Jenilee Matz has a master’s degree in public health and worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a health communications specialist. She writes for several health publications including Everyday Health, HealthDay, and Diabetic Connect.

It’s been said that a Mediterranean diet may help control diabetes, but what makes it beneficial? The center of this winning diet is olive oil, and all the benefits surrounding it. But before you run to the grocery store to stock up on this precious oil, there are a few things you need to know about what you’re buying.

Grades of olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is best used in uncooked dishes as a salad dressing or dip for bread. The flavor in EVOO is superior and it may be pale yellow to bright green in color. It has the lowest amount of acidity, anywhere from 0.225 to 1.5 percent.

Virgin olive oil must have a good taste and is suitable for cooking, but also has enough flavor to be used uncooked. The acidity level is 2 percent or less.

Olive oil has been refined after the first pressing with heat, chemicals and/or filtration agents. This causes it to have poor flavor and it is commonly blended with other oils or used for foods that are labeled “packed in olive oil.” The acidity level is greater than 3.3 percent.

It’s important to pick a high-quality olive oil if you are using it for health benefits —the more “virgin” an oil, the more health benefits it contains. EVOO can contain at least 30 types of antioxidants. When tasting oils, look for one that tastes slightly bitter, peppery and has a “bite” to it. This flavor profile means it has the highest amounts of phenols, or antioxidants.

Olive oil is sensitive to light, heat, and oxidation damage. High quality oils should be stored in a cool, dark place and used within a year of purchase. If you’re using olive oil to cook, it’s important to note that temperatures above 200 degrees Fahrenheit reduce the health benefits drastically.

How much do you need?

The FDA states, "Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day."

How to eat olive oil

Raw consumption is by far the best way to gain the <a href="" target="_blank">health benefits of olive oil. Anywhere you would use canola or other oil, you can substitute olive oil.

-Dip for bread. Mixing a tablespoon of olive oil with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and fresh ground pepper is a perfect appetizer to any meal.

-Salad dressings. Mix with vinegars, spices or lemon juice to create a tasty and healthy salad dressing.

-Drizzle over pasta. Make a light entrée with whole-grain noodles, olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

To learn more about this topic:
Discussion: Olive Oil and Diabetes
Mediterranean Diet Helps Control Diabetes
Recipes: Mediterranean Masterpieces