HEALTH BENEFITS OF OLIVE OIL

According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was the creation of the goddess Athena, who first planted one out among the rocky grounds of the Acropolis and endowed it with powers to illuminate the darkness, soothe wounds, and provide nourishment. I don’t know about the veracity of the goddess story, but I do know that few foods can match olive oil’s ability to provide nourishment in the form of a very healthy fat your body needs as well as antioxidants that perform numerous protective functions. Yes, I’m Greek and have been eating olive oil all my life. In this brief article you’ll learn why olive oil fits squarely into my agenda for a healthy lifestyle. And in this follow up article, you’ll learn why you have to be ultra-cautious about the kind of olive oil you buy: not all olive oil is created equally, and some products may be adulterated. The health benefits I describe below relate to extra-virgin olive oil – the preferred form − but unscrupulous suppliers are marketing lesser quality olive oil and calling it extra-virgin. And that’s why you need to read labels carefully.

Benefits of Olive Oil for the Heart, Brain, Body

Goddesses aside, humans have long recognized the healing power of olive oil. Hippocrates, known as “the father of medicine,” was said to have prescribed olive oil for many ailments, including ulcers, cholera, muscular pains, sore gums, and wounds, some 2,500 years ago. For decades, olive oil has been recognized as an important element in the Mediterranean Diet, the traditional pattern of food eaten by Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, Turks and other peoples living around the Mediterranean basin. Study after study has shown that this diet contributes to heart health and longevity. Now, it seems research is literally pouring out of the region demonstrating a paramount nutritional and health role for olive oil as an “all-star” in the Mediterranean diet. Studies show that the consumption of olive oil, a fat, is one important reason why Mediterranean populations tend to have much less heart disease than Americans or Northern Europeans; it may also indeed contribute to healthier aging and greater longevity.

In a 2010 review of research, a team of Spanish researchers listed these olive oil benefits:

  • Improves blood pressure, an expression of better endothelial function (the endothelium is the critical inner layer of blood vessels that produces nitric oxide, a compound necessary for keeping blood vessels relaxed and dilated);
  • Inhibits oxidation of LDL cholesterol;
  • Increases protective HDL cholesterol;
  • Inhibits abnormal blood clotting;
  • Contributes to reduction of cancer risk (mainly breast, colorectal, and prostate); and
  • Lowers risk of age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2014, researchers from Europe and the U.S. discovered that natural compounds in olive oil (called polyphenols) can specifically enhance the ability of HDL cholesterol to
strip away and remove excess cholesterol that accumulates in arterial plaque. This function, called “cholesterol efflux capacity,” has attracted major research attention in recent years as a primary anti-atherosclerosis activity of HDL. A higher blood level has long been considered as a protective factor in general, and now lower efflux capacity is being associated with heart failure and coronary artery disease. In the olive oil study, the researchers found that the polyphenols in the oil promote efflux capacity as well as HDL stability.

Olive Oil and Genes: More Anti-Inflammatory Action

In a 2010 study, researchers identified nearly a hundred genes related to obesity, diabetes, and blood lipids that were affected in a healthy way by the antioxidant compounds contained in olive oil. Some of those genes, involved intimately in inflammatory processes, were repressed by the olive oil, and that’s a good thing. Keep in mind that uncontrolled inflammation is involved in most common diseases, from cardiovascular disease and diabetes to cancer and auto-immune conditions. So increasing the anti-inflammatory quality of your diet with something like olive oil may be another simple and natural way to protect yourself.

What’s So Special In Olive Oil?

Like any nutritional oil, olive oil has its own particular chemical makeup and this is what makes it indeed so special. First of all, olive oil is rich in a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid that has been linked repeatedly in experiments to beneficial effects against cancer cells as well as to reducing high blood pressure. Next, olive oil contains many compounds with marked physiological benefits. Heading the list are oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, two highly absorbable and extensively studied antioxidants found to have highly protective actions against several diseases, notably cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. Among other things, they promote arterial dilation and integrity, inhibit cholesterol oxidation and platelet aggregation, and appear to have anti-diabetic properties.

