DEAR DR. BLONZ: If using olive oil in foods, are the health benefits limited to extra-virgin olive oil? We found that the flavor of the extra-virgin oil we were getting was often too strong or bitter for our taste, so we switched to ordinary olive oil. What are we missing health-wise, if anything, by not using extra-virgin oil? -- O.F., Phoenix
Dear O.F.: Many different types of olives are used to make oil, each with subtle twists on a basic flavor theme. But even oil from the same olives can vary by where and how the olives are grown, harvested and processed. (More on the different varieties of olives used to make oil at b.link/we3azd.)
The extra-virgin style will always be the most intense, as it is the least processed. Extra-virgin also contains the highest amount of the phytochemicals of that olive variety; these protect the oil that's the vital initial energy source for a developing tree if the olive was planted.
Olive oil characteristics can vary, so consider visiting a store where they do olive oil tastings. Or, you might look online for stores that offer tasting notes for their various oils. It helps to try one or more of these to find a reviewer whose tastes align with yours. The bottom line is that, irrespective of extra-virgin oil's health assets, you don't want to use it in a dish if it doesn't work. Olives, like growing conditions, can vary from season to season. Some companies blend to achieve a consistent taste for their brand; this involves blending oils from different regions to achieve the desired characteristics.
We all want any olive oil we select to work for its intended use. You might consider hosting an olive oil tasting party where the host makes the selections, or one in which guests drop off their choices ahead of time for a blind-tasting event. It can be an enjoyable event, with host and guests gaining added knowledge. (For suggestions on how to put on such an event, see b.link/xpdvp4.)
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I love spinach in salads, but heard that large consumption of spinach would cause kidney stones. Is this true -- is there any relationship between spinach and kidney stones? I would really appreciate it if you could clear up my concern. -- M.Y., New York
Dear M.Y.: Not sure what your "large consumption of spinach" is; suffice it to say it should be one of many greens, not the only one you consume. Spinach is an excellent food -- one of my favorites, as well, and is unlikely to cause kidney stones to develop in an otherwise healthy individual. (More on kidney stones at b.link/3nn8k6.)
If your body has displayed any tendency to form oxalate kidney stones, spinach would be on your "foods to avoid" list. So how to proceed? Assuming you are in good health, there is no history of kidney stones in your family, and in discussions with your physician there have been no expressions of concern that you are at risk of developing kidney stones, it seems dubious to avoid spinach on the mere chance that you "might" form a stone.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.