Olive oil is obtained by pressing the fruits of the olive tree, which is a plant native to the Mediterranean region. The production of olive oil started in the Mediterranean about 6,000 years ago. Olives were taken to America by Spanish settlers during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, olive oil is produced in Italy, Mexico, the U.S. (mainly California), and parts of South America. Extra virgin olive oil is used in the kitchen for sautéing, frying, and everything in between, as well as dressing salads. It is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, soaps, and lamps. And it is a far healthier cooking oil than highly inflammatory and unstable seed oils like canola, sunflower, and soybean oils.
The difference between extra virgin olive oil and other kinds of olive oil is that it is produced without the use of chemicals and under moderate temperatures that do not decrease the quality (maximum 77 °F). Extra virgin is the highest quality type of olive oil, and it is one of the healthiest oils for the body because it contains monounsaturated fat. Oleic acid is the most abundant type of these fats and is noted for its incredible health benefits. Extra virgin olive oil also contains vitamins E and K. Pure varieties have a golden-green color and a light peppery finish.
Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (often abbreviated to EVOO) contains powerful antioxidants that can offer protection against free radicals and oxidative stress and help the body in numerous ways.
EVOO has the ability to fight chronic inflammation, which can lead to many diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants in olive oil have anti-inflammatory effects—studies show that oleocanthal works like ibuprofen, a popular pain reliever. It is estimated that about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil can mimic the effect of 10% of the adult ibuprofen dosage used to relieve pain. Additional studies show that polyphenols in olive oil can reduce the expression of genes and proteins that mediate inflammation.
Studies show that diets high in monounsaturated fat, like the Mediterranean diet, can lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides better than other diets. Extra virgin olive oil helps fight inflammation in the heart and blood vessels, thereby reducing mortality for cardiovascular disease in southern European countries in comparison with other westernized countries that do not consume the same amounts of EVOO. Additional research also shows that the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in extra virgin olive oil has the ability to decrease the risk of cardiac death by 30% and sudden cardiac death by 45%.
Studies also indicate that polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have positive effects on insulin sensitivity and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Healthy fats help stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate insulin. EVOO also gives you a sense of satiety that can help curb cravings and overeating. So next time you eat a meal rich in sugar and carbohydrates, add some extra virgin olive oil to help slow the effects of sugar on your bloodstream.
Our bodies need fat for energy and to support cell growth, but it is essential to eat healthy fats and avoid trans-fats and saturated fats, which can raise levels of bad cholesterol. Healthy fats, like extra virgin olive oil, provide the body with the energy it needs without causing harm.
A team of researchers assigned different diets to two groups of individuals to evaluate the effects of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors. Results showed that not only did the low-carb eaters lose more weight in 6 months than the low-fat eaters did, but the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol values of the low-carb dieters changed more favorably as well. According to another study on the impact of an olive oil-enriched diet on breast cancer survivors, a diet high in olive oil was more effective for weight loss than a lower fat diet in an 8-week comparison.
Olives and olive oil are some of the best high-antioxidant foods. Olives contain acteosides, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and phenyl propionic acids, and other compounds that have been shown to possess cancer-fighting benefits. Scientists believe that olive and olive oil consumption in southern European countries plays a crucial role in cancer prevention.
A study conducted in Italy showed an inverse relationship between breast cancer risk and olive oil intake. A group of researchers in Spain discovered the process that occurs within the tumor cell when olive oil enters the body. The oil reduces the activity of p21Ras, an oncogene, which prevents DNA damage and accelerates tumor cell death. The results of the observation revealed a link between extra virgin olive oil and a higher incidence of benign breast tumors.
Extra virgin olive oil contains a type of antioxidant called secoiridoids that fights the process of aging and cellular stress. Secoiridoids in olive oil also help prevent “age-related changes” in skin cells.
EVOO may also help keep an aging brain young. Researchers conducted an experiment with mice and found that oleocanthal, a compound found in extra virgin olive oil, helped drive abnormal Alzheimer’s disease proteins out of the brain. Results showed that oleocanthal enhances the production of proteins and enzymes that help remove beta-amyloid, a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease, from the brain. Studies found that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet (high in EVOO) is associated with a reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Our brains need fatty acids to perform everyday tasks. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. EVOO is a healthy fat, and it is considered a brain food because it improves focus and memory and fights age-related cognitive issues.
