Health benefits and great taste: What's not to love about extra-virgin olive oil?

Here at Foodiamo, the only thing we love better than a good food story is a good food and good health story. So it was with interest that we greeted the results of a recent randomized trial, showing that women who consumed a specific Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil showed a reduced risk of invasive breast cancer by a whopping 68%.

To explain why olive oil is good for you, we went back to our favorite olio guru, Diana Domenica Bruno. She is a world expert on olive oil and curator of one of the world’s top extra-virgin olive oil collections

Focaccia and olive oil tasting (Foodiamo)

Ready to dip? (Mischa Rajendiran / Foodiamo)

F: What do you think about some of the recent health claims for EVOO we’re seeing?

DDB: Frankly, I’m no longer surprised, although I am pleased to hear it. Olio has always been a part of my diet and my lifestyle. Even before I took up a more serious study of how to taste, produce and curate olio, I was professionally involved in a healthcare revolution, one that places the patient and her healthcare decisions at the very center of every community. Health researchers are increasingly looking to lifestyle factors as key components of disease fighting.
According to many studies, there appear to be several beneficial qualities of EVOO, including anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar controlling and cholesterol-lowering components that, used regularly, can help combat diabetes, cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, among other conditions. Another very recent study showed promising benefits in the fight against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. So that’s why olive oil is good for you.

F: How do you personally shop for EVOO? Specifically, what do you look for on the label, and what do you avoid?

DDB: I shop where I live, and visit gourmet boutiques where I know and trust the management. I know I can trust a shop owner who sells estate-bottled olio, whose provenance is stated on the label. Certifications such as “California Olive Council” or “European Union” are also good clues. The best of these businesses will allow you to taste their product, and will be able to answer questions about the oils: Where and when they were grown, etc. Of course, the proof is in the tasting: If it is not free from all defects it’s not extra-virgin.
Also, the label should clearly indicate the harvest date, which should be rather recent, which not only indicates that the shop has a good turn-around, it tells me I can finish it up within 12 months of that date, which is preferred for best quality.

READ MORE: How to choose a great olive oil

F: Healthcare professionals are suggesting 2 TBS of EVOO daily for best health results. What are some of you favorite ways to use that much EVOO daily?

DDB: That’s correct, and once you make it a habit, it’s actually quite easy to do. With my morning cuppa, I toast a slice of baguette or whole grain ciabatta, and squash a quarter of an avocado on top, drizzle with EVOO and perhaps a sprinkling of sea salt or a twist of lemon. That’s a breakfast bruschetta packed with flavor and “good” cholesterol. At lunch, I dot it over a soup, and combine with a bit of red wine vinegar for a salad. Then there’s dinner: a nice grilled filet of fish gets washed in EVOO before and after cooking. I even use it on my body after a bath. You can get creative, whether you are dining alone or with company.

Want some? This is why olive oil is good for you

Selection of olive oils and vinegars (Serena Boschi/Foodiamo)

F: What about cooking and baking? Is EVOO safe at high temperatures, does it change flavor, are its properties altered?

DDB: Actually, due to its high polyphenolic content, EVOO is more stable than other oils, up to 410 F degrees, depending on the degree of filtration. It can also be used beautifully in baking. The notion that EVOO shouldn’t be heated is a false one. It probably originated due to the relatively higher cost of this fruit oil (because olives are a fruit) versus cheaper vegetable oils.
Depending on the flavor you’re trying to get, EVOO can be a terrific choice for cooking and baking. Of course the flavors can be altered, becoming mellower, more concentrated, etc, like any other fruit you would cook.

F: Now that we know why olive oil is good for you, would you like to share your favorite Italian recipe where EVOO is a fundamental ingredient?

DDB: Because they emphasize the highest quality ingredients, many of the best Italian recipes are actually more like techniques. I love a great Florentine steak with a simple arugula salad. One of my other favorites is a simple and wonderful dessert: A scoop of vanilla gelato doused with a tablespoon of EVOO. And although it could be seen as Italian, French or even American, Amanda Hesser’s Peach Tart, made with EVOO, is to die for.