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Chef's favorite, olive oil is one of the principal sources of cooking edible oils employed all over the Mediterranean region for centuries. The oil, pressed from olive fruits oftentimes is revered in many religious texts as a symbol of peace, prosperity, and good health.
Olives belong to the family of Oleaceae, in the genus: Olea. Scientific name: Olea europaea
Olive is a slow-growing evergreen tree with a gnarled trunk and slender grey, fissured branches. It may reach up to 50 feet in height at its natural habitat and may live for more than 500 years. It grows well under frost free dry environments assisted by well-drained, warm soil conditions.
Olive fruits are generally picked when they become plump, mature, turn light green to yellow-green, and begin to soft (veraison stage). Olives harvested at this stage contain high quantities of polyphenol and are believed to be at their best for oil extraction.
Cold pressed olive oil from the freshly harvested berries feature light green to deep-yellow in color depending on their maturity and veraison stage. Green olives yield greenish, bitter, and pungent oil while black fruits can be pressed to relatively less pungent, yellow oil. Fresh oil has very low free fatty acids (FFA), and natively cold-pressed oil should have less than 0.5% FFA. In general, virgin oils should have less than 0.8% FFA.
Extra-virgin is the highest grade of olive oil. As with all virgin oils, it is pressed mechanically without employing chemicals or excess heat. Its specific gravity @ 15.5 °C is 0.9150–0.9180, Iodine value-75–94, and saponification value-184–195.
• Olive oil is the best edible oil in terms of palatability, stability, lipid profile, and safety profiles.
• It is rich in energy; 100 g oil provides 884 calories. However, its high ratio of mono-unsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids qualifies it as one of the healthiest oil for consumption.
• Extra virgin oil has a high smoke point at 450 °F (210 ºC). This property of olive is crucial while employing it in high-temperature cooking; as in deep-frying of certain food items.
• Olive oil has an excellent lipid profile. Saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated (SFA: MUFA: PUFA= 14: 77: 9) fats in it are distributed at healthy proportions.
• Natively cold-pressed oil is one of the stable cooking oils featuring a very long shelf life.
• Olive oil has a distinct flavor and taste. Unlike many other oils, which are extracted from nuts and seeds, the olive is obtained from the olive berries and hence, carries large amounts of plant-derived antioxidants, phytosterols, and vitamins.
• Olive oil is recognized as one of the healthiest edible oils since it contains less saturated fats. Additionally, it composes linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3) essential fatty acids at a recommended 8:1 ratio.
• The oil is high in calories. Its high-calorie content chiefly comes from its fats. However, it is especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid (18:1) and palmitoleic acid (16:1) that help in lowering LDL or "bad cholesterol" and to increase HDL or "good cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
• Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains tyrosol phenolic compounds such as oleuropein and oleocanthal. These compounds are responsible for its bitter, and pungent taste. Oleocanthal, oleuropein, and its derivative hydroxytyrosol are nature’s most powerful anti-oxidants. Together with vitamin E and carotenoids, they play a vital role in fighting against cancer, inflammation, coronary artery disease, degenerative nerve diseases, diabetes…etc.
• Studies suggest that oleocanthal has ibuprofen (NSAID) like anti-inflammatory activities. A Mediterranean diet that uses olive oil may be responsible in part for the low incidence of coronary artery disease.
• Being a vegetable source, it has very high levels of plant sterols, especially ß-sitosterol. The FDA has approved the following claim for phytosterols: "Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease". Phyto-sterols competitively inhibit cholesterol absorption in the gut and thereby can reduce total cholesterol levels by 10% to 15%.
• Olive oil is rich in vitamin E. 100 g fresh extra-virgin oil contains 14.39 mcg (about 96% of RDA) of alpha-tocopherol. Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucous membranes and skin through protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
• Additionally, extra-virgin oil is also a very good source of vitamin K; 100 g provides about 50% of DRI. Vitamin K has a potential role in the increase of bone mass by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bone. It also has established a role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
The Phytonutrient in olive oil, oleocanthal, mimics the effect of ibuprofen in reducing inflammation, which can decrease the risk of breast cancer and
its recurrence. Squalene and lignans are among the other olive oil components being studied for their possible effects on cancer.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Component Kills Cancer Cells: Oleocanthal causes a rupture of a part of the cancerous cell which releases enzymes and causes cell death. Without harming healthy cells. In this way, cancer cells are killed by their own enzymes.
