The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Bottle of healthy, delicious olive oil

The much revered olive tree is believed to have originated in ancient Greece and Asia Minor (now Turkey). It was surely one of the earliest cultivated plants, with both its fruit and its oil being prized throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Olive cultivars used today all derive from these ancient trees.

First extracted over 8000 years ago, olive oil was an important ingredient when cooking and preparing food — much as it is today. It was also essential as a fuel for lamps, and for the preparation of soaps, ointments, liniments, and medicines.

Today, the health value of olive oil has been proven through a variety of published scientific studies. The primary fat found in all varieties of pure olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids. They're considered healthy fats, the kind that you should consume every day — along with polyunsaturated fatty acids — in place of saturated and trans fats.

Olive oil and other unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease thanks to their tendency to lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.

Unsaturated fats may also keep blood clotting in a normal range. And finally, they've been shown to benefit insulin levels and help control blood sugar, an important advantage for people with type 2 diabetes.

Olive oil is the key ingredient in the healthy "Mediterranean diet"

From the Mayo Clinic... "The Mediterranean diet emphasizes: Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil. Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month." Fatty fish are also an important part of this diet.

Researchers studying the effects of the Mediterranean diet have found lowering of heart disease and mortality. An interesting theory — not yet proven — suggests that this diet may also reduce the danger of skin cancer. Other forms of cancer may also be reduced.

Olive oil's part in providing these benefits has been well documented. One important study confirmed that consuming four or more tablespoons of olive oil a day can lower a person's risk of heart attack, stroke or death due to heart disease. It's important to mention that fatty fish and nuts may also provide similar advantages... something to appreciate the next time you enjoy a dinner of almond and olive oil crusted salmon!

Olive oil packs a number of other benefits. It is loaded with as many as thirty different polyphenols, antioxidants that help protect your cells from damage, with anti-inflamatory properties as well. And it supplies a bit of of natural vitamin E and beta-carotene to your diet.

Olive oil should be extra-virgin and fresh

"Virgin" means olive oil that is extracted with physical processes, such as crushing and squeezing, and not with chemistry or other forms of processing. Authentic 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil should be pure, without other oils added in to diminish the taste, quality, and benefits of the real thing. And it needs to be fresh. Olive oil has a short shelf life compared to other oils. It may last up to a year at best, even unopened. Ideally, the bottle that olive oil comes in should be dark to prevent light damage. Light, as well as excessive heat, can create oxidation and break down all of the helpful compounds in the oil, and eventually spoil the quality and turn it rancid.

Unfortunately, more than half of the extra-virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. today is substandard. It's important to buy olive oil from reliable sources in order to enjoy the best flavor and great benefits of this wonderful product!

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