Olive oil is the single most important element of Mediterranean cooking, and Italians and Greeks are particularly discerning when it comes to choosing this fundamental ingredient. It is a good olive oil that gives life to their dishes.
People in the Mediterranean are healthier and have a higher life expectancy. Research has shown that there is no mystery in that. It’s their diet that is responsible for that.
Olive oil is the principal source of fat and a huge part of the Mediterranean diet.
Olive oil has always been part of our alimentary traditions, but yet it’s one of the less known and mostly misused foods. Luckily, it is never too late to learn how to appreciate it.
Packed with life giving energies, the exceptional health and nutritional benefits of this superfood are a true wonder known for over 6000 years.
Health Benefits Of Olive Oil
Olive oil is recognized all around the world as one of the most important foods in the Mediterranean diet. Its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants make the ‘liquid gold’ to be recognized as an indispensable ingredient for gourmets and healthy people.
Olive oil is the juice extracted from the fresh fruit of the olive tree, which preserves their vitamins, minerals, aroma and flavor. This is so because it is the only type of oil that can be extracted directly from the fruit.
The properties of olive oil gave it a divine character. It was worshiped with reverence and the ancients believed it was the cure for many diseases.
Today, despite the fact that its importance is still recognized, the scientific advances have made it lose the magic touch.
However, the properties of olive oil and its health benefits have been and remain to be the subject of extensive studies in recent years.
Olive Oil Against Heart Disease
One was carried out by Spanish medical specialists framed within the PREDIMED study, in which 200 Spanish hospitals participated.
Its aim was to analyze the properties of the Mediterranean diet, and it concluded that the levels of lipid oxidation or, in other words, the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), lower among regular consumers of olive oil. Instead, good cholesterol (HDL) levels rise.
It was the first scientific evidence showing the protective effect of olive oil against the formation of atherosclerotic plaque, which causes atherosclerosis (disease in which the arteries are filled with blood fat, thus hindering blood traffic)
While all types of olive oil have a strong amount of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, the extra virgin olive oil, the first to be extracted from the olives, present some higher levels of antioxidants due to its lower processing.
Olive Oil Fights Against Cancer
One of the studies conducted by the Department of Gastroenterology of the Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol, in Badalona, Barcelona, concluded that a diet based on olive oil lowers the presence of arachidonate, a chemical which, combined with prostaglandin E promotes carcinogenesis.
The study was performed on experimental rats with colon cancer and they were provided with three different types of oil: Olive oil, fatty fish oil, and seed oil, in order to check the development on three aspects of the cancer lesion: in its initial phase, the tumour established phase, and the most aggressive phase.
The study is of great importance, since today the colon cancer is one of the most common cancer problems in both men and women. In men, only lung cancer has a higher mortality rate, and in women only breast cancer is more lethal.
Colon cancer has a mortality rate around 20% and the main problem is that the disease is usually noticed too late, so the chances of healing are much lower than in earlier stages.
Olive Oil For Diabetes
A healthy diet is the main defense for our body against external attacks. Before treating the disease, doctors urge their patients to regulate their diet as they take their medication, because on many occasions it is the faulty diet what causes the illness.
Thus, to have the proper diet, olive oil included within the rich and varied diet, is often a key element in order to regulate our body.
Patients with diabetes are among those who have to watch their diet, because the proper functioning of their body depends largely on their blood glucose levels. It has recently been proved that the inclusion of olive oil is a great tool for their daily struggle.
Olive oil is extracted from olives and it contains mainly oleic acid, which is beneficial for the arteries. It also contains vitamins A, D, K and E, enhances the absorption of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
Researchers found out that oil helped people suffering form diabetes to keep glucose levels under control.
It favored the regulation of cholesterol and triglycerides, while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. This occurs because oil makes blood glucose levels drop 12%.
It promotes the best use of glucose by cells and improves the sensitivity of the hormones, thus preventing the weakness of the pancreas and ultimately reducing the risks of diabetes.
In this regard, a study by the University of Navarra , concluded that consumption based on olive oil, fruit, vegetables, fish, dairy and indispensable meat prevents up to 35% the risk of diabetes type 2 (the one that does not need external insulin treatment).
Olive Oil Anti-Inflammatory Properties
It is known that olive oil is a good ally in the fight against cardiovascular diseases, anti-hypertension and, more recently, against colon cancer. However, we are surprised to discover that, according to an outstanding research, it is an anti-inflammatory aid.
The molecule called oleocanthal found in olive oil has a similar anti-inflammatory effect as ibuprofen.
The origin of this discovery was a study conducted by Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a biologist at Monell Research Centre in Pennsylvania.
He noticed that tasting extra virgin olive oil made him experience in his throat an annoyance similar to the experience of ingesting solutions of ibuprofen, a common anti-inflammatory.
