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The Fantastic Health Benefits Of Olive Oil

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The olive tree is very hardy and it really comes as no surprise that the fruit it produces is wonderfully healthy. After all the tree can live for 1000 years or even more, and sprouts can come from the roots of a tree that was thought to be dead giving rise to new adult fruit bearing trees! No wonder they have been so highly prized over the millennia.

There are many health benefits to be obtained from olive oil and it is not a commonly allergenic food meaning most people will be able to consume it. The beneficial health effects of olive oil are due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of anti oxidative substances. It is also very high in vitamin E.

Phenolics which are chemical compounds specific to olive oil appear to combat the build-up of free radicals in the body and may also be able to reduce oxidative damage to DNA.

Types of olive oil, usage and storage

It is important to know your different types of oils.

  • Extra-virgin – comes from the first pressing of the olives, is the least processed and has the most delicate flavor
  • Virgin – comes from the second pressing and is more processed
  • Pure – a misnomer, undergoes processing such as filtering and refining, is less pure than “virgin” and “extra-virgin”
  • Extra light – has the most processing

The term “cold pressed” means that minimal heating was used when mechanically processing the olives to make the oil. It is better to enjoy olive oil with very little or no heating to preserve the unique nutrients it possesses, especially polyphenols. As prolonged storage can degrade some of the oil’s nutrients it is best to source locally produced oil rather than imported. Store away from light and heat (especially not near the stove).

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has become almost legendary in its alleged health benefits and ability to endow long life. Olive oil features heavily in the “Mediterranean diet”. It has been proven by much research that people living in Mediterranean regions have longer life expectancy and reduced risk for certain chronic diseases in comparison to other groups of people. All this in spite of what is considered a diet high in fat content.

More specifically it has been shown conclusively that amongst Mediterranean populations the incidences of degenerative diseases like certain types of cancers and cardiovascular disease are lower than for peoples living in northern Europe and North America. Mediterranean populations also have higher life expectancy in comparison.

Benefits of olive oil

Antioxidant benefits

DHPEA-EDA is the major antioxidant that is found in olive oil, in virgin olive oils its contribution towards the total antioxidants can be as high as 50%. Hardening of the arteries is partly caused by reactive oxygen acting on bad cholesterol (LDL). Portuguese researchers have shown that DHPEA-EDA is highly effective at protecting red blood cells from this damage.

Heart disease and cholesterol levels

It is essential that the body get an adequate supply of monounsaturated fats and far more preferably from the food we eat rather than supplements. 2 essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid), and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid), both of which are contained in olive oil.

Both of these fats are essential to our health and the recommended ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 we should consume is set at 10 to 1 by the U.S. Dietary Reference Intakes and this just so happens to be the exact same ratio found in Olives. Although other researchers recommend Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios more like 4 to 1.

Omega 3 oils help keep blood cells from sticking together and increase blood flow. This is significant because heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood clots which build up in the arteries of the heart or brain. These arteries are narrowed by plaque formation due to the blood thickening.

Human clinical trials have shown that replacement of high saturated fat diets with one high in monounsaturated fats, mostly from olive oil, have resulted in a significant decrease in both total cholesterol and particularly LDL or “bad” cholesterol. LDL is the type of cholesterol known to build up in the arteries and cause atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that may lead to blockages and coronary heart disease or stroke.

A study conducted in Spain showed that there was an 82% reduced risk of having an heart attack amongst those who consumed the most olive oil.

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

One study provides preliminary evidence that whilst olive oil may not significantly affect blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure it may have at least some beneficial effects in patients with high blood pressure. One possible reason for this happening is its polyphenol content. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants which help arteries dilate, thereby reducing blood pressure. By reducing both inflammation and free radical damage to cholesterol, dietary olive oil protects the endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, helping to maintain its ability to relax and dilate (thus preventing high blood pressure).

Cancers

Constituents of olive oil, such as flavonoids, squalene and polyphenols, may help to protect against cancer. Flavonoids and polyphenols are antioxidants, which help prevent cell damage from oxygen-containing chemicals called free radicals.

Colon cancer

It is suspected that the oil protects against bowel cancer by influencing the metabolism of the gut. Researchers think it cuts the amount of a substance called deoxycyclic acid and regulates the enzyme diamine oxidase which may be linked to cell division in the bowel. Phenolic compounds in virgin olive oil protect against several stages of colon cancer development as shown by research published in the International Journal of Cancer.

Breast cancer

Several studies have been carried out on Mediterranean populations, in particular on Spanish and Greek women to determine the incidence of breast cancer. One Spanish study showed 70% less breast cancer for women who were frequent consumers of the oil. Similarly one Greek study showed 25% less breast cancer. The breast cancer rates amongst the women in Mediterranean countries where olive oil is consumed frequently compare very favorably with the rest of Europe and the United States. It is thought that the oleic acid present in the oil may be partly responsible for its protective effect against breast cancer.

Fat burning

Additional support for olive oil’s fat burning effects comes from another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which suggests that the monounsaturated fats found in the oil cause an increase in the breakdown of fats in fat cells. A diet rich in monounsaturated fat from the oil and nuts will not only reduce LDL cholesterol levels but also improve your sensitivity to insulin, lower your blood sugar, and help prevent fat from collecting around your middle. In contrast researchers have found that high carbohydrate diets increase abdominal fat.

Osteoporosis and bone loss

Two olive polyphenols, oleuropin and hydroxytyrosol, greatly lessen the inflammation-mediated bone loss involved in osteoporosis.

Asthma & Anti-Inflammatory

By reducing inflammation, the monounsaturated fats contained in olive oil can help reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms, and may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of asthma.

Gastric ulcers

In a Russian study, when patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers replaced the animal fat in their diet with olive oil, ulcer size was greatly reduced and the percentage of ulcer healing significantly increased

Alternative Uses

Many other modern uses have been found for olive oil including but not limited to: upset stomach; constipation; skin care; hair care; nail care; massaging muscles; olive tree leaf tea for lowering blood pressure; and nasal congestion. It is not recommended that these alternative methods be used on children.

In ancient times there were even more uses of the oil such as: counteracting poisons; treating open wounds; treating insect bites; headaches; as soap; moisturizing the skin; as a protective layer on the skin against dirt and the sun.

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