The Miracle of Olive Oil (And Why Canola Oil Has Got To Go)
Happy (belated) Chanukah!
I was planning on publishing this post on the first day of Chanukah. I thought it would take me one day to write it. In true motherhood and Chanukah fashion, it took me eight. Enjoy!
So, we have a holiday about oil.
Here is the thing. This holiday is supposed to be about super high quality olive oil (which is certainly miraculous) yet somehow along the way it turned into the time of year that we all cook everything in canola oil. I mean, come on! If you know me at all, you probably already have an idea of how mad this makes me. We literally took a holiday about embracing one of the most wonderful fats found in nature that has been around for 8000 years and turned it into an 8 day fest of consuming toxic levels of garbage, processed oils. What a darn shame.
As you are well aware, I could rant about this forever, but it came to my attention recently that a lot of you don’t understand what is so bad about canola oil. I figured this was a great opportunity to empower you with information to make better decisions for your health (and tastes buds…because seriously, canola oil is so gross and olive oil is so insanely delicious).
Let’s start with processing.
How is canola oil made?
Put simply, you do not want to know. But, I am going to tell you so that you can make a more informed decision about if this is something you want in your kitchen or not (spoiler alert: definitely NOT).
Canola oil is derived from rapeseeds (most of which are genetically modified. The process begins when the rapeseeds are collected, sifted and then heated and crushed to extract the oil. This is the first sign of a problem because the high heat can damage these seeds and cause the oil to become rancid. Next, a hexane (toxic) solvent is introduced to extract any remaining oil from the seeds. Then it is chemically bleached to remove any color and chemically deodorized so that our smart, protective human noses can’t detect the toxic, rancid smell it would have at this point in the process. That is why we are still comfortable cooking with it when in reality the smell it is supposed to have would tell our bodies that it is not fit for human consumption. (P.S. the crushed meal that remains from this process is packaged up and sold as animal feed so that even if we don’t eat canola oil, we are still impacted by it’s negative effects when we eat factory farmed meat.)
I am picking on canola oil, because it is the worst, but this description is true of any processed vegetable oil and if you want to do your body and your health a favor, it is a good idea to avoid all of them.
How is olive oil made?
Before we begin, let’s be clear. I am only referring to cold-pressed/ extracted extra virgin olive oil. This is the method of extraction that I stand behind and that produces one of the healthiest fats we can keep in our kitchen. I am not referring to “light olive oil” or “pure olive oil” or something else you might find in a supermarket that is disguising itself as olive oil, but is made much more similarly to canola or other processed vegetable oils.
So, how is cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil made?
Little angels drop down from heaven with pitchers of golden juice and pour it into dark glass bottles for us to enjoy and heal our bodies with. Kidding. But also…not really.
The olives are collected in a netting and moved to one location to separate any remaining leaves and stems. Then they are fed through a mill, which crushes them into a paste. Next the paste is pushed through a centrifuge (a.k.a. giant juicer) to separate the oil. That’s it. Olive oil (well, a good one at least) is just fresh pressed fruit juice. In this method, there is no heat applied so none of the antioxidants or other amazing health benefits of this fat are destroyed in the process.
So, now we know that olive oil production is a delightful and delicate process aimed to preserve as many of the health benefits of the fruit it comes from as possible and canola oil production is a disastrous, disgusting industrial process aimed to disguise the toxicity of the oil we are buying. Cool.
Let’s move on to more of the chemistry of these two fats and how that impacts our health. If the word chemistry scares you away, hang in there. I will do my best to simplify my explanation and make this fun.
Omega-6 vs. Omega-3
You have probably heard that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you and something you should be eating more of. Let’s learn more about what this means and why you should care about it.
Canola oil is mostly comprised of omega 6-fatty acids. Consuming both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is a requirement to keep us alive. We need them in a ratio of about 1:4 (1 omega-3 fatty acid for every 4 omega-6 fatty acids).
