“Studies on olive oil have shown consuming the heart-healthy oil may also have favourable effects on cholesterol regulation.”
For centuries, olive oil has been a kitchen staple, especially in Mediterranean countries such as Spain. Its widespread use in these countries is thought by many health experts to be one of the principal reasons behind the relatively low incidence of heart disease associated with a Mediterranean diet.
Due to the war on all fats that has been waged by misinformed diet gurus for the past 20 years, many people have the misconception that all fats and oils are unhealthy. While it certainly is true that you can have too much of a good thing, many fats and oils aren’t just not bad for you, they are actually good for your body. Olive oil is among the best of these healthy oils.
Research and studies have given us a vast amount of evidence suggesting that increasing the amount of monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) in the diet while reducing the amount of saturated fats may help reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid. Western diets tend to contain far too many sources of omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. A diet that utilizes olive oil can help replace some of these omega-6 fatty acids with olive oil’s omega-9s, which do not support inflammation as most of the omega 6 class does.
Whether it comes from olive oil or any other source, oleic acid is thought to be responsible for helping reduce blood pressure. It also works in the body to help keep cell membranes soft and fluid; this allows helpful anti-inflammatory substances to penetrate the cell membrane more easily.
Studies on olive oil have shown consuming the heart-healthy oil may also have favourable effects on cholesterol regulation. The effect is twofold. First, it may help control the body’s level of “bad” LDL cholesterol. At the same time, it appears to help to raise levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
In addition to its omega-9 fatty acid content, olive oil also contains several antioxidants not present in other oils. Hydroxytyrosol is one of 30 phenolic compounds in extra-virgin olive oil, all of which are potent antioxidants. Oleuropein is another one that has properties that help regulate blood pressure and prevent the growth of breast cancer cells. These phenolic antioxidants are currently thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to olive oil.
Olive oil is also popular for uses outside of the kitchen. It is used by many fans of natural health remedies as a skin moisturizer, hair conditioner and earwax remover. It is also widely used as an ingredient in cosmeticsand specialty soaps that are purportedly beneficial for dry, scaly skin. While extra virgin olive oil is used in these practices, any grade olive oil can be used as a shaving oil for facial and body hair. For dietary consumption, however, extra-virgin – the first pressing of oil from the olives, which uses no solvents and then is not further processed – has the greatest health benefits.
Olive oil and other unsaturated oils have a shorter shelf life than other oils. This makes unsaturated oils prone to oxidation. When olive oil becomes rancid, it can produce toxic by-products and an unpleasant, bitter taste. In addition, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. Once heated above 350°F (177°C), the oil’s unrefined particles are burned, which leads to oxidation and a deteriorated taste. For these reasons, olive oil (especially extra-virgin olive oil) is best consumed fresh and is best suited for uncooked dishes. It should be stored away from direct light and extreme temperatures.
Spain, Italy and Greece are the world’s top producers of olive oil, each with subtle differences in taste and aroma. Olive oil lovers may have a favourite brand or even a favourite region where their oil comes from. But no matter what country your favourite olive oil comes from, it will contain the healthy monounsaturated fats that work to help keep your body healthy.