Extra-virgin olive oil: keep it cool

Don’t heat your olive oil! Keeping it cool can make all the difference when it comes to your health.

Here’s why:

It is common knowledge that olive oil is powerfully health-enhancing.There is a wealth of scientific studies proving that olives and their oil have some amazing beneficial properties. They are anti-cancer, anti-ageing, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and more.

These qualities are especially true of extra-virgin olive oil, whose rich green colour indicates the presence of large numbers of formidable antioxidant plant chemicals called polyphenols. These protect the plant from the ravages of light and oxygen, and when you consume them, they protect you from those too, as well as other ageing elements (such as going out and having too much of a good time). Studies show, for example, that the anti-inflammatory benefits of extra-virgin olive oil, obtained from the first pressings of the oil, can lower inflammatory markers in the blood far more effectively than olive oil from later pressings, thanks to the higher concentrations of polyphenols in extra-virgin olive oil.

However, the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil will be severely compromised if you heat the oil – in fact, the oil may even become damaging. That’s because those same delicate polyphenols which are so friendly when well-treated will turn and become positively hostile when abused. Extra-virgin olive oil should never be heated. If you must heat olive oil, use non-extra-virgin products which are a more yellow colour and contain lower concentrations of polyphenols. Keep the heat as low as possible, and avoid using too much or cooking for too long. Using non-extra-virgin olive oil for cooking can be preferable to using polyunsaturated oils, since olive oil consists of 70-85 per cent monounsaturated fats which are more stable when heated than polyunsaturated oils.

One or two tablespoons of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil daily are enough to provide significant health-protective effects. You can drizzle olive oil over cooked dishes or, now that the warmer weather has arrived, it’s a good time to make a big jar of dressing and slosh it liberally over your salads. Keep your extra-virgin olive oil in a cool, dark place and consume within two months.

Some salad dressing suggestions:

Apple cider vinegar dressing

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Balsamic and citrus dressing

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic, crushed

Classic Caesar dressing

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

By writer and nutritionist Sally Beare