You've got to hand it to Consumer Reports. Who else, when rating olive oils for quality, sends out samples to a lab to test for possible adulteration with lower-cost oils (September 2004). That's my kind of food writing: none of the hedonism, all the hard facts.
Encouragingly, the lab didn't find any evidence of alduleration (but did correctly identify the one bad sample that was planted as a control). So chances are the (olive) oil supply is safe, at least for now. (Petroleum is another matter, but this is a food blog.) And CR's experts found that Goya brand, which sells just about everywhere in my neighborhood for a very reasonable price, beat out all but the most expensive oils for flavor and aroma. I'm gonna give it a try.
While the FDA doesn't inspect olive oils—they seem to be more concerned about things like salmonella and bioterrorism, and its hard to disagree—many other countries do, and strict standards for extra-virgin olive have been defined by the International Olive Oil Council (chartered by the UN and headquartered in Madrid), based on factors like acidity and UV absorbtion as well as flavor. In rating oils, adjectives like bitter, pungent, and fruity are all regarded as good, at least in moderation, while fusty, muddy, horsey, musty, and oxidized are all—big surprise—bad.
Olive oil is better for you than other kinds of fat, but it's still fat, so don't go substituting it for your glass of V-8 in the morning. An expensive, high-quality olive oil is a great choice for drizzling over bruschetta or greens just before serving, but if you want to sauté, save your money. Olive oil is not a good choice for high-heat cooking because it has a low smoke point, which means it burns at a low temperature.
The same issue has an article on the much-maligned fast food industry, which is once again making attempts to introduce "healthy" items such as salads, salsa, and chicken that hasn't been deep-fried in hydrogenated vegetable shortening. It's easy to be skeptical, but according to CR, the chicken sandwich from Panera Bread (which most people would regard as "healthier") has about 8 times the fat of the one you buy at Wendys. If it's big, rich, and tasty, it probably has fat in it, and if it's convenient, people will eat too much of it, no matter how healthy it is.
With all the focus on obesity and fast food in this country, I find it amazing there's still a chain out there named "Blimpie." They said it, not me.
A related question in the article is whether restaurants should be require to post nutritional information right on the menu. That's one to mull over on another day.