Traditionally a low-fat diet has been prescribed to prevent various diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. While studies have shown that high-fat diets may increase the risk of certain diseases such as cancer and diabetes, it appears that it is the type of fat that counts rather than the amount of fat. We now know that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats such as the ones found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds actually protects from many of these chronic diseases.
A study published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care showed that a Mediterranean style diet rich in olive oil reduced the risk of type II diabetes by almost 50 percent compared to a low-fat diet. Type II diabetes is the most common and preventable form of diabetes.
Older individuals who consume olive oil daily may be able to protect themselves from a stroke, according to a new study from France published in the online issue of Neurology.
Researchers gathered information from the medical records of 7,625 individuals over the age of 65 from three cities in France: Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpellier. None of the participants had a history of stroke. They then categorized the individuals into three groups based on their olive oil consumption. The researchers noted that the participants used mostly extra virgin olive oil, as that is what is usually available in France.
After 5 years there were 148 strokes. The results showed that the “intensive” users of olive oil, those that used for both cooking and dressings had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those that did not use olive oil at all. These results were noted even after considering weight, diet, physical activity and other risk factors.
A diet rich in olive oil may actually be able to slow down the aging of the heart.
It is a known fact that as we grow older the heart also goes through a normal aging process. The arteries may not function as well as they did and this can lead to a number of health problems. However, in a recent study, Spanish researchers discovered that a diet rich in olive oil or other monounsaturated fats could improve the arterial function of elderly individuals.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass, which in turn causes the architecture of bone tissue to become fragile. This can then increase the possibility of fractures, making even the slightest of knocks potentially fatal for sufferers.
Olive oil supplementation was found to positively affect the thickness of bones. Olive oil will not be the only solution in the continuing fight against postmenopausal osteoporosis, however, scientists have concluded that it is a very promising candidate for future treatments of the disease.
It is common knowledge that olive oil and the Mediterranean diet confer a multitude of health benefits. But what about emotional health benefits? According to Spanish researchers from the University of Navarra and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a diet rich in olive oil can protect from mental illness. Researchers recently discovered that a higher intake of olive oil and polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish and vegetable oils was associated with a lower risk of depression. The findings suggested that cardiovascular disease and depression may share some common mechanisms related to one's diet.
Another recent study found that olive oil, along with other components of a Mediterranean diet, may contribute to the prevention of malignant melanoma. The most dangerous type of skin cancer may be slowed down by the consumption of olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants, the researchers found.
The use of sunscreen remains the best way to prevent sunburn and shield the skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. However, “Going Greek” and consuming olive oil and other Mediterranean food staples, could help counter the oxidizing effect of the sun.
Only three in every 100,000 residents of countries in the Mediterranean develop any form of skin cancer. The figure is low, especially when considering the warm climate in the region. In Australia, the figure is 50 in every 100,000 residents.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in western countries. While a diet rich in fats is directly related to higher incidence of cancer, some types of fats can actually play a protective role against the development of these tumors, Such is the case of virgin olive oil which is rich in oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid and contains several bioactive compounds such as antioxidants.
A moderate and regular intake of virgin olive oil, characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a low incidence of specific types of cancer, including breast cancer, as well as with having a protective role against coronary diseases and other health problems,
Numerous studies, including one recently published in the journal Chemical Neuroscience, showed that the oleocanthal in extra virgin olive oil has the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the cognitive decline that comes with aging.
Most vegetable oils, including corn, soy, and canola, are extracted from the seeds using solvents, such as Hexane, and heat. The resulting extracted oils are rancid and must be bleached and deodorized in order to make them edible for human consumption. These processes destroy any natural nutrients and produce free radicals that can contribute to a host of diseases. In comparison, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a natural fruit juice containing polyphenols, the valuable antioxidants found in no other edible oil, which is thought to be responsible for the low incidence of heart disease associated with the Mediterranean diet.