Did you know that omega-6 fatty acids land themselves in just about EVERY processed food item we consume today so our omega balance is completely out of whack. Even the conventionally raised meat that is most readily available to us these days has a much higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids than its grass-fed omega-3 rich counterpart (but that is a whole other discussion of why we should be embracing more responsibly raised proteins which we will get to another day). Most people today consume a ratio of about 1:16! 1 omega-3 for every 16 omega-6’s. That’s bonkers! We do not, I repeat DO NOT, need any extra omega-6’s, and ditching canola oil is a great way to control some of that consumption.
Why does this matter?
While omega 6’s are inflammatory, omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory. You might be wondering why you would want any omega 6’s in your life if they are inflammatory, but we need our bodies to be able to create inflammation when it is appropriate to do so – like when we get injured or are fighting an infection. What we don’t want is constant inflammation which is unfortunately the state most of us walk around in every day. This can lead to digestive issues, a compromised immune system, greater susceptibility to allergies…does any of this sound familiar?
I was dealing with ALL OF IT. I used to get sick all the time, developed allergies in my twenties to things I had never been allergic to before and had diarrhea on the reg. (Sorry if you’re not down for poop talk but it’s important that you know that’s where I am coming from in case this is something you’re dealing with.)
I had no idea how amazing I could feel on a daily basis (and how much better my bathroom situation could get) by simply cutting out inflammatory foods from my diet and majorly upping my consumption of anti-inflammatory foods.
Note: while olive oil is not the best source of omega-3s available to us (wild-caught salmon, herring, pasture-raised egg yolks, flax seeds and chia seeds are great places to start), it does have a much more balanced omega-3 to omega-6 profile than canola oil and is anti-inflammatory for a whole bunch of other reasons, so it is still a great fat to include in your diet.
Oxidation vs. Antioxidants
One of the main things that makes olive oil an anti-inflammatory oil is the presence of antioxidants such as polyphenols and other important micronutrients that fight inflammation. Again, we are talking about cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil here. Antioxidants play a vital role in limiting oxidative stress by protecting us from the damage that can be caused by free radicals.
In stark contrast, canola oil is heavily prone to oxidation. It likely already experienced oxidation during processing when it was exposed to high temperatures and various chemicals , but if you recall it was bleached and deodorized so we wouldn’t be able to tell. If it didn’t already oxidize during processing, it likely oxidized while it sat under the grocery store lights in a light plastic bottle for Gd knows how long. And if it survived that, it likely oxidized when you cooked with it at 400 degree heat because someone told you it was a good oil for high heat cooking, when in reality this application of heat just releases the carcinogens and toxic chemicals and makes this oil even more rancid and toxic than it was when we got it (which is saying a lot because it was already pretty bad).
YEEESH. Put simply, we need to eat a lot of antioxidant rich extra virgin olive oil to make up for our years of oxidized, carcinogenic canola oil eating.
Olive oil on everything.
I know Chanukah is over, but embracing this miraculous oil should last 365 days. Despite how much disagreement there is in the nutrition world, this 8000 year old oil is one of the only things almost everyone agrees on. Do yourself a favor and PUT IT ON EVERYTHING.
Below is a quick recipe for the really easy, delicious garlic dip I make every Shabbos. The flavor in this dip is all about what olive oil you use, so taste a few until you find your favorite.
If you want to learn more about olive oil THIS PODCAST is an amazing description of the health benefits and how to shop for quality and THIS EPISODE of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a wonderful journey through the uses of olive oil in Italy.
This dip is so easy to make and has become a staple on my Shabbos table. The garlic gets so sweet when you roast it and the rich, peppery flavor of the olive oil balances it perfectly. It's the best with a great sourdough bread
- 4 bulbs garlic
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 t za'atar
- 1 pinch sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375 or 400 (I usually roast the garlic while I am cooking other dishes so I go with whatever the oven is already set to)
Wrap each whole bulb of garlic in tinfoil (no need to cut it open)
Roast the garlic for 40 minutes to an hour depending on how big the bulbs are. Remove the garlic from the oven and allow to cool slightly so you can handle it.
Squeeze all of the garlic into a bowl. Pour extra virgin olive oil over the garlic until it is completely submerged (if you want the dip more spreadable add more oil, if you want it more like a paste, use less).
Add the za'atar and salt and stir with a spoon, mashing the garlic until it is the consistency you like. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to one week.