The oleocanthal is an antioxidant capable of inhibiting the activity of the enzymes COX-1 and COX-2, a property on which the analgesic and anti-inflammatory capacity of ibuprofen is based.
Thus, 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil correspond to a 9 mg dose of ibuprofen. Although this amount does not reach even to 10% of doses of ibuprofen, it can nevertheless be beneficial in a constant consumption of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet.
Notice that this discovery is very valuable, since inflammation acts on serious diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Olive Oil And Cholesterol
Regular saturated fats increase the cholesterol levels in the body but olive oil contains mono-unsaturated fats which ensure lower cholesterol levels in the body.
This means that the more olive oil you consume, the greater the chances for you to keep bad cholesterol away from your body. Abundant antioxidants found in olive oil make it a perfect diet to curb increasing levels of cholesterol in your blood.
A research was conducted by a reputed medical institute to study the effectiveness of virgin olive oil in lowering the cholesterol. Representatives of different age groups were selected who were having high levels of cholesterol in their blood.
They were kept under observation for few weeks. The individuals were told not to consume any foods like onions and selected vegetables that contain phenol during the study.
They were also told not to drink tea, coffee and wine as they all contain phenol which is a proven cholesterol controller. They were also asked to restrain from all high fat foods during the study.
After one week of no phenol, they were asked to consume 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil. Then they were kept away from phenol foods for another 24 hours.
After that again they were all eating their regular foods and were also drinking at least 25 ml of olive oil daily for another complete week.
After this week their blood test revealed that their bodies were containing high amounts of vitamin E and phenol.
It was confirmed beyond any doubt that olive oil is one of the most powerful agents to control cholesterol and improve metabolism.
Composition Of Olive Oil
Olive oil contains 55%-80% monounsaturated oleic acid, 4%-20% omega-6 fatty acids and up to 2% omega-3 monounsaturated fatty acids. It contains about 15% saturated fat.
It is a rich source of vitamin E, which plays an important antioxidant role. Other vitamins, which are found in olive oil, are A and D. It is also rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The main phenolic component of the olive fruit is oleuropein, which affects the bitterness of the olive fruit and the oil itself.
This compound has a beneficial effect on the circulatory system and has a number of positive effects on the body, including antibacterial and antispasmodic effects.
100 g of olive oil contains 85 g of unsaturated and 15 g of saturated fatty acids.
One tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories.
Although it is a high-calorie food, the calories in olive oil come mostly from healthy monounsaturated fats.
Types Of Olive Oil?
Unfortunately, and perhaps also due to a problem of terminology, there are still few consumers who can appreciate in the label the terminology differences. This can lead to a real confusion about the purchased product.
Generally, olive oil is the oil obtained solely from the olive fruit (Olea Europa L.) excluding oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and any mixture with oils of other types.
Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions of suitable temperature, which exclude any chemical alteration of the product.
They do not undergo any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation or filtering.
Among virgin olive oils we can find, terminologically included, the following:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil extra virgin is the virgin olive oil with a maximum free acidity, expressed in oleic acid of 0.8 g per 100 g, also with its other features adjusted to those laid down for this category. It’s obviously an organoleptic defect-free oil in the tasting panel.
Virgin Olive Oil
It is the oil with a maximum free acidity, expressed in oleic acid of 2 g per 100 g, also with its other features adjusted to those laid down for this category. It’s also an organoleptic defect-free oil in the tasting panel.
Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil
It is the oil with a free acidity, expressed in oleic acid, of not more than 3,3 g per 100 g, also with its other features adjusted to those laid down for this category.
It is the virgin olive oil whose free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, goes beyond 3.3 grams per 100 grams and/or its organoleptic characteristics (presence of defects) do not conform to those established for the described above.
Lampante oil is the lowest quality of virgin olive oils and must be refined to become apt for human consumption.
Refined Olive Oil
The refined olive oil is the oil obtained from virgin olive oil with defects or acidity rates higher than desired, that, through refining techniques (chemical, filtration and deodorization procedures) manage to reduce its free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, below 0.3 grams per 100 grams.
They are oils with no defects but lacking in the flavor and odor characteristic of the virgin or virgin extra oils.
It is called just olive oil (a somewhat confusing name for those who do not know the details described). This olive oil, having been obtained from a mixture of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil, different from lampant, presents free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 1 g per 100 g.
Pomace Olive Oil
In order to complete the description, we need to say that pomace olive oil is also obtained from the fruit of the olive tree.
It is a by-product obtained from the bone of the olive and is marketed under the following names.
“Refined olive pomace oil”- oil obtained by refining crude olive-pomace and which presents a free acidity of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 g.
And “Olive-pomace oil” – obtained from a mixture of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil different from lampante, it presents a free acidity of no more than 1 gram per 100 grams.
