Olive oil has long been among the top go-to items for a heart-healthy diet. But you need to be smart when shopping for this health food. There are now plenty of mislabeled olive oil products that have insufficient amounts of the ingredients that help keep your arteries clean…are cut with cheaper oils…contain chemical additives…and/or come from a country other than what’s highlighted on the label. So, how do you know that the bottle of olive oil in your shopping cart is not some adulterated, inferior oil? To avoid being tricked by these deceptive practices, here’s what to look for when shopping for olive oil…
Single country of origin. An olive oil label may say that it is produced in a particular country when, in fact, it was only bottled there. For example, “Product of Italy” does not necessarily indicate that the olives are grown or pressed in Italy—only that it was bottled there. Look for the phrase “Produced and Bottled,” which means that the oil is actually produced and bottled in the place of origin listed on the label. For olive oil with the very highest levels of anti-inflammatory plant chemicals known as polyphenols, look for these olive varieties: Coratina and Moraiolo from Italy…Cornicabra and Picual from Spain…and Koroneiki from Greece.
Certification seals. The following governing bodies guarantee that the oil has passed extensive quality checks, so look for a product that includes one of these seals to identify a trustworthy, authentic olive oil.
• International Olive Council (IOC)
• North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA)
• California Olive Oil Council (COOC)
• Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP)
• Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
“Extra virgin.” This term is given by governing bodies (see above) to only the purest and best of olive oils. With extra virgin, the oil is “cold pressed,” which means that it has been extracted mechanically from the olives without the use of excess heat or chemicals—processes that would damage the fragile polyphenols. Extra virgin also has the most natural olive flavor, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other heart-healthy components of the ripe olive fruit. In general, extra-virgin oils have up to 10 times higher polyphenol content levels than lower-grade oils.
A dark bottle or can. The anti-inflammatory plant chemicals in olive oil are fragile and highly susceptible to deterioration by light, heat and air. To keep the heart-healthy ingredients stable, buy olive oil in dark bottles or cans.
Expiration date. Unlike fine wines, olive oil does not age well, so the fresher, the better. The expiration or “best-by” date should be no more than 18 months from the date of purchase. If the harvest date is given, it should be less than one year ago. To ensure freshness and the greatest health benefits, you should use olive oil as soon as possible after the container is opened.
Price. A good olive oil is time-consuming to produce, so a quality product will cost up to $35 for a 17-ounce bottle. But if you want an olive oil that will help keep your ticker beating strong, it’s worth it! You can find such olive oils online at OliveandGourmet.com or high-end specialty food stores.