What's the Verdict on Olive Oil: Is it Good or Bad for You?
There's been a lot of controversy lately over whether you should or should not be cooking with olive oil. So, what’s the story? What should we cook with and why?
For generations, household and professional cooks have used olive oil and even extra-virgin olive oil. Culinary history coupled with a solid track record can’t be wrong, so let’s look at the science behind this wondrous oil and determine fact from fiction.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
All oils are made up of different types of fat: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats. We used to believe saturated fats were harmful to our health, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated were the optimal choices, but recent studies have shown saturated fat can actually be healthy.
Saturated fats are known as fats that solidify at room temperature. They have zero double bonds and are completely “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. This makes them a sturdy fat that lends nicely to higher melting points than less-saturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
There are several subtypes of saturated fats: Short, medium and long. Our body has uses for each subtype. While we once thought butter and coconut oils were bad for us, we now understand that these fats can belong in a healthy diet.
For example, butter contains short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which help provide energy for the gut as well as protect us from digestive issues. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that serve as direct fuel for our cells. Medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil help us burn fat, not store it.
It turns out sugar, not fat, is the culprit for belly fat and love handles. Don’t fear saturated fat; enjoy it in moderation.
Unlike saturated kinds, polyunsaturated fats have several double bonds, which means they have given up their hydrogen molecules and have become less sturdy. These fats are more fluid and liquid at room temperature, which makes them great for our arteries and health.
Because they have several double bonds, they are much more fragile than saturated fats. When exposed to heat or light, they become more fragile and tend to break down and oxidize. Oxidized fats are dangerous for your health and your waistline.
The most important polyunsaturated fats are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is the famous omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils. These are highly anti-inflammatory, and I want you to eat plenty of them daily.
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Linoleic acid is the omega-6 fatty acid ubiquitously found in plant foods like nuts and seeds (hemp, borage, safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, etc.) and even some animal fats.
Monounsaturated fats, like polyunsaturated fats, also contain a double bond—but just one, hence the “mono.” With just a single double bond, these fats are the best of both worlds.
Monounsaturated fats are fluid and readily available to every cell in the body, yet they are not as fragile as polyunsaturated fats, making them a sturdy fat that can stand up to heat better than polyunsaturated fats. Remember, polyunsaturated fats have more kinks in their chain, making them less sturdy.
Monounsaturated fats get their claim to fame from their oleic fatty acids. Many of you have probably read in my articles or books that high-oleic fatty acids are ideal for our health. My favorite source of this happens to be olive oil, especially the extra-virgin kind.
So if olive oil is only somewhat sturdy (yet able to withstand heat better than polyunsaturated fats), perhaps cooking with olive oil isn’t the safest thing in the culinary world?
Well, theoretically that would make logical sense and we would only be cooking with sturdy saturated fats. However, there is more to olive oil than just being a monounsaturated fat.
Olive oil has been tested vigorously. From this testing, researchers have determined why it can maintain integrity under heat and exposure to harsh cooking conditions such as high heat baking, sautéing and even frying.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
It turns out that olive oil contains a plethora of phenols (antioxidants) such as polyphenols. Polyphenols have been extensively researched. They are one of the reasons why olive oil does not oxidize, as you would expect it to under high heat conditions.
Here is the most surprising part: it turns out that extra virgin olive oil may actually even be the better option to cook with. Because the olives are cold-pressed and barely processed (hence the “extra virgin” name), the oil contains a higher amount of those protective antioxidants than the additionally processed stuff—the olive oil.
All that cloudy stuff you see in your extra virgin olive oil is actually a sign of its strength and ability to protect you. Whenever possible, choose extra-virgin olive oil for salads and even for cooking.
A recent article in the New York Times based on author Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil concluded that unfortunately, not all olive oils are what they seem, nor are they created equally. So, make sure you select oil you can count on as being true olive oil (not a mixture of olive with canola or soybean as some manufacturers are doing these days to cut costs).
I like to treat myself to oils from boutiques that are almost always 100 percent pure olive. But you can find a good olive oil in grocery stores across the country or even order online from markets such as Thrive. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even Costco offer good quality olive oils such as Lucini. For a list of oils, you can check out Mueller’s helpful list.
Bottom Line: Between its molecular structure and antioxidant status, olive oil is a great option to use for cooking, baking and, of course, on its own drizzled onto salads or veggies. Enjoy this tasty oil traditionally used for generations knowing you are healing (and turning on your fat burning genes) with each delicious bite. And if you want to experiment with other oils, my favorites to cook with are coconut oil (and coconut butter), avocado oil, and even the fat from grass-fed butter (as long as you tolerate dairy).
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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