In addition to adding flavor and aroma to food, olive oil cannot be missing from meals thanks to its numerous health benefits. The list is extensive and includes everything from preventing heart disease and diabetes, protecting the brain, lowering cholesterol to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. Studies are underway to confirm other salutary benefits associated with consuming the oil extracted from olives.
“It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which make up 83% of olive oil, such as oleic acid (omega 9), one of the most beneficial fats for health. In addition, the low concentrations of saturated fatty acids collaborate in reducing cholesterol ‘ bad’ (LDL) in the blood, without affecting the level of good cholesterol (HDL), so it helps to balance the lipid profile in the body”, says Marcella Garcez, nutritionist, director of Abran (Brazilian Association of Nutrology) and professor at the Abran’s national nutrology course.
The presence of hydrocarbons, such as squalene, which has antioxidant activity, favors cellular health and the elimination of toxins. Sterols such as ß-sitosterol also act to reduce cholesterol and prevent neoplastic diseases.
On the market shelves, you can find many brands and types. “Brazil is, today, one of the exponents in the production of olive oil in South America; we have producers being awarded with quality products in international competitions. availability of land”, comments Júlio Cesar Barbosa Rocha, professor in the food engineering department at UFC (Federal University of Ceará).
Among the options, choosing the most appropriate type for the preparation must be considered to preserve its qualities and healthy potential. Follow below features and information for a successful purchase.
The different strains of olives have different flavors and intensities. Those of the picual variety, widely used in the production of olive oils today, are more fruity and spicy. “The ones with no description of lineage are obtained from the mixture of several, with the objective of reaching a more neutral sensorial standard”, explains the professor from UFC. In Brazil, consumers generally prefer the more neutral ones.
The classification is given by the form of production and acidity. The extra virgin and virgin are from cold mechanical extraction. “In this process, the extraction takes place from the fruits of the olive tree by physical methods, with pressing and mechanical separation, using centrifugation”, describes Rocha.
The result is an oil with high sensory quality and, as it does not use heat, it preserves compounds with antioxidant properties. According to the UFC professor, this physical process has a low efficiency and leaves an amount of oil still present in the residue — called pie.
From this residue, more oil is extracted by means of more intensive methods using heat, press and, eventually, solvents. After the stage, they are refined for consumption.
Looking at the label
At the time of purchase, it is important to check the label, description of the oil, as a percentage of acidity — as a rule, the lower the acidity, the greater the purity and health benefits — and the shelf life of the product.
In the ingredients, it must contain only olive oil. Do not take the product if the packaging indicates the presence of other oils, such as soy or sunflower. Olive oil is produced solely from olives.
Brands often differentiate between types—extra virgin, virgin, and common—through specific colors on their labels. “The best option is the freshest possible, that is, the one labeled as extra virgin”, indicates the UFC professor.
In the case of imported products, experts advise giving preference to those packaged in the country of origin.
“If you observe any cloudy oil, it is likely that it is the result of less filtration, without compromising nutrological quality”, informs the director of Abran.
Extra virgin: It is considered the healthiest, as it is extracted in the first cold pressing of the olives. Having an acidity of less than 0.8%, it maintains many nutritional properties such as flavor, aroma, nutrients and antioxidants. Good for finishing dishes, without going to the fire.
Virgin: is produced in the second pressing and has an acidity between 0.8% to 1.5%. It presents good quality, but a little inferior to the extra virgin, due to the loss of aroma, flavor and nutrients. The use is for finishing dishes, without heating.
Common: is produced in the refinement process, has acidity between 1.5% to 3%, lighter color compared to the others, less pronounced perfume and flavor, and low nutritional value. It is most recommended for cooking, such as grilling, roasting and frying.
For all preparations?
Olive oil is not suitable for the preparation of deep-frying foods. Garcez warns that the smoke point is reached at a temperature of 175º C, less than ideal.
“Frying leads to multiple chemical reactions and generates chemical compounds, most of which are non-volatile, that is, they remain in the oil, changing its physical properties.”
For her, as this cooking technique is one of the least healthy, it is best that it is an exception in everyone’s eating habits and that oils with a high smoke point are used.
Can you taste?
Flavoring olive oil with herbs for gastronomic purposes can mask sensory defects and, for the food engineering professor, the flavored version is not considered extra virgin, according to the European olive oil quality standard.
However, herbs and spices do not harm the properties of olive oil. The use of spices is a strategy to reduce the consumption of industrialized salt and seasonings. “For flavoring, basil, pepper, garlic, mint, ginger, rosemary are used, for example, increasing the benefits for the body”, points out Acacio Barros, nutritionist and professor of the nutrition course at Cruzeiro do Sul Virtual.
Like any oil, olive oil is sensitive to oxidation, which in turn is accelerated by light and/or the presence of oxygen. The guideline is to opt for dark glass packages, the most effective material to protect the product from the reaction in contact with light. If possible, at the time of purchase, prefer the bottles that are at the bottom of the shelf, less exposed.
“From a sensory point of view, it is difficult to perceive the oxidation of olive oil, it is necessary to understand that, due to its composition, it is much more stable than the most common oils, such as soybean”, comments the UFC professor.
Also according to him, as olive oil is consumed as a salad oil, storing it in the fridge can make it last longer.
Due to its properties and characteristics, oil from olives does not escape fraud and is one of the foods not affected by the action of blows. The professor at the UFC’s food engineering department reports that the most common is to add a vegetable oil to it, due to the neutral profile of refined vegetable oil.
“Consumers depend only on the sense of smell and taste, but there are official bodies that carry out analyzes to recognize them. The difficulty is evident when there are more sophisticated techniques using products with a chemical composition very similar to olive oil. there is a home test to identify the change, even with laboratory tests, it is necessary to use modern techniques.”
According to the nutritionist, the only negative effect of olive oil, unless the person is allergic to it, is the ability to cause diarrhea if ingested in large quantities.
Garcez explains that olive oil can reduce glucose and blood pressure, making it necessary to adjust the dosages of medications for diabetes and high blood pressure.
Like any functional food, it should be part of a balanced, varied and more natural eating habit. But pay attention to quantities. Consumption needs to be moderate, after all it is a fat and caloric. “Each gram has 9 kcal”, says Garcez.
The recommended consumption is 2 tablespoons per day. “There is no beneficial product if consumed in excess”, emphasizes the nutritionist.