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Olive oil, the core of the Mediterranean diet, is loved not only for its great taste but also for its high levels of antioxidants, which are thought to help fight heart disease. Derived from the olive itself, the oil comes in different grades, all strictly regulated. Extra virgin olive oil, made from pure pressed olives, is prized for its low acidity and delicate flavor, ranging from fruity to spicy. It's best drizzled over salad, pasta, or soup. When you are cooking at high heat, it's not necessary to use this most expensive olive oil, since the nuances of the flavor will just be cooked off. A better choice is the less pricey, simply labeled "olive oil" (once called "pure olive oil"), a blend of virgin (produced without chemical manipulations) and refined olive oils, which means it's been processed for taste and acidity. We recommend Bertolli or Colavita brands, found in grocery stores nationwide. For extra virgin varieties, we suggest the selection at O&CO., www.oliviersandco.com. -- Sarah Perlman
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, January 2007.