Olive oil is a very common ingredient for the Mediterranean diet, and it is known for its delicious flavor and its versatility since it can be used in all kinds of savory and sweet preparations. Olive oil is also famous for its health benefits as it is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and also high in antioxidants.
Where does olive oil come from and how is it produced?
Olive oil comes from pressing olives, the fruit of the olive tree and it is mostly produced in Mediterranean countries since they have the most appropriate climate to grow olives. Extra virgin olive oil is made only with cold pressed olives whereas regular olive oil is a blend that includes cold pressed oil and processed oils.
What do recent studies reveal about the health benefits of olive oil?
Many researches over the years have studied the beneficial health properties of olive oil since it is one of the most nutritious oils on earth. One of the most recent and reliable studies analyzed the impact of olive oil in 60,582 women and 31,801 men for 28 years and revealed important information about its health properties.
According to the study published by the American College of Cardiology, consuming more than 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day is associated with
- lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
- cancer mortality
- neurodegenerative disease mortality
- respiratory disease mortality
What are the nutrients and components in olive oil responsible for these beneficial effects?
One tablespoon of olive oil provides 119 calories and contains 14g of fat. The fats of olive oil are mostly healthy monounsaturated fats and very little polyunsaturated and saturated fats.
Healthy monounsaturated fats that can reduce inflammation and even have good effects on genes linked to cancer disease. Inflammation is one of the most serious factors behind some of the most chronic health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Modern studies have demonstrated that oleic acid that is found in olive oil has important anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, Extra virgin olive oil is also high in polyphenols, especially in one of them called oleocanthal. This compound acts the same way as ibuprofen, and it reduces inflammation in a natural way.
Olive oil is rich in vitamin E and protects our cells from free radicals while it also boosts our immunity system and prevents blood vessels from clotting. Adding olive oil in our nutrition also helps us cover our mineral needs since it contains potassium that supports the healthy function of heart and kidneys.
Which is the smoke point of olive oil and does it lose its beneficial properties when heated?
Olive oil as a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet has been used for thousands of years and even though many people think that its beneficial components get destroyed when cooked this is far from the truth.
One of the main elements of olive oil is it’s fat composition and even if we cook it in high heat, the percentage of monounsaturated fats remains the same.
People are also concerned about the smoke point of olive oil since it is proven that all oils become unhealthy when they pass a certain temperature. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is from 180 to 210 degrees Celsius. In general it is rare to exceed the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil unless we burn the food we are cooking.
Nonetheless, when we heat olive oil it loses its delicious and unique flavor. If we have purchased extra virgin olive oil that tends to be a little bit more expensive than normal olive oil the best way to enjoy it is to add it raw into salads or drizzle it on to roasted vegetables.
Is olive oil a better choice than butter or margarine?
Olive oil, butter and margarine are loaded with fat content and fats are a crucial part of our nutrition, however diets which are rich in saturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats can be very unhealthy and harmful for our body.
Solid margarine and butter are not the healthiest choices when it comes to cooking. Butter is high in saturated fats and it can raise bad cholesterol, on the other hand margarine has saturated and trans fats which are related with increased danger of heart diseases.
According to the same research of the American College of Cardiology, just by replacing 10 grams/day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil we have a lower risk of mortality from chronic diseases.
Furthermore, as Dr Frank Hu, from Harvard’s department of nutrition suggests, we shouldn’t just add olive oil into our everyday diet, the most important is use it as a substitute to butter, margarine or mayonnaise in salad dressings.
In addition to olive oil, what other foods should round out a nutrition diet?
Even though olive oil has miraculous properties for our body it is not enough to guarantee us lower risk for chronic diseases or optimal health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a balanced diet should contain good quality lean protein from meat, poultry and fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains that are great sources of healthy carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals and also healthy fats from fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Hydration and good sleep are equally important parts of a healthy lifestyle.
How to introduce olive oil into your diet
Olive oil and especially Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest options we have when it comes to dietary fat and including it in our diet has plenty of benefits. Introducing more olive oil into our diet is quite easy since it is a great substitute for butter in cake, pastries, and pies. We can add it to our salads or drizzle it on top of basically everything. Extra virgin olive oil can also give a great flavor to marinated fish and meat, but in addition you can use it to sauté everything in a pan or make stir fry veggies. Remember that anything butter, margarine, vegetable oil or coconut oil can do, olive oil can do it better.