your longevity.

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