While cooking oils don’t represent a unique food group (they are pat of fats) they do offer essential nutrients, which is why they’re included in USDA food recommendations.
Oils are liquid fats extracted from plants and animals. Some of the most commonly used oils are canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, coconut oil, and of course, olive oil. Most (but not all) plant oils are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated fats.
Olive oil is widely regarded as one of the healthiest oils; many studies have highlighted it as the most beneficial edible oil due to its nutritional makeup. Using olive oil in as opposed to a cheaper vegetable cooking oil will deliver a more potent dose of nutrients while provided an enviable balance of the different types of fat (mono-saturated, poly-saturated, and saturated).
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is a liquid fat extracted from the fruit of the Olea europaea–the olive tree.
It’s a traditional Mediterranean tree crop, but people worldwide have been using it for thousands of years. It’s now more popular than ever thanks to its culinary usefulness and proven health benefits.
Olive oil is used in a variety of ways and products: cooking (including frying or a salad dressing), cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals, as a fuel for oil lamps, etc.
There are three main types of olive oil
- extra virgin olive oil
Knowing Which is Which
When you go to the store and look through the shelves for a bottle of olive oil, make sure to read the label. It’s important to know the difference between the different types of oils available.
If it says “Pure Olive Oil” or just “Olive Oil”, it’s an olive oil that has been refined. Refining includes using solvents and high heat to normalize the taste of the oil, which allows producers to use olives that are not in the best condition. This means certain chemicals and additives are included which can reduce the positive health benefits.
Unlike refined olive oil, unrefined olive oil is free from chemical refining. The process stops at extracting and bottling. This is why the producers of this type of olive oil only use olives that are in good condition (and why it costs more).
Extra virgin olive oil is the most pure and has a strong taste. This type of olive oil contains the highest amounts of nutrients and therefore provides the greatest health benefits without the added chemicals, additives and preservatives.
How is Olive Oil Made?
Picking and washing the olives are the first steps in olive oil production. Whole olives are crushed either by hand or with the help of machinery.
The next step is maceration: the crushed olive paste is stirred in order to release the oil droplets. The paste is then placed in a centrifuge that gradually extracts the oil and water. After the water is removed, what’s left is pure olive oil.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
High quality, extra virgin olive oil contains vitamin E, unsaturated fatty acids, and many other nutrients which are beneficial to your health:
Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
Olive oil is grown, produced and consumed primarily in the Mediterranean–it’s birthplace. So it’s not coincidental that people who live in that region have the lowest mortality rates in the world when it comes to cardiovascular disease.
The monosaturated fats in olive oil are proven to help control LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol (the bad cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease) and increase the HDL (high density lipoproteins) cholesterol (the good cholesterol that prevents those same diseases).
Olive oil contains a concentration of roughly 70% mono-saturated fats. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends two tablespoons of olive oil daily basis in order to get the best heart-healthy results.
Fighting Off Free Radicals
During the digestion process, the body naturally releases free oxygen radicals–molecules that trigger the destruction of cells. In addition, we are constantly under fire from gas-based free radicals coming from our surroundings: dust, smog, smoke, pesticides, and other sources of free radicals are exposed to us on a daily basis though the very air we breathe.
These free radicals can eventually lead to the impairment or even destruction of cells. Normally, your body can withstand free radicals unless they’re too concentrated or if you’re lacking in antioxidants. Olive oil’s antioxidants help fight off and repair some of the damage caused by free radicals through a direct chemical reaction.
Helps Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Studies show an olive oil rich Mediterranean-style diet reduces the risk of type II diabetes by almost 50%.
Helps Retain Youthfulness and Healthy Skin
The antioxidants in olive oil help prevent cell destruction, including skin cells, which can help fight the signs of aging. Applied topically, olive oil moisturizes and softens dry skin, promoting a more youthful appearance.
Olive oil contains 80% oleic acid, a compound praised for its ability to strengthen skin cells and help skin recover from damage.
Furthermore, olive oil-derived antioxidants can help aid the prevention of malignant melanoma, one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer.
Helps Prevent Cancer Tumor Growth
Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the world. Various kinds of healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, help prevent the development of cancer tumors.
Olive oil contains monosaturated fatty acids and hydroxytyrosol, compounds that suppress cancerous growths. The cancer killing components in olive oil are primarily lignans, squalenes and oleocanthal. Oleocanthal is a natural ibuprofen; it reduces inflammation, which reduces the risk of cancerous cells developing and reproducing.
Promotes Hair Health
If you struggle with dry and brittle hair, using olive oil will help your hair follicles become stringer.
Most shampoos contain sulfates that can strip out moisture, leaving hair dry and unhealthy. Instead of using hair care products that contain chemical ingredients which can have negative side effects, an olive oil-based hair conditioner can help your hair become healthy.
Pure olive oil can also be used to treat damaged and brittle hair.
Fights Cognitive Decline and Disease
The abundance of oleocanthal in olive oil helps promote cognitive health and lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Olive oil is also proven to reduce the cognitive decline that typically comes with aging due to oxidative damage thanks to its polyphenol makeup.Research has shown diets rich in olive oil can help maintain healthier cognitive function in older individuals and lower the risk of developing a cognitive diseases.
Olive oil is so much than just mere cooking oil. Research has proven time and again that it delivers a host of health benefits, and new benefits are constantly uncovered.
So make sure to add this delicious, invaluable ingredient to your daily meals–it could add healthy years to your life!