Olive Oil: Liquid Gold From the Gods

Olive oil has been cherished as a gift from the gods since ancient times.
Great societies including the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians prized this "liquid gold" for its health properties as well as its delicious taste. Surprisingly olive oil was not only used in cooking but smeared on the skin to protect against sunburn, making it one of the first sunscreens.

Why is olive oil so healthy?

It may seem contrary to popular belief, but the health benefits of olive oil come from its fat. In fact, olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you can eat. Although everyone knows too much fat can make you fat, as well as contribute to heart disease, many people don't realize that too little fat is not healthy either. Your body requires enough essential fatty acids in order to function properly and stay healthy.

Fats can be broken down into 2 main categories: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are the ones most doctors and nutritionists will tell you to avoid because they have been shown to raise cholesterol levels which can contribute to heart disease. The other category of fats is unsaturated. These fats are come in two forms: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated and both are healthy fats in moderation.

What makes olive oil special is that it's a monounsaturated fat. This fat has been shown to not only lower your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) but can also raise your good cholesterol levels (HDL). This amazing oil has also been shown to help lower blood pressure and protect against strokes. This is good news for everyone and particularly those with heart disease and anyone who needs to watch their cholesterol.

Olive oil is not only healthy, but it is delicious and is the popular cooking oil for Italian and Mediterranean foods. You can easily incorporate olive oil into your cooking once you know what to purchase and how to cook with it.

What are the differences between the various types of olive oil? When purchasing olive oil you will find there are four main types:

Extra Virgin is made from the first press of the best olives and is the richest in taste and color. It is the highest quality and also the most expensive, therefore the best extra virgin olive oils are often used to drizzle over salads and finished dishes or dips for bread rather than cooking.

Virgin olive oil is a high quality oil that is also made from the first press of the olives but contains a little less acidity than the extra virgin, and can be used for cooking because it is less expensive yet still has a great taste.

Olive oil "Olive Oil" is made from the second press of the olives and then is filtered and refined. It does not have the same rich flavor of the higher quality varieties but is much less expensive; therefore, if price is a concern this is a good choice of oils for cooking.

Light Olive -Don’t let the name fool you. The term "light" only describes its taste and does not imply it has less fat or calories. This is the lowest quality oil and therefore is also the cheapest. It is made from the last press of the olives and blended with other light oils, such as Canola. This oil is great for those who want to enjoy the health benefits of olive oil without the heavy taste of the other olive oils.

You do need to be careful when cooking with olive oil because it has a rather low smoke point and can burn at high temperatures. It's best to use lower temperatures, but one way around this is to mix olive oil with clarified butter (ghee) when using it for higher temperatures; however, it is not the best oil to choose for deep frying. This would destroy its delicate taste and healthy properties.

Mediterraneans have enjoyed the health benefits of olive oil for centuries and we are lucky that this wonderful oil is now available around the world. The next time you are in the mood for some pasta, toss in some extra-virgin olive oil.

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About The Author, Joy Harrison
Joy Harrison is an experienced home cook and cooking instructor. She has studied many regional cuisines at her local culinary arts school and loves to find easy ways to prepare great home cooked meals in today's busy world. Visit her site at http://www.italian-cooking-made-easy.com