Superfood:Greek Olive Oil

Olive oil doesn’t get its reputation as a superfood for no reason not only does the stuff possibly ward off cancer thanks to its powerful antioxidants like Vitamin E, it’s also anti-inflammatory and delicious. Unlike the solid, artery-clogging fats in butter, olive oil is packed with healthy monounsaturated fats that may actually lower your risk of heart disease, healthy fats can actually promote good cholesterol and help to regulate your blood sugar. But before you buy your next bottle, make sure you know what you’re getting and that you’re purchasing the right one for your particular needs.

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil comes from the first pressing of olives, making it the highest quality olive oil, containing less than 0,8 % acidity. Known for its perfectly balanced aroma and superior taste, this type of olive oil has a light, delicate flavor thanks to minimal processing. You don’t want to cook with this kind, though, since high heat can damage the flavor and nutrients. Instead, when you want to focus on flavor, for example in salad dressings, soups, marinades,etc.
  • Virgin Olive Oil comes from the second pressing of slightly riper olives. The term “Virgin” actually refers to the fact that the olives haven’t had much handling and manipulating, either. It has a bit higher acidity and thus costs less than extra-virgin, but is still known to have a pretty good taste. Use this oil for lightly browning or sauteing vegetables or meat.
  • Regular (or Pure) Olive Oil, also known as commercial olive oil, has a blander taste and lighter color than its virgin counterpart. This baby has been chemically refined to neutralize the high acid content and strong flavors. This is one of the least expensive types of oil with the lowest nutrient levels. It’s thought of as an all-purpose cooking oil and is best for deep frying or stir-frying due to its higher smoke point.
  • Light Olive Oil has the exact same fat and calorie content as virgin oil. It’s simply a less pure, more chemically refined mixture of lower-quality oils with some virgin oil added back in. Since it’s virtually flavorless, it works well when baking any sort of #NomNoms.

It’s a Fact: Greek Olive Oil is an Art

Greeks love their olive trees and oil a lot. According to Homer, the Greeks would build their homes around the olive tree, while archaeological finds from the Minoan civilization prove that the Cretan economy was based on olive oil. But it is the discovery of petrified olive leaves in Santorini, of an estimated 50.000 to 60.000 years of age that proves the enduring relationship between the Greeks and their “blessed fruit”.

Some 60% of Greece’s arable land is taken up by olive trees. There are about 132mn trees growing in Greece, a country of not quite 11million people! Greece is the world’s top producer of black olives and has more varieties of olives than any other country. It is the world’s third producer of olives, with an annual production of 350,000 tons of olive oil, of which 82% is extra-virgin. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a superfood. It is the liquid gold that Hippocrates considered one of nature’s best “iama” and the basis of Greek Gastronomy. Its health benefits are continuously certified by scientific research and practice. About 65% of Greece’s olive oil comes from the Peloponnese, while the rest is produced mainly in Crete, the Aegean and the Ionian Islands. The most prized Greek olive variety for the production of olive oil is the Koroneiki variety, originating from the area of Korone in Messenia, Peloponnese. This variety grows well on mountain slopes and produces very small fruit, and the high ratio of skin to flesh gives the oil its coveted aromatic qualities. And the rules of producing quality olive oil are fully respected and applied.

FIRST LEVEL COURSE BY NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF OLIVE OIL TASTERS

The National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters, part of the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, was founded in 1983 Imperia thanks to initiative of the local Chamber of Commerce and the vision of a group of highly experienced tasters. These tasters, who had gained an in-depth knowledge of olive oil flavours and aromas-during their work in the olive oil industry in Imperia, one of the most historic centres of olive oil in Italy, wished to protect and enhance the value of that important technical and cultural patrimony they had developed: the art of olive oil tasting. ONAOO doesn’t just train people to taste olive oil. Thanks to its unbiased position in the olive oil world, and its high degree of scientific rigour, the school represents a place for sharing experiences and, debates about olive oil, and for defending the quality of olive oils worldwide. Our solid culture keep alive the theoretic and material knowledge, open to all.