The olive tree, important to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean, has been linked with sacred and curative properties throughout history. The Phoenician and Greek merchants traded olive oil and promoted its culinary and therapeutic uses.
In the last few years, several studies have proven the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It is rich in olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables, and cereals and low in saturated animal fats. This diet originated some 6,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia and Palestine, and it is believed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, in addition to helping control high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Why is olive oil healthy?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you substitute saturated fats (of animal origin) with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils like olive oil) to keep your heart healthy.
The monounsaturated fatty acids of olive oil help lower the low-density lipoproteins (commonly known as "bad cholesterol"), which carry cholesterol from the blood to the walls of the arteries and blocks them. In addition, monounsaturated fat does not raise triglyceride levels, instead it maintains or raises the high-density lipoproteins (known as "good cholesterol"). High-density lipoproteins are in charge of carrying cholesterol from the peripheral tissues or arteries to the liver so it can be used or discarded.
Olive oil is extracted from olives, the fruit produced by the olive tree. There are two main types of olive oil. There’s extra-virgin olive oil, which is obtained by a cold-pressed, chemical-free process, and there’s regular olive oil, which is a blend of virgin olive oil (20-25%) and refined olive oil (75-80%). Refined olive oil undergoes a physical-chemical process.
This classification is important, and it’s good for you to remember that virgin olive oil goes through less processing. It also has a higher content of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, K and especially, vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant). Antioxidants can help prevent the oxidation damages caused by free radicals (molecules involved in the normal metabolic processes that can harm the body’s tissues).
How much is OK?
Olive oil is good for you. But don’t eat too much if you want to lose weight or maintain your current weight. It contains as much fat as any other oil. The Food Guide Pyramid recommends we eat fat of vegetable origin but in moderation.
You can use olive oil to prepare salad dressings and vinaigrettes. When cooking with olive oil, heat it at low to medium heat. Don’t let it smoke and don’t reuse it. Store olive oil in dark containers in a cool dry place. Keep it well sealed so it doesn’t become rancid. Olive oil has a myriad of benefits for your health due to its high contents of monounsaturated fat and vitamin E. Remember to consume it in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
*Dietitian with the MyDiet™ Team
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