Olive oil is a fat obtained from the olive (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. The oil is produced by pressing whole olives and is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. Although originating in the Mediterranean countries, today it is used worldwide.
Greece has the highest olive oil intake per person in the world. Greeks consume, on average, 24 liters per-person-per-year, according to the North American Olive Oil Association1. Spaniards and Italians consume about 15 and 13 liters-per-person-per year, respectively.
Grades of oil extracted from the olive fruit can be classified as:
Virgin means the oil was produced by the use of mechanical means only, with no chemical treatment. The term virgin oil with reference to production method includes all grades of virgin olive oil, including Extra Virgin, Virgin, Ordinary Virgin and Lampante Virgin olive oil products, depending on quality.
Lampante virgin oil is olive oil extracted by virgin (mechanical) methods but not suitable for human consumption without further refining; is Italian for “glaring”, referring to the earlier use of such oil for burning in lamps.
Lampante virgin oil can be used for industrial purposes, or refined to make it edible.
Refined Olive Oil is the olive oil obtained from any grade of virgin olive oil by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. The refining process removes colour, odour and flavour from the olive oil, and leaves behind a very pure form of olive oil that is tasteless, colourless and odourless and extremely low in free fatty acids. Olive oils sold as the grades extra-virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil therefore cannot contain any refined oil.
Crude Olive Pomace Oil is the oil obtained by treating olive pomace (the leftover paste after the pressing of olives for virgin olive oils) with solvents or other physical treatments, to the exclusion of oils obtained by re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds. It is then further refined into Refined Olive Pomace Oil and once re-blended with virgin olive oils for taste, is then known as Olive Pomace Oil.
Olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, is a major component of the Mediterranean diet.
Populations from that region have longer life expectancies and lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, compared with North Americans and Northern Europeans.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are considered a healthy dietary fat, as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats.
Olive oil has long been recognized for its unusual fat content. This plant oil is one of the few widely used culinary oils that contains about 75% of its fat in the form of oleic acid (a monounsaturated, omega-9 fatty acid). In terms of monounsaturated fat, the closest common culinary oil to olive is canola oil, with about 60% of its fat coming in monounsaturated form. By contrast, the fat in soybean oil in only 50-55% monounsaturated; in corn oil, it’s about 60%; in sunflower oil, about 20%; and in safflower oil, only 15%.
Type II diabetes
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 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.
Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat in the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a low death rate from cardiovascular diseases compared to other parts of the world.
Maria-Isabel Covas, at the Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona, Spain, carried out an extensive review of studies that had focused on the biological and clinical effects of olive oil.
The study was published in the journal Pharmacological Research2.
The study found that people who regularly consume olive oil are much less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels).
Covas also found that regular olive oil intake helps reduce inflammation, endothelial dysfunction (problems with the inner linings of blood vessels), thrombosis and carbohydrate metabolism.
Covas concluded “The wide range of *anti-atherogenic effects associated with olive oil consumption could contribute to explain the low rate of cardiovascular mortality found in Southern European Mediterranean countries, in comparison with other western countries, despite a high prevalence of coronary heart disease risk factors.”
It has been speculated that one of the mechanisms behind olive oil’s benefits, is its ability to fight inflammation.
There is some evidence that oleic acid itself, the most prominent fatty acid in olive oil, can reduce inflammatory markers like C-Reactive Protein.
But the main anti-inflammatory effects seem to be mediated by the antioxidants in olive oil, primarily oleocanthal, which has been shown to work like ibuprofen, a popular anti-inflammatory drug. Researchers estimate that the amount of oleocanthal in 50 ml (about 3.4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil has an effect similar to 10% of the adult ibuprofen dosage for pain relief.
There is also a study showing that substances in olive oil can reduce expression of genes and proteins that mediate inflammation.
Keep in mind that chronic, low-level inflammation is usually fairly mild and it takes years or decades for it to do damage.
Eating plenty of extra virgin olive oil may help prevent this from happening, leading to a reduced risk of various inflammatory diseases… especially heart disease.
Medical experts suggest that it is very difficult to gain weight from the mono-unsaturated fats present in olive oil. Experiments involving Mediterranean olive oil have shown positive results in regards to a reduction in human body weight.
Twenty litres of extra virgin olive oil every year and most Mediterraneans still aren’t fat. A diet rich in extra virgin olive oil may deliver greater and longer lasting weight loss results than a low-fat diet.
Rich in antioxidants, olive oil slows the natural aging process of the human body. Used in cosmetic products and natural herbal therapy, olive oil does wonders for the skin, which gets a natural shine and glow from the enriching oil.
The antioxidants contained in olive oil can benefit more than your heart. Because this substance prevents cell destruction, it fights the signs of aging and gives you a more youthful appearance. When applied topically, olive oil moisturizes and softens dry skin. Since the product is natural, adverse reactions are not common.
No wonder the greatest lover in history was Italian: extra virgin olive oil may even improve your sex life. Olive oil boosts circulation to all areas of the body, including those hard to reach erogenous zones.