The numerous health benefits of olive oil run almost as deep as its history. It may appear simple, but in fact, is one of the most complex oils used today. In order to reap the wide range of health benefits, we must take time to understand the creation process and the different types of olive oil.
History of Olive Oil
The exact origin of olive oil remains unknown, but evidence of the existence of olives dates back farther than 6,000 years ago. As one of the oldest cultivated trees, the olive tree first grew in Crete, Greece in 3500BC. At that time, the olive tree spread to the Mediterranean basin, which includes African shores and Southern Europe. In 2000BC, olives were found inside Egyptian tombs; additionally, that date is when olive cultivation began to play a major role in the Crete economy. Crete began the first olive export in Greece, Asia Minor, and Northern Africa. Olives were a luxury in Greece and olive oil became not only a food item, but was highly regarded as a beauty treatment.
Types of Olive Oil
Most countries utilize the International Olive Oil Council to define olive oil quality and standards; however, the United States does not adhere to these standards. Instead, the United States follows the USDA’s 1948 Classification System, which includes the following qualities of olive oils: extra-virgin, virgin, refined, pure, olive pomace, refined olive pomace, and lite. Please read the following for descriptions of the most common types of olive oil:
Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil due to its high mineral and vitamin content. In order for olive oil to be considered extra-virgin, the oil must be produced by extraction methods that contain no chemicals or hot water, be first cold-pressed, have an acidity level of less than 1 percent, and have perfect taste.
Virgin olive oil, like extra-virgin olive oil, is first-cold pressed and produced without chemicals or hot water; however, virgin olive oil may contain an acidic level up to 3.3 percent. The flavor can vary and the taste is less mild than extra-virgin olive oil.
Refined olive oil is created by refining virgin olive oil. The acidity level is greater than 3.3 percent; the finished product is tasteless and the odor is unpleasing.
Pure olive oil is a mix of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. It has the same acidity level as virgin olive oil and can withstand high heat. The nutritional content is lower than virgin olive oil, which make it inexpensive compared to high quality olive oils. Pure olive oil is commonly used as all-purpose oil.
Light and extra-light olive oil are types of oils that contrary to the name do not contain less calories, but are a blend of refined olive oils that are made from the lowest quality oils created through chemical processing.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Olive oil is composed of monounsaturated fat, which is considered a healthy fat. Introducing monounsaturated fats into your diet is healthier than ingesting saturated and trans fats. Monounsaturated fats offer a plethora of health benefits, when used in moderation. The following is a list of all of the wonderful health benefits of olive oil.
Olive oil lowers blood pressure due to containing beneficial antioxidants, which are prevalent in extra-virgin olive oil. The antioxidants, called polyphenol, are believed to be the primary source to help lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. To receive maximum benefits, men should consume four tablespoons and women should consume three tablespoons, daily.
Research shows that monounsaturated fats, as found in olive oil, contain oleic acid and is capable of reducing the instance of cancer. Oleic acid is capable of reducing the effect of the cancer forming gene, called oncogene. Olive oil is noted to positively help breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
Olive oil is able to control blood sugar specifically by lowering blood glucose levels. Diabetics, or border-line diabetics, are instructed to follow a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. Olive oil can help control blood sugar even if diabetics switch to a high fat diet, considering most of that fat comes from olive oil.
Monounsaturated fats that are found in plant oils are best at controlling good and bad cholesterol. Consuming olive oil can help your body rid itself of bad cholesterol, known as LDL cholesterol. Additionally, olive oil does not negatively effect the levels of good cholesterol, known as HDL cholesterol. In fact, olive oil can even raise the levels of HLD cholesterol providing a double benefit.
Researchers state that extra-virgin olive oil contains an anti-inflammatory ingredient. The ingredient, oleocanthal, helps olive oil act as a pain reducer, much like over-the-counter aspirin. Olive oil will not show immediate results, but can provide pain reducing benefits if consistently ingested over a period of time.
Now that olive oil health benefits have been explained, let’s discuss how to cook with olive oil to receive its health benefits.
High quality, extra-virgin olive oils should be reserved for use in dressings, dips, and vinaigrettes. Replace olive oil for butter in baked potatoes, or brush onto cooked vegetables or fish. Sprinkle rosemary, basil, cracked black pepper, and sea salt on top of extra-virgin olive oil for a delicious bread dip.
If you are to sauté or fry with olive oil, choose a combination olive oil. A combination olive oil is a mix of extra-virgin and regular olive oil. Use olive oil grade oil for deep-frying when used for deep-frying which works wonderful due to its high smoke point of 410 degrees Fahrenheit.
One additional way to incorporate olive oil into your diet: use olive oil for non-stick oil when a recipe calls for butter or spray oil. Drizzle the olive oil onto your pan and spread evenly with a paper towel to ensure complete coverage.
Who Should Avoid Olive Oil
Olive oil allergies are uncommon, but should not be ignored. In most cases, an olive oil allergy is a mild occurrence and the symptoms will go away in a short amount of time. On the other hand, a person can experience a more severe allergic reaction, which can lead to anaphylactic shock. A person who suspects an olive oil allergy should take note of the following symptoms: stomach or chest pain, rash, migraine, or red, itchy eyes. These allergies are rare and as a key part of the Mediterranean diet, the health benefits of olive oil are well recognized and enjoyed by millions.