Healthy fats, like EVOO, also have anti-inflammatory effects that can prevent neurotransmitter dysfunction. Brain disorders can occur when the brain doesn’t get a sufficient amount of serotonin or dopamine, which are crucial for mood regulation, sleep, and thought-processing. A study investigating dietary fat intake and the risk of depression found that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (found in extra virgin olive oil) had an inverse relationship with depression risk, while trans-fat had a linear relationship with depression risk.
Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is similar to Crohn’s disease. A team of scientists in the UK looked at data for over 25,000 people, 40 to 65 years old. Results showed that participants with the highest intake of oleic acid had a much lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis compared to those with the lowest consumption.
According to a study designed to assess the relationship between extra virgin olive oil and pancreatitis, extra virgin olive oil helps prevent acute pancreatitis thanks to the high levels of oleic acid and hydroxytyrosol found in the oil.
Researchers in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia found that extra virgin olive oil may protect the liver from oxidative stress. Laboratory rats were given a moderately toxic herbicide, and then followed a diet containing olive oil. Results showed that this diet protected them partially from liver damage.
Purchasing and Using Extra Virgin Oil
It is essential to know what you are looking for when you shop for EVOO so keep in mind the following main classifications for olive oil.
- Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and produced without using chemicals.
- Virgin olive oil comes from a second pressing after extra virgin is created.
- “Light” olive oil or oil blends are made using a mix of vegetable oils. This means that chemicals were used in the process and it is a much lower quality oil.
Experts recommend that you purchase an extra virgin olive oil. To make sure you buy a high-quality oil, look for bottles indicating that the oil is extra virgin, cold-pressed, or expeller-pressed. Follow these tips:
- Do not purchase extra virgin olive oil that costs less than $10 a liter.
- Look for the seal from the International Olive Council (IOC), which certifies the oil.
- In the United States, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) provide extra assurance that your EVOO pick is indeed pure olive oil.
- Purchase oil sold in dark glass bottles, which prevent light from damaging fatty acids and protect oil quality.
- Check for a harvest date on the label to ascertain freshness. An unopened bottle of good quality olive oil lasts for up to 2 years from the date it was bottled.
The Olive Oil Times recommends that you store oil away from heat and light to keep it from becoming rancid. It will last for a few months once opened.
Experts recommend consuming raw olive oil, but if you want to cook with it, do not use high heat because EVOO loses its benefits when it is heated past the smoke point. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 350-410 °F.
EVOO can be used to dress salads, make sauces for pasta, or add freshness to soups. Here are two scrumptious ways to use raw extra virgin olive oil!
Carbonara is a popular Italian recipe with eggs and bacon, but this is an excellent alternative because it offers the same benefits without the fat contained in bacon.
Ready In: 45 Minutes
- 6 ounces of orecchiette pasta (or your favorite pasta)
- 3 cups of mushrooms (cremini or shiitake)
- 2 yolks
- 1 cup of chopped basil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3/4 cup EVOO
- 3 tablespoons EVOO to cook mushrooms
- Bring a pot of water (with salt) to a boil.
- Chop mushrooms and cook them in a pan with oil, salt, and pepper.
- Separate the yolk from the egg white and put the yolks in a blender.
- Chop the basil and put it in the blender.
- Squeeze half a lemon and add the juice to the blender.
- Add the clove of garlic to the blender.
- Add salt and pepper to the blender and turn it on.
- Set aside the cream that you will get after blending.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water (check cooking time).
- When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it back on the stove.
- Add mushrooms to the pasta, add cream, and stir using low heat.
- Pasta: Provides glucose, which fuels brain and muscles.
- Mushrooms: Low in calories, and excellent sources of fiber and protein. They boost the immune system and improve digestion.
- Yolk: Rich in vitamins and minerals, promotes eye health.
- Basil: Contains antioxidants and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
- Garlic: Contains compounds that fight diseases, from common colds and infections to diabetes and cancer.
- Lemon: Excellent source of vitamin C; promotes hydration and aids digestion.
- Extra virgin olive oil: Lowers high blood pressure and supports brain health.
- Black pepper: Helps digestion and reduces high blood pressure.
Sweet and Savory Salad Dressing
This sweet and savory dressing is perfect for all salads, and it offers numerous health benefits. The sweetness of the honey balances the acidity of the vinegar.
Ready In: 5 Minutes
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Black pepper
Keep in mind that you can change the ratio based on your personal taste. Some people might like the savory flavor better; others might prefer a sweeter flavor.
Whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl.
- Extra virgin olive oil: lowers high blood pressure and supports brain health.
- Apple cider vinegar: reduces cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
- Honey: contains antioxidants and is an excellent alternative to sugar.
- Black pepper: helps digestion and reduces high blood pressure.