Olive Oil- The Mediterranean Super Power

I have talked about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in my previous blog posts, one of the core ingredients of this is olive oil. I have watched Italian and Spanish chefs on cookery programmes and been surprized at the amount of oil actually used in their dishes. Health and culinary circuits can’t stop raving about the benefits of this wonder oil. Before I spent time in Spain,at an olive farm, I didn’t particularly like or eat olives and olive oil. But once you have tried it, you do notice the difference. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest quality olive oil available,and is extracted from the olive fruit without the use of any heat or chemicals. Regular olive oil is refined so is stripped of important nutrients and antioxidants, so if possible buy the extra virgin.

In my travel blog, https://travellinglighteratraveljournal.blogspot.com/2020/06/olive-trees-and-oil-and-mediterranean.html I explain about the history of olive trees.

Olive oil is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. The main fat it contains is mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which experts consider a healthly fat.  People who consume this appear to have a higher life expectancy, including a lower chance of dying from cardiovascular diseases. Some experts call it the standard in preventive medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority recommend consuming around 20 grams or two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil each day to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation. So just using olive oil in salads or as a cooking oil would give you protection from common health problems like strokes. Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world today, studies conducted a few decades ago showed that heart disease is less common in Mediterranean countries.

Scientists had found evidence that people who ate trans fats, which is an unhealthy fat that features in fast foods and pre-made baked goods, were more likely to have depression than those who consumed unsaturated fats. Eating excessive amounts of fat causes weight gain. However, consuming olive oil does not appear to increase the likelihood of weight gain. A moderate intake may even aid in weight loss, as it can be used instead of unhealthy, higher calorie options.  As it is rich in mono-saturated fats, it helps to stimulate the digestive system, speeding up bowel movement and preventing constipation. Mixing a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of lemon juice can be an effective remedy for constipation.

Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the reduced effectiveness of insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) out of the blood and into cells to be used as energy. It’s thought that the phenolic compounds present in olive oil can aid in glucose metabolism and improve the sensitivity and effectiveness of insulin. So, including olive oil in your daily diet could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%, in comparison to a low-fat diet. A diet high in olive oil was also found to help normalise blood glucose in people who already had type 2 diabetes. When combined with the other elements of a Mediterranean diet: lots of vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, fish and low in meat, the beneficial effects were increased.

In 2016, scientists suggested that including extra virgin olive oil in the diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This may be due to its protective impact on blood vessels in the brain. As I discussed in my previous blog, protecting our brain power as we age helps us live a healthier, happy life in later years. Vital to our quality of life.

It is also rich in antioxidants which neutralize free radicals. If too many free radicals (which can be called the rust of the body) build up, they can cause oxidative stress. This leads to cell damage, and it may play a role in the development of certain diseases, including certain types of cancer.

Olive oil seems particularly beneficial when combined with fish oil, a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. In one study, olive and fish oil significantly improved handgrip strength, joint pain and morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Olive oil contains vitamin E, which supports the normal function of the immune system as well as maintaining healthy skin and eyes. Vitamin E, improves skin health by treating inflammation, acne, and dryness, it also improves the skins elasticity and its regenerative properties. Sophia Loren, credits her youthful appearance to the Italian habit of using lots of olive oil in her diet and applying oil directly to her skin to moisturize. Your fingernails need as much attention as your skin and a useful tip is to dip a cotton ball in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and dab it on your nails, the vitamin E helps bring your dry brittle nails back to life. I have tried this and it really works.

The oil’s MUFAs, which are mainly oleic acid, appear to help prevent inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and other changes that can result in liver damage. It also contains traces of calcium and potassium, as well as polyphenols, tocopherols, phytosterols, squalene, and terpenic acids and other antioxidants.

So to do a quick re-cap, adding two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day to our diet; gives us a higher life expectancy, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation like arthritis, lowers the risk of depression, helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease, supports the immune system, can fight against obesity, lowers blood pressure, neutralizes free radicals and can protect against liver damage.( I am sure that there are even more benefits but I wanted to cover the most important ones)

Buying a better-quality extra virgin olive oil is important as this undergoes less processing and is more likely to retain its antioxidants, these can be expensive but just looking at how many benefits there are it is worth spending more.  There is a lot of fraud on the olive oil market, as many oils read “extra virgin” on the label when they have actually been diluted with other refined oils. Therefore, examine labels carefully to ensure you’re getting the real deal. It’s always a good idea to read ingredients lists and check for quality certification. If you see ‘harvest date’ or ‘pressed on’ date, it’s likely to be a higher quality oil.

Ideally, buy olive oil in a dark bottle, especially extra virgin olive oil. As light can degrade the oil turning it rancid, it’s best to store your olive oil in a cupboard and not on the kitchen surface where it can be exposed to sunlight. Dark glass bottles offer better protection than plastic bottles.

Why not try, drizzling olive oil on to a salad or adding it into a dressing, or drizzling it on a freshly made bread, instead of using butter. Frying food in olive oil may help maintain and even improve its nutritional value. This is because the food takes up antioxidants that transfer from the oil. Some research has shown that pan-frying produce such as tomatoes, onions, and garlic in olive oil improves the bioavailability of protective plant compounds, such as carotenoids and polyphenol antioxidants.        

Not only are you improving the nutrients in your diet you are also adding to the taste too.

I do hope I have been able to convince you of the superpower of olive oil!

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