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10 Tips for Using Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

Part of the Mediterranean-diet lifestyle is using healthy, monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, in place of butter or other fats. Oils are beneficial for cooking because they allow you to cook food at a higher temperature, and they provide flavor and texture to your foods.

Here are ten tips for cooking with oils to ensure that you get the health benefits:

  • Be careful with how much you use. Although the oils typically associated with the Mediterranean diet are healthier than other oils, they can turn your healthy strategy into an unhealthy one quickly if you aren't careful. As with any fat, you don't want to consume large amounts.

    Additionally, oils that are too old or have been stored at the wrong temperature are no good. Taste your oil immediately when you open it so you can see what it tastes like in its freshest form. Doing so gives you a good comparison when checking oils that may have been sitting on the shelf for awhile.

  • Pay attention to the oil's smoke point. All oils have a smoke point, the temperature at which the fat begins to break down, turning your healthy fat into an unhealthy fat. According to the International Olive Oil Council, olive oil has a high smoke point of about 410 degrees. Canola oil, another monounsaturated fat, has a smoke point around 400 degrees. Don't go higher than medium-high heat when using olive or canola oil

    You know when your oil reaches the smoke point because you can actually see smoke and smell a burnt oil or burnt pan odor. Discard the oil and start over.

  • You can't go wrong with a basic olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil. When cooking large recipes, stick with a basic olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil. When drizzling olive oil on vegetables or dipping your bread, go with a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil.

  • You can purchase decent olive oil at any major grocery store chain or your local farmers' market. Alternatively, visit an olive oil store that has a tasting room. Olive oils come in all different types of flavors, so sample and find the ones you like best.

    If you're intrigued by the specialty oils but can't find them in your area, one great store is the Temecula Olive Oil Company.

  • Keep your oils in a cool, dark cabinet away from sunlight and heat. You can also store your main cooking oils, such as basic olive oil or canola oil, in the refrigerator. Don't keep a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil in the refrigerator, though; refrigerating increases the risk of condensation.

  • Make sure the lid is tightly secured after each use to avoid oxidation. Exposing the oil to air can turn the olive oil rancid.

  • After you open a bottle of oil, use it within six months. If you're using it frequently, you won't have to worry about it wasting away on your shelf. To avoid storing your oil for too long, buy only a small- to medium-sized glass bottle so that you use it quickly enough.

  • Learn to gauge how much olive oil you're using. People on the Mediterranean coast use a lot of oil. They drizzle oil on fresh vegetables and breads every day. When adopting this type of lifestyle, you need to gauge your drizzle. Measure a teaspoon of oil and drizzle it on a tomato. Get a feel for what the appearance and flavor of that much oil are like.

  • Use less rather than more. Oil is a fat with 9 calories per gram, which equates to about 120 calories per tablespoon. Make sure you're careful and don't go overboard on calories and total fat. If a recipe calls for what seems like a lot of oil, try using less. If you feel it's not enough for your taste, add a little vinegar or lemon juice to the mix before adding more oil.

  • You can use olive oil instead of butter. If you're replacing butter with olive oil, you need to use about only three-fourths the amount the recipe calls for. For example, if the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons butter, use 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil; if it requires 1 cup butter, use 3/4 cup olive oil, and so on.

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