Olive oil is one of the healthiest sources of dietary fat.
Mostly comprised of monounsaturated fats, olive oil is packed with protective and anti-aging antioxidants, including vitamin E. It’s also been shown to reduce inflammation.
But the olive oil industry is straight up shady!
It’s estimated that 80% of the “olive oil” sold in the US isn’t the real deal. According to Forbes:
Even in Italian supermarkets, the rate of fake olive oil on the shelves is estimated at 50%.
Some of what is sold as “olive oil” is actually cut with cheap, unhealthy seed oils like sunflower and canola. Even worse, some “olive oil” doesn’t actually contain any olive oil, but is just these cheap seed oils that have been dyed and perfumed to look and taste like the real deal. In the best case scenario, high-quality Italian extra-virgin olive oil is diluted with lower quality olive oils smuggled (yes, smuggled!) in from North Africa and around the Mediterranean.
So how did this happen? Well apparently, the Italian Mafia decided to get involved in this very lucrative industry. According to CBS News 60 Minutes:
Italy’s olive oil business has been corrupted by the Mafia, which is making big bucks tampering with Italian food products in ways that could affect American consumers. The Italians call it “Agromafia” and it’s estimated to be a $16-billion per year enterprise.
When I first read about this multi-billion dollar illegal enterprise, I actually giggled — olive oil isn’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of the Mafia and smuggling! But the implications this can have on our health is certainly not a joking matter…
This is a BIG DEAL because cheap, polyunsaturated oils like canola and sunflower are unhealthy sources of fat and should be avoided — they’re extremely pro-inflammatory and often sources of damaging trans fats.
So what can we do? How can we make sure we’re buying pure olive oil?
Interestingly, a 2010 UC-Davis Study found that the olive oil sold by a number of respected brands including Whole Foods, Newman’s Own, and Bertolli weren’t of the quality that they claimed to be on the bottle. Things may have changed since then, but one way to be certain you’re buying the real deal is to look for the International Olive Oil Council certification or California Olive Oil Council’s seal of approval (“COOC Certified Extra Virgin”) on the bottle. Check out this list of California Olive Oil Council’s 2016 approved oils to see if the brand you buy is on the list.
I buy California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil — which is COOC Certified Extra Virgin — from Thrive Market. They also carry it at Whole Foods, but I can’t gush about Thrive Market enough as a way to save some major $ on your groceries. (Right now, they’re offering Body Unburdened readers a free bag of organic cashews — a $17 value — when you sign up for membership! Annual membership works out to be just $5 a month — a fraction of what you’ll save.)
You can also test the oil yourself by placing it in the refrigerator. If it is solid after an hour, it contains monounsaturated fats and is likely pure olive oil. If it remains liquid, it is likely cut with cheap polyunsaturated oils. This is of course not fool-proof though and won’t indicate whether the oil contains inferior olive oils, so I suggest buying oils approved by the International Olive Oil Council and/or California Olive Oil Council first and foremost.