Acidity in olive oil is not something you can taste and only laboratory exams can reveal it. It happens that someone, when tasting a spicy virgin oil, says: “This is not Virgin!”. Well, now you can tell him he is not really into olive oils.
How To Choose A Good Quality Olive Oil?
Quality olive oil is identified by color, odor and taste. It is slightly bitter taste, greenish in color and has the smell of fruit and grass.
Pour a little oil on the palm or a wide glass that heats up between your hands and the first thing you feel is the smell of olives, the same one that can be felt when a fresh piece of fruit mash fingers.
Then put some oil in the mouth and suction between the teeth, so that in addition to taste and others can feel the smell of oil made from freshly picked fruits and those pungent taste. Heavy smell is a sign of poor quality or defective olive oil.
Olive oil color has no real importance – this is why the official oil tasting glasses are blue, so that the judgment is not influenced by the oil’s color. No color certifies the quality.
Instead, it can be proof of some flaws: if the oil is orange, it means that it is oxidized and hence rancid; if deep green, the oil has been colored with a byproduct of olive pomace, a technique widely used in past times.
Usually we can recognize a bad olive oil from its smell: when it stinks, this proves its low quality. If it smells of sludge or mold, or if it is winy, the oil can’t be qualified as virgin in any case. Also, when it happens, it is sure that the olives have been mistreated.
We have to remind you that olive is just like any fruit. It is green when young and black when mature. From green olives we get less oil but much more perfumed; from black olives more oil but much less quality.
Olive Oil Is A Lot Like Wine
Olive oils, much like wines, differ greatly in quality according to variety of olive, soil, conditions of cultivation and methods of preparation.
The cheaper extra-virgin oils available in supermarkets, ‘big brand names’ for the mass market, are generally made from blends of inferior product from mixed sources.
These may be produced by intensive cultivation, industrial extraction or from the previous season’s unsold oil.
Officially they can still be classified as ‘extra-virgin oils’ – but the classification is wide and open to significant differences in quality.
Some olive oils, the best ones, produce a pinch in the throat usually followed by a bitter taste. This is because they contain polyphenols, the proof of a good olive oil.
Polyphenols are good to our organism because they are powerful antioxidants: they delay the aging of cells and fight inflammations.
Storing Olive Oil
Olive Oil acidity occurs when there is a splitting of various fatty acids, and increases the acidity and the presence of water in the oil.
Rancidity occurs when there is a chemical reaction, and stronger if the oil is greater presence of oxygen, sunlight and heavy materials.
Olive oil should be stored in containers made of dark glass that absorbs ultraviolet light, impeccably clean and sterile.
Olive oil hates air and light. This is why bottles should always be dark, little and well shut. Air vanishes perfumes, while light oxidizes the oil and makes it rancid.
It is possible to store it at any temperature, although it freezes at 5°C, but it is not such a problem. Just warm it gradually to ambient temperature.
Olive Oil Smoking Point
Each oil has a different smoking point, which is the critical temperature after which the chemical composition decomposes, destroying the taste of the oil and creating oxygen radicals that damage the cells.
Olive oil smoking point is moderately high (374–405°F / 190–207°C) and it is safe for frying, but extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoking point (320 °F / 160 °C).
When the oil starts to smoke, it means that it has reached a critical point and that harmful compounds have been formed that can be carcinogenic. In particular, heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) are formed.
To date, more than 20 toxic compounds have been isolated and are considered to have pronounced mutagenic, genotoxic and carcinogenic properties.
In order to reduce the amount of HAA in food, the temperature and time of heat treatment should be reduced.
In general, it is a good decision to reduce the heat treatment of food at high temperatures such as frying, roasting and grilling.
Also, choose the most stable oil if the food is prepared at high temperatures. A more stable oil, which will be more resistant to oxidation, does not necessarily mean more nutritionally desirable.
Therefore, so you should choose those oils or fats that will be stable for frying and have the best possible fatty acid composition.
You can use olive oil for cooking, but you will benefit most if you using it raw.
I like to use coconut oil for cooking. Although it contains saturated fats, research has also shown its health benefits.
Olive oil is a supreme example of a monounsaturated fat. This oil can be defined as the natural juice that preserves the aroma, vitamins, taste and the basic properties of olives.
Olive oil is rich in good fats, thus controlling the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL, while increasing the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, HDL. By its composition in fatty acids, virgin olive oil is similar to mother’s milk.
Using olive oil, instead of saturated fat reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Extra virgin olive oil contains more monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, also beneficial to your heart.
Olive oil is a must for everyone who is suffering with any heart ailment and high cholesterol levels.
Studies have also shown that the antioxidants, as well as the oleic acid, contained in olive oil have a protective effect against various forms of cancer (breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer and more).
According to nutritionists, for staying in shape, two to three tablespoons of olive oil a day are sufficient.