Olive oil health facts
When you think of cooking oil, what’s the first thing you think of? Olive oil, right? This might be because olives are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the known world, predating written language. Native to Asia, the plant spread to the Mediterranean where it is most famous today. The oil pressed from the olives was used in religious ceremonies as well as old medicinal practices. Because of this, olive trees were brought to other countries including the US. Those folks knew, very early on, that olive oil has some amazing medicinal benefits, and this post will attempt to point out some great olive oil health facts!
As olive trees can live for a very long time, the ancients believed that the olives could contribute to a longer life span. Famous Greek physicians and thinkers all touted olive oil as the secret to longevity, whether living longer or looking young longer. Hippocrates used olive oil to treat skin conditions and wounds. I use this brand of skin cream which is amazing and keeps my skin glowing and soft, thanks to an olive and aloe blend.
The Romans and Egyptians included olive oil in their bathing rituals as a deep skin moisturizer, and in the ancient Greek games it was applied to the nude bodies of the athletes. It was also used as a cleanser, as people would massage the oil in then scrape it off, also removing dead skin cells and dirt.
Olive oil was very valuable and it was a main export of the countries where it was made. It’s been nicknamed liquid gold because of how valuable it was. Not only was it used for cooking and beauty but also in oil lamps (1). In mythology, it is said that the Greek goddess Athena invented the olive to be used as medicine and food, and planted the first one (2).
The state of Israel uses the olive symbol as part of it’s emblem. In autumn, the olives are harvested by shaking the whole tree, and watching the olives fall to the ground. The harvester can also stand on a ladder and milk the olives into a sack. The important technique of harvesting olives is to do it all at once, so that no olives fall to the ground without being picked first. The olive is one of the Seven Species that the Land of Israel was blessed with.
What is Olive Oil?
In short, of course, it is the oil extracted from olives. But there are a few different kinds of olive oil and they all have their differences and benefits. Olive oil falls into two main categories, refined and unrefined.
Virgin olive oils fall under the unrefined category, meaning that they were not extracted with heat, and usually cold pressed. This leaves more flavor and the product is more delicate with a lower smoke point. Virgin and extra virgin olive oils taste most like olives and contain more of the nutrients found in olives such as antioxidants.
Extra virgin olive oil is set apart by its linolenic acid level; it has to be less than 1% to be considered extra virgin.
Refined olive oils are pressed from the olives using heat, a much less delicate process. From this process you get regular and light olive oils, which have a more neutral taste. The more refined oils contain more linolenic acid, up to 1.5%, and could possibly be blended with other oils, including extra virgin olive oil or canola oil.
What is Oleic Acid?
Oleic acid, found in olive oil, is a fatty monounsaturated type of acid. It is the most abundant fatty acid in olive oil and results in olive oil being more stable and resistant to oxidation. It is also known as omega-9. Unlike omega-3 and 6, however, omega-9s are not essential as your body can make them. Oleic acid has been shown to assist with diabetes and cholesterol management (3, 4).
What’s So Great about EVOO?
All varieties of olive oil are the same basic product and can be used interchangeably; however, they differ in flavor and the temperature at which they smoke when used in cooking. Extra virgin olive oil has the lowest smoke point, not just of olive oil but of a lot of cooking oils, and is best suited in dishes where it does not need to be cooked, such as salad dressings. Regular olive oil is best for using as a cooking oil (5).
Many people swear by using extra virgin olive oil for everything, simply because it is one of the most natural oils. The process to make it is simple and the better ingredients that are used, the higher quality product comes out. Many people use it in most of their dishes because it has a much more distinctive flavor than other vegetable oils, and contains the most nutrients from the olive.
Why is Olive Oil So Beneficial?
Olive oil is made up of a number of compounds that are antioxidants and otherwise anti-inflammatory. Studies show now that inflammation is a big contributing force to aging, which antioxidants work against.
The body gets inflamed in various areas to call attention to damage that needs to be fixed. However, inflammation also causes damage, and if it isn’t fixed quickly, it can lead to chronic inflammation. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in olive oil can stop the chain reaction of damage in order to stop visible aging, among other things.
Adding olive oil to your diet and using it as a topical treatment can give you results in both feeling and looking better.
Fixing inflammation is not only good for your skin, it can cure or help a lot of chronic diseases. The Mediterranean diet, where olive oil features heavily, has been shown to prevent cancer (6). One of the compounds found in olive oil is believed to work as well as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. A study also showed that olive oil could reduce the risk of having a stroke (7) while the Mediterranean diet at large could prevent cardiovascular disease (8) thanks to the cholesterol control mentioned earlier.
Obesity is also a cause of a lot of chronic diseases, and despite being high in calories, olive oil has not been shown to have any effect on weight gain.
Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet
As mentioned before, olive oil is a big part of the Mediterranean diet. This is the diet that follows the way of eating that’s common in the Mediterranean region. It consists of lean meats such as chicken and fish, tons of vegetables, and healthy fats. This way of eating is thought to be healthy because people from the area live long healthy lives. The Mediterranean diet is naturally lower in carbs and higher in fat.
What’s the difference between the Mediterranean diet and a plant-based diet? Studies show that a Mediterranean diet is far better than the typical Western diet of processed foods and red meat. But the results show that a purely plant diet might be even better than that, as it doesn’t contain much fat at all, at least none from animal products. All fat is consumed from things such as avocados, nuts and natural oils, where olive oil plays a large and important part, and clearly has some amazing medicinal benefits.
Check out my next post about the differences between the Mediterranean Diet and a Plant-based diet, and let me know in the comments below if you prefer one over the other. In the meantime, let’s live our lives with all the traits that symbolize the olive: peace and calmness, light and beauty, fruitfulness and longevity…!