At last, the merits of the Mediterranean diet have finally been confirmed. Not only does the plan—rich in produce, whole grains and lean proteins—protect against heart disease, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, but it also helps lower blood sugar and raise good cholesterol, says research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. But you can’t eat like a Greek without olive oil, the diet’s star player! Here’s what to know next time you’re grabbing a bottle.
Extra-virgin olive oil Extra virgin—which results from the first pressing of the olives—may be the priciest pick, but in return you’ll get the most heart-healthy benefits. The olives are physically pressed, not chemically processed, which preserves their powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory oils.
Flavor: Fresh and fruity, rich olive taste
How to use: Great for cold dishes (extra-virgin olive oil tends to burn quickly, so not best for cooking). Drizzle directly onto salads or pastas; use in marinades or sauces; use to dip bread.
Tip! Buying extra-virgin? Choose a European brand—strict regulations abroad assure high quality.
Virgin olive oil This oil results from the second pressing of the olives, and is less expensive than extra virgin.
Flavor: Slightly acidic, slightly less olive-y than extra virgin
How to use: Good for cooking—brush on meats prior to grilling or broiling—but also flavorful right out of the bottle.
Pure olive oil These are usually a blend of lower-quality refined and virgin olive oils.
Flavor: Light olive flavor
How to use: These oils lack a strong flavor, so they’re best used for sautéing, searing and pan-frying. Also good for baking, when a strong olive flavor isn’t desirable.
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