Happy Email Monday!
Today we're tackling a frequent topic of Real Food conversation...
What's up with Olive Oil?
(For the purposes of this email, Iâ€™ll refer to the type of olive oil I recommend, extra-virgin olive oil, as EVOO.)
Where many of us embrace EVOO as a healthy plant fat with a long history in many healthy culturesâ€™ diets (Iâ€™m now one of those people, though I didnâ€™t used to be) others question it.
The debate about EVOO lingers, loiters and resurfaces here and there in certain parts of the Real Food Community. Admittedly, at one time, I was right there in the trenches, debating, questioning, and beinâ€™ skeptical about EVOO.
In particular, the question that arises within the Paleo and Primal communities - the community where I put down my roots - is whether EVOO is safe to cook with.
This seems to be a â€œgateway questionâ€ that leads to other questions about the safety, processing, and nutrient density of this popular oil.
Iâ€™d like to offer my perspective.
Questions about EVOO seem to arise for a few reasons: most commonly, those who take more literal interpretations of â€œPaleoâ€ and â€œPrimalâ€ diets may, at times, make the innocent mistake of eliminating any food they canâ€™t imagine a caveman eating.
This is a classic blunder, and it feeds on the tunnel-vision concept of WWCD (What Would Caveman Do?) when it comes to EVOO.
Hereâ€™s the problem: it doesnâ€™t matter what cavemen would do. Whether they would put their Neanderthal-inâ€™ heads together to invent a manual oil press so that they could enjoy the culinary delight that is good, rich, cold-pressed EVOO is irrelevant. As I say in my book Eat the Yolks,
"...weâ€™re making choices based on a framework we call Paleo, and thatâ€™s an entirely different animal from a list of rules defining so-called Paleo and non-Paleo foods. While itâ€™s tempting to make a rigid list, hereâ€™s the problem: Nothing is Paleo if we go by black-and-white logic.
"After all, almost all modern foods, including meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, were unavailable to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The modern grass-fed Jersey cow has been around for just a few hundred years, and the modern beefsteak tomato was certainly not growing in lovely cave gardens. [â€¦]
"Whatever cavemen could find, theyâ€™d probably eatâ€”they had to survive, after all. We modern humans, however, have the luxury of abundant food. We just need guidelines to help us make wise choices."
And these â€œwise choicesâ€ should be based not on what a Caveman might do, but where the nutrients are. Weâ€™ll talk about that.
But first, letâ€™s discuss another common reason Paleo and Primal folk might question EVOO. Itâ€™s the question of cooking safety: whether heating EVOO can damage the oil itself.
Itâ€™s smart to question these things, and itâ€™s common once we have learned to challenge what we thought we knew about food. In learning that the most stable, most safe fats with which to cook are the more highly saturated ones, like coconut oil and ghee, we often automatically assume that any alternative is unsafe â€“ including EVOO.
While this is true for highly processed fats like soybean and canola oil, I believe itâ€™s totally FALSE when it comes to high-quality, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil. Quality EVOO, thanks to its high antioxidant content, contains built-in damage protection that cruddy industrial oils simply canâ€™t match.
Now, this comes with an asterisk (*): if youâ€™re planning on burning something, over-cooking it, or pre-heating your cooking fat until itâ€™s smoking up the kitchen (been there, done that), youâ€™ve damaged that fat â€“ no matter what kind of fat it is, whether olive, coconut, ghee or canola; no matter how much crispy, yummy burny flavor it adds, damage is damage.
The lesson here is NOT "EVOO isnâ€™t safe to cook with." Itâ€™s "if the smoke alarm sounds, youâ€™ve damaged your cooking fat. And probably everything else you were cooking right along with it."
(I like a piece of crispy bacon and roasted-to-a-crisp veggies too, and I eat 'em often. But damage is damage.)
The truth about EVOO: itâ€™s nutrient-rich - it is a source of unique, health-promoting polyphenols and antioxidants like vitamin E, which is scarce in the modern diet. For this reason, itâ€™s certainly safe to cook with at moderate temperatures - which is the temperature range that keeps any food, and any nourishing cooking fat, free from damage.
Beyond that, if youâ€™re still worried about cooking with it, remember that itâ€™s also wonderful for adding flavor after cooking: good EVOO adds taste, nutrition, and richness to real, nourishing food.
With that in mind, itâ€™s still important to consider a few vital questions when selecting EVOO. These are the questions that really matter, and theyâ€™re the questions that any vendor should answer clearly, whether on their packaging or through their website.
Question 1: Is your EVOO truly EVOO?
Most EVOO brands â€“ even in the health food store â€“ are adulterated blends of other oils, including industrial oils like soybean, with a smidge of olive oil blended in. This is the unfortunate consequence of EVOOâ€™s popularity: as soon as something becomes popular, unscrupulous profiteers (yeah, I just used that phrase) start to adulterate it for profit. And there are NO real regulations to prevent this from happening.
If you want to enjoy EVOO, it should be good, high-quality, pure stuff from a company you trust; a company that is transparent, open about sourcing, and that knows its product well, from start to finish.
Question 2: Is your EVOO cold-pressed AND fresh?
Knowing where your olive oil comes from is step one. Step two is knowing what makes a truly quality olive oil.
First, look for cold-pressed olive oil. Cold pressing is the traditional means of extraction, and it preserves the nutrition in the oil.
Most importantly, look for a â€œpress dateâ€ on the bottle. Even the EVOO at Whole Foods is often well over a year old; and all that time on the shelves can cause even the most nutrient-rich oils to degrade. Unlike wine (and I know wine) EVOO does NOT improve with age.
Everything Iâ€™ve said in this email is precisely why I use Kasandrinos Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and have for several years. I trust the source â€“ in fact, I know the family personally â€“ and I trust their intimate knowledge of their product. (They're Greeks, after all!) Their EVOO was literally just inside that fresh olive, and the taste reflects that freshness. Further, they only sell EVOO produced from the current yearâ€™s harvest.
(AND itâ€™s from Greece. If you know me, you know Iâ€™m slightly obsessed with Greece. In part, because theyâ€™re all about goats. And I love goats.)
There are other brands of fantastic EVOO, certainly; but when you find one you love, you stick with it. You can check out Kasandrinos here.
Iâ€™m also excited to share their giveaway with you â€“ you can enter to win Kasandrinosâ€™ new private label EVOO, several of their EVOO-based skincare products, a floor ticket to Paleo f(x), AND a copy of my book, Eat the Yolks, as well as a copy of Practical Paleo!
(And there just MIGHT be a great post-giveaway discount for those who donâ€™t win.)
Click here to enter the giveaway. No purchase necessary!
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