The antioxidant content and high proportion of monounsaturated fat that occur naturally in olive oil have been proven to help prevent common life-threatening conditions aggravated by saturated fat, including coronary disease. "Swapping 2 tablespoons of olive oil every day for saturated fat can protect your heart by lowering 'bad' LDL cholesterol," says Karen Ansel, MS, RD, a media representative for the New York State Dietetic Association. Extra virgin varieties also contain a plant chemical called oleocanthal, which was recently shown to be a natural anti-inflammatory.
Choose It & Use It
Choose oils from a single country. A North American Olive Oil Association or California Olive Oil Council seal certifies extra virgin grade. The latter ensures a low 0.5 percent fatty acid content, indicating fresher oil and more antioxidants. Check pressing dates; most stay fresh two years. Store in dark glass bottles in a cool, dark place. Cook with standard oils—save premium oils for dressing salads, dipping bread, or finishing cooked dishes.