Olive oil – The Mediterranean’s liquid gold
Undoubtedly the health benefits of olive oil have long been recognised by our warmer climate cousins, where olive oil is present in almost every savoury dish served. Thousands of years ago, the Greek poet Homer named olive oil the ‘liquid gold’ of the Mediterranean. Civilisations such as the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans were the first to grow and cultivate olive trees to extract the juice from the fruit. These civilisations of the classic era used pressed olive oil in both cooking and topical application for massages. The great Olympians even rubbed olive oil on their skin before and after competing, with crowns of olive branches given to athletes during the Olympic Games.
Indeed my own love affair with olive oil started when I was living in Spain for some years. Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil globally and, to my mind, the tastiest olive oil there is. Nothing takes me back to evenings sat on las terrazas with un buen vino Español, like the sweet and peppery aftertaste of a tapa doused in good quality extra virgin olive oil. No dish gets left untouched by the flavour of extra virgin olive oil in Spain. From starter soups and cheeseboards drizzled with it, main course fishes and meats swimming in it, and even poured on your breakfast toast! Olive is an integral part of every meal of the day.
The fat paradox – olive oil benefits from good fat
So why aren’t the Spanish all overweight from consuming so much fat, I hear you ask? Well, herein lies the fat paradox – eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat! At least not if you’re eating healthy ‘good fats’ such as those found in extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil consumption results in higher levels of Adiponectin in the body, a hormone responsible for breaking down fats in the body and lowering your BMI. Added to this, it also helps regulate the appetite by keeping you satiated for much longer than a ‘fat-free’ or ‘high-carb meal would. Olive oil is also fantastic for our gastrointestinal tracts, as it promotes the smooth flow of food through the digestive organs. And a happy mobile digestive system equals a more active metabolism and a flatter stomach. The health benefits of olive oil for weight loss, therefore, are surprisingly weighted in its favour.
Other olive oil benefits
The good fats of olive oil play an important role in transporting nutrients throughout your body and improving vitamin uptake. Even if you are eating a nutrient-dense diet, without the appropriate amount of healthy fats in your diet, you may not be able to benefit from the uptake of their nutrients into your system.
Other health benefits of olive oil include its high anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidant properties such as oleocanthal and oleuropein protect against the oxidisation of ‘bad cholesterol. This makes olive oil’s benefits, in terms of heart health, indispensable. It’s no coincidence that Mediterranean cultures typically have a low rate of heart disease. The anti-inflammatory properties of this wondrous liquid may even help in reducing the onset of arthritis and diabetes. Meaning you can dance into your later years with your Cuban heals still firmly in place.
One other health benefit of olive oil is that it may help in the prevention of Cancer. It’s speculated that one of the causes of Cancer is oxidative damage in the body caused by molecules called free radicals. The high level of antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil has been touted by scientists as a potential remedy for fighting Cancer at a molecular level. However, further testing is still needed to confirm this theory.
Apart from its high levels of active antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids, olive oil is rich in Vitamin E. Making it a versatile skincare product, good enough for a Greek god.
Healthline quotes extra virgin olive oils nutritional content as:
- Saturated fat: 14%
- Monounsaturated fat: 73% (mostly oleic acid)
- Vitamin E: 13% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 7% of the DV
Which olive oil should I buy?
The simple answer is the best you can afford! And make sure it’s extra virgin. The less refined the olive oil, the higher the nutritional content, and the more the health components will be left intact. Olive oil without the Extra Virgin label will have gone through an industrialised refining process that will greatly diminish its health properties.
One way to help keep Extra virgin olive oil within a manageable shopping budget is to alternate different oils for different uses. Most supermarkets now sell more than good enough quality extra virgin olive oils for general cooking purposes. However, if an oil is more for dressing and drizzling, then you may want to go straight to the producer and order something a bit more special. Online shopping has made it simple to order your oil from all corners of the Mediterranean straight to your door. Why not try different regions until you find a few oils to your taste. Olive oil tasting, like wine tasting, is both an art and a matter of personal taste.
A decent extra virgin should have a peppery afternote to it that can even make you cough a little. Apparently, the cough test is considered a sign of its high quality in olive oil tasting! Buying olive oil online in large tin canisters over bottles may seem expensive at the time, but ultimately you’ll get a lot more liquid gold for your silvers.