Health Benefits of Olive Oil

by RickZ

November 17, 2021

health benefits of olive oil

By now we have all heard about the health benefits of olive oil in our diets. Not only is it less “fattening” than other fats, but it appears to actually protect us from cardiovascular disease. One of the mechanisms proposed is that it increases the amount of high density (“good”) cholesterol in our blood stream, thereby reducing the buildup of deadly plaque on the inside of the arterial wall caused by the “bad” cholesterol, which leads to heart attacks and strokes.

But beyond that, it just plain tastes delicious. And maybe that’s all we really need to know.

Olive oil, and I mean only the extra-virgin variety, is the fat of choice throughout the Mediterranean both for cooking and for consuming directly, such as a dressing for a salad or other vegetables. (It’s not a bad idea to keep two types of olive oil on hand: a cheaper one for cooking and a higher quality one for finishing dishes.)

Further, just know that the added health benefits of high-quality unheated oil, like what you put on your salad, is much higher than the oil that you cook with… even if it’s exactly the same oil. Meaning, the heat greatly reduces the beneficial properties at a molecular level. 

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Olive oil is not just a condiment, but it also has a functional objective. It contains vitamins A, E, K, D, and Beta-carotene, and it helps to assimilate the vitamins from vegetables. Yes, it makes your vegetables even MORE healthy!

A good extra virgin organic olive oil contains three times more polyphenols than an industrial brand. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the few ingredients that everybody in the world can tolerate—not ONE person in the world has olive oil allergies!

We have signs of the olive tree even before the appearance of the man, as evidenced by the fossilized remains. The olive branch is also a symbol of peace, and as a symbol of victory and divine essence in the culture of Ancient Greece.

Ansel Keys (1904 – 2004), American biologist and physiologist, is considered the “partono” of the “dieta mediterranea.” His studies on the diet habits of the people of southern Italy gave birth to the term “Mediterranean Diet.”

In particular, Keys deepened the relationship between nutrition and cardiovascular disease, and during his residence in Southern Italy, he studied the beneficial effects of the diet on the health of the local population. Keys concluded that such habits had a beneficial effect on health, as compared to diets absent of these ingredients in other regions of the Western world. And in particular, the health benefits of olive oil

If the Mediterranean diet is now part of Unesco Patrimonium, perhaps this means that we really should follow the “recipes” of the past and eat more like our (great)grandparents instead of the prepared meals, take-away, junk food, or so-called “comfort foods” of today.

Olive this, you have that…

The flavor of the olives can vary widely from species to species and from region to region. As with everything, taste is a matter of preference. Some oils are more fruity and delicate while others are more robust and peppery. 

But regardless of the exact type, there are some quality control measures you should look out for to be sure that the olive oil you’re using is everything its marketing hype claims that it is.

The so-called “extra virgin” olive oil that you find in the supermarket today is often an industrial product that has been heavily processed. Sometimes they even add other types of cheaper oils. These manufacturers are only interested in two things: quantity and shelf life, which leads to higher profits for them. 

True cold pressing, where the olives are crushed and pressed at room temperature, extracts only a third or so of the potential oil in an olive. By using hot water and industrial solvents, the modern producer can obtain over 95% of the potential oil in the olive fruit. Good for business, bad for taste.

Consequently, the term “extra virgin”—along with all the other appealing adjectives that you’ve ever heard—has no legal definition in the United States.  “100% Product of Italy,”  “First Cold Press,” etc.—don’t believe them, they’re all marketing terms with no official documentation to back them up. That’s why almost every bottle of olive oil at the grocery store will have these claims on their label—there’s nobody telling them that they can’t do so.

Real extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives without the use of heat or chemicals. This means that the olives are pressed by mechanical means at room temperature—a.k.a., “cold pressed.”  

In addition, its acidity level, which is a rough measure of the ripeness of the olives when they were pressed, must be below a certain percentage. In the U.S., it is 0.50%, and in Europe it is 0.80%.  

It’s estimated that, worldwide, less than 10% of all olive oil is truly extra-virgin. Bottom line: read the labels more carefully. Only buy oil in glass bottles and then store your high quality oils in a cool dark place, just like you would with a fine Italian wine. It’s a big part of the Italian food culture.

Yes, Olive Oil is Healthy!

Believe it or not, the health benefits of olive oil has its dissenters, even among respected physicians and food scientists. 

Well, you have to draw a line somewhere. Further, you have to pick a side in the debate because there is no one set of dietary advice that every expert agrees upon.

I choose the side of generations of population data. It doesn’t rise to the level of a long-term, double-blind study, but it’s the best we have. 

Takeaways:

  1. Olive oil appears to protect us from cardiovascular disease by increasing the amount of high density (“good”) cholesterol in our blood stream.
  2. Often the “extra virgin” olive oil that you find in the supermarket today is an industrial product that has been heavily processed.
  3. Real extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives without the use of heat or chemicals. This means that the olives are pressed by mechanical means at room temperature (“cold pressed”).

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